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Yes - Relayer CD (album) cover




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4.37 | 3052 ratings

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2 stars Here's why this record has been a staple in the bargain bins since 1975. It looks like a YES record in the mould of 'Close to the Edge', given the Roger Dean cover, the side-long epic and the two ten-minute tracks on the reverse side. But it sounds nothing like a YES record.

This might well be a good thing. All great artists reinvent themselves from time to time. However, I'm far from convinced by the music on this record, and believe its place in the bargain bins is well-deserved.

'Tales From Topographic Oceans' was roundly panned by music critics, and became a scapegoat for the genre. In reaction, the band stripped away everything melodic from their sound and issued 'Relayer', an angular album filled with avant-garde, hard-edged sound. Not a moment of beauty (save one, which I will refer to later), not even a hint of symphonic rock.

'The Gates of Delirium' is the album's flagship track. I can see why some listeners rate this as YES' finest work, but for me it doesn't achieve what the band intended it to - that is, stand as YES's anti-war hymn. Trouble is, the band tried to make the music as much the message as the lyrics. Usually a protest song uses the lyrics as the message, and the music provides the hook to draw the listener in. Here, however, the music itself deliberately sounds like war. Harsh, discordant, with sound effects intended to evoke the battlefield, and even a discordant 'battle' section where the band howls at each other. Sacrificing melody for cacophony is absolutely essential for the theme of the track, but it doesn't make for pleasant listening. Sadly, it also makes for trivial listening: contrary to what some believe, I see this track as the most simplistic of YES's epics. The first eight minutes introduce the main theme, a somewhat jerky, irregular thing with the vocals in unison with the rhythm, unlike the band's usual gloriously complex counterpoint. When they do bring out the odd moment of counterpoint - witness the second 'verse' in the section at 5:50, when SQUIRE does something interesting with his bass - it comes as something of a relief. This first, rather bland section finishes on the supposed 'highlight' of the 'devil's sermon' lyric, and leads into an extended 'battle' section, which is nothing more than a jam session, devoid of rationale any more complex than 'let's make war noises.' I note the -er, triumphant? surely not? - section at the 13 minute mark, so badly out of place in a paean against war. Unless the lads are secretly enjoying shooting their guitars and drums?

So what's the problem? Has the band forgotten how to do beauty? Have they lost the gift of raising their listeners into the heavens? Have, in fact, the aliens released possession of the band and b*ggered off back to the planet Proggadocia? Nope. Rather, this is what you get when a concept overwhelms the music.

They can still do beauty. The rightly-acclaimed' Soon' section taunts us with their talents, showing they can still mine the depth of human emotion. This section is filled with sweet curves and gentle rolling hills, fine fare after the brutish angularity of what preceded it. This, of course, was the band's intention, and it works - we get the point, lads - but my complaint is that it is all too simple, too obvious, too overwrought. You're a complex band. You are capable of anything. Why would you make a song about war, one of the most complex of human endeavours, so ridiculously black and white? I remain so desperately disappointed by this. YES were very wise to stick with their alliterative, onomatopoeic lyrical nonsense between 1971 and 1974: as soon as they start making sense (step into the witness box, 'Tormato') they reveal themselves as so incredibly shallow. Please, I beg you, go back to being enigmatic. Let us at least imagine you're clever.

So there we have it. 1) Declaration 2) Battle 3) Hope. Not as sophisticated as it looked, and not a demanding listen. Very much, for me at least, a case of the concept becoming a straitjacket smothering the outrageous talents of the band.

Speaking of outrageous, 'Sound Chaser' is up next. Directionless avant-jazz, thoroughly out of context here. Lots of clever playing totally wasted by an absence of any attempt at coherence. Melodies? Who needs them? The song's lyrics are a manifesto of sorts, an attempt at justifying the music. But again I feel nothing but bitter disappointment. The wonderful HOWE guitar work beginning at 3:00, for example, ought to be an integral part of the song, counterpointed by something else, but it's here on its own, blowing in the wind like a single sock on a washing line. The band accidentally rock out for a moment at the 6:30 mark - it must have snuck past the editors - but ANDERSON takes care of it by cha-chaing the band into the realms of derision. Again, this is not accidental. The band deliberately sought this harsh alternative to their now-abandoned glorious sound. Change I can take, change I embrace, but not change for the sake of change. If you're going to throw out a sound you've evolved over the years into something world-leading, you'd damn well better have something even better to replace it with. 'Sound Chaser' isn't it.

'To Be Over' slips past in nine flaccid minutes. There's a pretty tune of sorts, and some things happen, though I can't remember what. At least the two preceding tracks had some bite, however much like a mouthful of hot gravel they are to listen to. This is just insipid. And oh, please, put the steel guitar away, STEVE. That was just ridiculous. One of the most evocative sounds available to a guitarist and you dare noodle with it?

Did I mention that WAKEMAN had left and was replaced by PATRICK MORAZ? No? No wonder: it's totally irrelevant.

So why, given the radical departure in sound, did the label package this thing as though it was 'Close to the Edge II'? Why on earth did the band allow it? How many more ways could they have set 'Relayer' up to fail? Talk about a career-killer. While this was by no means the end of YES's glorious output, it signalled the end of their commercial viability for the best part of a decade. Utter foolishness.

I can understand why this album attracts its fans. I'll occasionally crank out 'The Gates of Delirium' myself, when I'm in the mood for a post-rock pastiche. But in my view the album delivers neither intellectual nor emotional satisfaction. It's a dud.


russellk | 2/5 |


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