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Yes - The Ladder  CD (album) cover

THE LADDER

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

3.28 | 707 ratings

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Epignosis
Special Collaborator
Eclectic Prog Team
4 stars Yes returns to form with this exquisite album, full of great arrangements and even better executions. Jon Anderson sounds at his peak on this album, in my opinion, his voice soaring into the galaxy, as it were. Billy Sherwood, I honestly believe, is a boon to the sound; even though Steve Howe is a phenomenal guitarist, two guitarists working alongside each other provides for variety. Chris Squire uses a different bass on much this recording (a psychotic-looking green one, if I recall), and while his signature punch remains, his tone is able to get underneath the mix, making his sound that much fuller. Also, drummer Alan White has several of his best performances ever captured on this recording. Then there's Igor Khoroshev, who provided some tracks on Yes's failure of a previous album: In my opinion, Khoroshev is Yes's best keyboardist second to Wakeman (although it's a close call with respect to Patrick Moraz). I have had the pleasure of seeing Yes live with Khoroshev manning the keys, and he is also featured prominently in the House of Yes DVD. His cooperation here is nothing short of brilliant. Yes fanatics may have plenty of criticism to offer with regard to The Ladder, and oftentimes I can understand their perspectives, but sometimes I just don't get the complaints: Many of these critics have howled about the Rabin-era since Yes was no longer the progressive powerhouse of their glory days, and then these same critics complain that Yes should be trying to do something fresh and original when an album like this comes out. For me, what Yes produced in 1999 is a stellar album that naturally doesn't compare to their masterpieces of yesteryear, namely Close to the Edge, Tales from Topographic Oceans, and Relayer, but I can't help but regard this album one of their finest moments.

"The Ladder" Very likely in my top ten all time Yes songs, this complex and extremely progressive song is what I consider a masterwork. Anderon's vocals are top notch here, and if I had to pick one track to showcase him, this might be it. Even Squire's backing vocals are superb, and allow Anderson to show what he can do in the context of Yes. The thudding guitar and bass underneath Khoroshev's clucking keys are a great palette for said keyboardist to work his magic over. The instrumental section is interspersed with two parts of uplifting textures of sound, bouncing between Howe's gritty guitar and Khoroshev's amazing organ soloing to one of Yes's greatest vocal sections, which leads right back into one more recitation of that glorious chorus. The ending section, introduced by some piano and guitar, brings in Anderson's final thoughts.

"It Will Be a Good Day" Howe's guitar playing juts out and adds to the overall effect, but it is Anderson's uplifting singing that has often given me an optimistic spirit on mornings I have played it. Backup singers Squire and Sherwood are stellar on this track also. While I realize this can be perceived as campy (I myself have thought so), I still enjoy it and its elevating nature.

"Lightning Strikes" I love the amusing introduction, but if this song doesn't wake someone up, nothing will! It's a happy number, full of great keyboards, lines I can't help but sing to as it makes me tap my toes, and Squire rips out a killer bass solo. Take this one for what it is- a hell of a fun song to put you in good spirits if the previous one failed to do so.

"Can I?" This is something of a "world music" expansion of "We Have Heaven," which also serves as a great introduction to another amazing song.

"Face to Face" This is one of my favorite songs on the album and is the first one I heard from it; it is catchy, uplifting, and full of many fantastic moments. Squire's bass is probably the most important instrument, but both guitarists work together to get things rolling (with even a quick vocal introduction for Howe). It's just one of those great songs full of musical layers of sound and inescapable cheer. The chorus is powerful and is a shining example of the vocal harmonies Yes is capable of.

"If Only You Knew" The ballad of the album is still genuine progressive rock, even if completely accessible to a pop-loving audience. It has a beautiful melody and great instrumentation from the musicians. The bridge at its most powerful point almost always gives me goose bumps.

"To Be Alive" Despite it's structural simplicity, the instrumentation is highly sophisticated and I find myself always looking forward to hearing this one. Howe delivers a wonderful steel guitar solo, and Anderson shines as always. The chorus is yet again a very memorable highlight.

"Finally" One of the most upbeat songs on the album has its roots in the bonus track on the Sherwood / Squire duo Conspiracy's second album. It features more layers, especially with keyboards and acoustic guitar though, and is the superior rendition.

"The Messenger" Yet another amazing track, this features outstanding bass and acoustic guitar work initially. The vocal melodies are so memorable, and the refrain just begs to be heard again and again. This is a song about the late Bob Marley, as Anderson has said, yet there is nothing distinctly reggae about this excellent track except the rhythm (even if that was the band's intention). The guitar and keyboard work throughout are out of this world.

"New Language" Khoroshev gives his organ a workout in the introduction, and Howe, Squire, and White keep up with precision timing. After the two minute introduction, Anderson sings over an upbeat and poppy backdrop. The chorus is one of the best moments on the album, as the background vocals are simply fantastic. Finally, there's an acoustic guitar solo from maestro Howe that is jaw-dropping.

"Nine Voices (Longwalker)" A clear descendant of "Your Move," this is an acoustic driven simple song that even hearkens back to that classic with the vocalizations. The didgeridoo and exotic percussion set it apart, however.

Epignosis | 4/5 |

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