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Yes - The Yes Album CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.29 | 2623 ratings

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5 stars Peter Banks was a great guitarist, don't get me wrong, but the fact remained that his style of guitar playing, as thick and as satisfying as it was, just wasn't compatible with the direction the band was about to take. So Yes did the smart thing, and brought in one Steve Howe, who proved from the get-go that he was the perfect choice for the group, both in artistic vision and in sheer talent. Take Exhibit A: "Clap." This is a live track (which, by the way, explains why this album will sometimes be mislabeled as a live album in some professional review guides) with Howe playing this silly, but thoroughly impressive acoustic melody while the rest of the band get beers and drain their lizards. But it's not just this lone track, not by a long shot. All throughout the album, he adds a touch of color here, a solo here, a riff there, all sorts of little things (in all sorts of little ways) that Banks never really tried. More than anything, though, even when he's relatively subdued, he is still able to successfully serve as a guide and conductor through the, as is mentioned in a second, increasingly complex material.

Indeed, the addition of Howe, as important as that was, is not the biggest change from the previous two albums. At last, the songwriting of the band has reached a point where Anderson and Squire's ambitions could be justified. For the first time, they stretch out and begin writing "epics," with 3 of the songs going over 9 minutes and another going almost 7. And they're catchy too! "I've Seen All Good Peopl"e might seem a bit monotonous at first, but then you realize that the mantra they keep repeating is one of the coolest lines of gibberish ever written. "I've seen all good people turn their heads each day so satisfied I'm on my way." Yay! And how about the bassline on "Yours is No Disgrace?" Or, for that matter, the guitar in that song (in particular, the introduction, though the middle jam with the wah- wah's jarring from speaker to speaker is really cool too)? To me, the intro of that song just reeks of fantasy, science fiction, whatever. It calls up adventure, bravery, and all of that rot that belongs in good fiction. And that is really the key to this album. The tracks are legitimate songs, to be sure, with hooks everywhere, but more than that, they are essentially aural paintings to be interpreted by the listener however he wants.

Plus, just as important as the purely musical hooks, are the 'epic hooks.' Stuff like the opening jam of "Yours is No Disgrace," for instance, or the ending harmonies of "Perpetual Change." You hear them, and you have no idea what they mean, but somehow you feel inspired, even if you don't know for what. And that is key - just as there are "hooks" within a melodic context, an aspect that is able to grab and hold your attention from a musical perspective, so are there hooks from an imagery standpoint. Lots of tracks attempt to set up a bombastic and epic feel, but not all pull it off - the same way plenty of bands try to create catchy melodies but fail because they lack the necessary hooks. Hopefully the concept is clear, then.

Oh, and yeah, the lyrics are becoming obscure, but there is still enough substance in them where you can grab hold and ride them to lands and times and other places in your mind. If you want to escape reality for a while, this is a good album to turn to. Of course, one may argue that such abstraction of thought is merely a product of individual fantastic tendencies, and one would indeed have a point - on the other hand, I fully believe that virtually all people have the capability within them to let go of their "grip on tangible reality" for lack of a better term, and if Yes is able to so easily entice the listener into that inherent state, why should we hold it against them?

Either way, there's far more to this album than the trippy mental landscapes that it can create. For the first time, it becomes obvious just how smart this band is musically. This is best demonstrated, in my opinion, by the centerpiece of the album, good ol' "Starship Trooper." There are just so many good ideas in this song! The opening chords, for instance, are a fantastic showcase for their understanding of hard-soft dynamics, with that quiet guitar part following those "buh-DUM buh-DUM" and then starting again. And later, when Anderson hits the "speak to me of summer..." part, I'm absolutely enraptured. Throw in the silly clap-along "Dillusion" ditty in the middle and the closing "Würm" jam, with Steve playing the same chord sequence over and over again while the rest of the band builds the tension before jamming, and you've got yourself one heck of an epic.

Oh yeah, and the playing is mind-blowing. Besides Squire and Howe doing their stuff as well as they ever would, Bruford finally begins to truly come into his own, and even Tony Kaye gets into the act, stretching his sorta-dull playing style as far as it could go and maybe even further. "YIND" is wonderfully performed (which successfully masks the fact that the song structure is a bit too stretched out), but you also have to remember the 'boogie-jam' at the end of "All Good People," and ESPECIALLY that part near the end of "Perpetual Change" where everybody is playing this ridiculously difficult part at the same time so tightly that you could never believe that it wasn't just done by a computer - but sure enough, they actually could (as evidenced by live performances on the Yes Album, Fragile and later Ladder and Yessymphonic tours). All in all, simply delectable.

The album does have a flaw, however, one which keeps me from considering it my favorite Yes album (and also helps explain why it's hard to give too long of a description of the pieces). The musical themes found within the various extended pieces of this album are exquisite, to be sure ... but they are repeated again and again and again until it's possible your brain will get annoyed and sick of them. That's part of the point, of course - on the one hand, this is the first instance of the band taking the idea of a pop song (a single musical motive repeated several times) and stretching it into an almost satirical take on the concept, and on the other hand, the way they are repeated in different combinations from different channels serves to almost hypnotize the listener. Basically, the band takes what could be a weakness and turns it into a strength, but like it or not it's still a weakness, and as such hurts the album a smidge.

Still, a great album. Fortunately, although The Yes Album was by almost all accounts a success, what with its great playing and phenomenal songwriting, the band still wanted to get better. And so, alas, they cut what they perceived to be a weak link; Tony Kaye. Which does make some sense; although he had played really well on the album, he knew and the band knew that he could not play any better, and this did not gel with Anderson's wish to continually improve in every way. So in his place, they brought in somebody who would allow them to continue to improve ...

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |


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