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Yes - Magnification CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.73 | 1094 ratings

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2 stars For better or worse, Magnification is period Yes. Even given the fact that the album was recorded with an orchestra, it's not a radical departure from the band's late-1990s work.

At this point Yes was comprised of its founders, vocalist Jon Anderson and bassist Chris Squire; longtime drummer Alan White, who had joined in 1973; and guitarist Steve Howe, who had been with the band from 1970 to 1980, 1991 to 1992, and 1995 to the present. The band did not have a keyboardist at this time.

The orchestra works just fine in place of a keyboardist - - which makes sense; on much of 90125 and Open Your Eyes, for example, the keyboards were used as backing instrumentation. Although some of the arrangements on Magnification are a little contrived, I disagree that the orchestra is a gimmick. Nonetheless, the use of the orchestra here is far from stupendous. It's ornamentation which was almost certainly developed after most of the material was written. In fact, it sounds as though the orchestral parts might have been composed after the album was recorded. (Apparently, though, this wasn't the case.)

Since the Rabin era ended in 1995, most of the band's songwriting, on Keys to Ascension (1996), Keys to Ascension 2, Open Your Eyes (both 1997), and The Ladder (1999), can be classified either as Anderson songs, Anderson/Howe songs, or Billy Sherwood songs. Take away Sherwood, who had left the band after The Ladder tour, and Magnification sounds very much like late-1990s Yes with an orchestra added.

Unfortunately, although Anderson was the writer of classics like "Astral Traveler" and "Long Distance Runaround," and while Anderson and Howe jointly wrote "Roundabout," "Close to the Edge," and "Awaken," late-1990s Yes music was not of the same quality as these masterpieces. It almost seems like the band submitted bare-bones sketches of the songs to Larry Groupé, the orchestral arranger and conductor, in hopes that Groupé would add some meat. But it also seems like Groupé was never considered a co-writer, and thus, his contributions are embellishments on and restatements of those relatively stark demos.

Other than the songwriting, my only real complaint with Magnification relates to the use of pitch-correcting software (probably Antares Autotune). This allows the real-time or post-production correction of off-key notes, and is usually used to fix problems with vocals. Its use caused indignation among some fans and a lot of posturing among some artists in the late 2000s. Personally, I think Autotune is a completely natural development in music. The problem on Magnification is overuse, particularly on Chris Squire's solo parts and especially on Anderson's layered harmonies. Whereas Autotune can be used to move a melodic line closer to being on key, on Magnification it seems to have been used to make many vocal tracks sound perfectly on key - - so perfect that you can tell that Autotune has been used.

There are two nice tracks here. "Can You Imagine," sung by Squire, is a good example of a simple idea which still suffers from an emptiness, even with the orchestral ornamentation. But it has a nice melody and fits nicely within its three-minute runtime.

"In the Presence Of," especially "Deeper," the first section, is also based around a strong melody, initially played on piano by White. As he has so many times, Anderson demonstrates an incredible talent for creating vocal melodies from chord sequences and countermelodies from melodies. Whereas classically trained Yes keyboardists like Geoff Downes and Rick Wakeman are masters of arrangement, Anderson's talent seems to be intrinsic.

Magnification is far from unlistenable. Other than the immodest use of pitch-correction, the production is good, and the performances are as well. My primary complaint is that the songs themselves are generally uninspired.

In terms of overall quality, Magnification is in the same league as Tormato, Union, and The Ladder. In other words, this is one for collectors or fans of the band. By my reckoning, Yes has produced 21 studio albums (in my book, both Keys to Ascension albums count). Fourteen of these are three-, four-, or five-star albums. I have two suggestions for those who have heard some of Yes's classics (The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge, and Relayer are each rated above 4.25/5 stars on Prog Archives), and want to dig deeper. If you like the idea of the band playing with an orchestra, start with Time and a Word. Or, if you want to hear more of Anderson, Squire, Howe, and White, go with Going for the One.

patrickq | 2/5 |


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