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Yes - Relayer CD (album) cover

RELAYER

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

4.36 | 1988 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
5 stars People thought Yes was about to collapse. People were very wrong. To replace the departed Wakeman, Yes pulled out minor-keyboard-deity Patrick Moraz, formerly of some band called Refugee. In a few years time, he would hook up with the Moody Blues, first helping to jump-start their career and later leading the band into self-parody with his cheezy playing, but for now Patrick was a well-respected fusion keyboardist who would add a completely new dimension to Yes' sound. Initially, I considered him far weaker than Wakeman, but I now feel that was a mistake - while I do slightly prefer Wakeman overall, the two can't really be compared straight up (since their styles are so different), and when I take into account stylistic differences, I find it very difficult to choose one over the other.

The result, Relayer, must be considered one of the absolute high points of Yes' career, even though it's a slight aberration from their normal sound. I used to consider it clearly weaker than the last couple of albums, but I was wrong - musically, it's very strong, and from a trail-blazing point of view, it is practically untouchable (as far as Yes albums go, anyway). Besides, half of it is amazing beyond belief - how could I give a low rating to an album where a full side almost defines the word 'perfection'? See, although Tales' structure had been widely criticized, Yes was not done making 'epic' albums. Rather than doing the 4 side-long track thing, however, they returned to the Close to the Edge setup of one side-long and two tracks on the other. And partially because of that, the album is even stronger than Tales.

This is hardly a Close to the Edge redux, though. As mentioned earlier, Moraz was primarily a fusion keyboardist, and as such it shouldn't be surprising that Yes dabbles heavily in that aspect of music on this album. The songs are still basically "classic" prog- rock, sure, and none of the passages on the album are improvs put to tape (a la some King Crimson), but the stylistics have still changed significantly. The instrumental breaks are much more intense and fierce-sounding than anything from before, partially because Howe hardens up his guitar tone to an extent unmatched in the rest of Yes' history, and partially because the band went for all out aggression in more than a few spots on the album. The result oftentimes sounds a bit like the recently-dissolved 70's King Crimson (or even like The Mahavishnu Orchestra), but as much as I love Larks and Red, I ultimately end up preferring Yes' take on the approach (ie this album) by a very slight bit. Why this is I will get to later.

The King Crimson influences are most prominent in the second track of the album, the nine-minute "Sound Chaser." I can only begin to imagine the absolute shock received by fans hearing this for the first time in pre-album touring - on the surface, it's a really cool, loud, but also messy-as-hell shredfest whose main goal seems to be to show off chops. Well .... that might be true, but I get my kicks from it anyhow. The vocal melody that pops up from time to time gets caught in my head routinely (no kidding), and the CHA CHA CHA *HROUGH* parts at the end are nothing short of hilarious, but of course it's the instrumental breaks that take the cake. All receive prominent display, even if in the case of White (whose drumming on this album improves tenfold from Tales) and Squire it's relegated to providing VERY cool work underpinning the rest. Moraz gets one of the strangest keyboard solos ever to be found on a Yes album near the end, while providing ominous parts periodically in the rest, and Steve gets one of the most ferocious solos ever known to man in the first half. This solo also contains one of the few moments in the Yes canon that genuinely scares the crap out of me every time I hear it - Steve's quote of "Mood for a Day," a soothing piece if ever there was one, that is quickly followed by a menacing *BOOOWW WOW WOW WOOOOWW*, as if to tell the listener that any expectations of relief from the onslaught during this piece should be dismissed. Sure, I wouldn't want to listen to this sort of thing every minute of my life, but it works well in the context of the album.

Fortunately, relief comes in the closing "To Be Over." It's a strange piece, not exactly a ballad or anything like that, but that doesn't make it any worse for it. It really provides an image of sailing down a stream, passing waterfalls here and there, as we emerge from the hellishness provided by the last track. At least, for the most part; Steve's guitar parts are EXTREMELY interesting on this track - not only are they mixed very clearly and placed very high, but they're very, er, "schizophrenic." He'll be playing some beautiful slide for a while, and out of nowhere he'll rip into a lick on his Telecaster that sounds straight out of the previous song. Of course, I feel there is a distinct purpose to that (which I will mention later), but never mind - the final third of the piece contains some of the most beautiful vocal harmonizing I've ever come across, and the "someday someone" etc. chanting at the end with Steve coming full circle with his slide parts does not fail to bring a tear to my eye. Again, not all the individual elements of the song are brilliant, but it works well as a whole (though I'd still take "AYAI" over this).

But of course, these two tracks are not the main reason people go gaga over this album. Nono, that would be the beast on side one. The greatest song in the Yes catalogue, the band's crowning jewel. The pinnacle and culmination of all things progressive. The track that ALL progressive rock was leading up to, which has never once been topped and will stand, many years from now, as the shining moment of the prog-rock movement when I am gone and my review page lies abandoned. Yes, it is indeed the epic "Gates of Delirium" of which I speak. A 22 minute musical interpretation of War and Peace that tells the most evocative and tension-filled story I've ever heard (er, at least in a musical setting).

Wait, a "story" I said? Yes indeed. The song is, at the most basic level, divided into three sections - the battle prologue, the battle (which is bloody as hell), and the aftermath. So in the beginning, it's peaceful (day breaks, and there's even a "reveille" part), and yet filled with anxiety. As the time of the confrontation approaches, the tension rises; the warriors remind each other why they wish to fight, call up their Gods to help them in battle, and there's even signs of deceit and espionage within the ranks. Not to mention that the music does a good enough job of its own of raising the tension so slowly that one barely notices until it's almost too late (note especially the way Steve's guitar tone gets harder and harder throughout the intro).

As the battle is imminent, the adrenaline starts pumping, and it's time to do or die. The final stanza before the fighting begins is nothing short of brilliant: "The first will run, grasp metal to gun. The spirit sings in crashing tones, we gain the battle drum. Our cries will shrill, the air will moan and crash into the dawn. The pen won't stay the demon's wings, the hour approaches pounding out the Devil's sermon." Cool, huh? Then there's a whole bunch of sound effects over the music, simulating the confrontation (which is EXTRAORDINARILY well structured, by the way, depicting waves of attacking forces and slow advances in positioning, until the forces break through and White pounds out the main rhythm of a victory march). Needless to say, the music itself is also incredible - from Moraz's initial surge and explosion with his keys to Steve's "death from above" guitar swoops to the cool bass part in a syncopated 6/4, it becomes exceptionally easy after five or six listens (and with some modicum of imagination) to see people falling left and right while the victorious force grinds its way through the enemy position. I should also mention that this instrumental section contains my single favorite Yes moment - the RIP YOUR FACE OFF harmonic and rhythmic counterpoint that occurs around 9:41, a blast of controlled chaos that boggles my mind every time I hear it. And of course, I also find it REALLY cool the way the instruments "complete each other's thoughts" on such a regular basis, but I should move on, really I should ...

After the battle fades away, the music starts to get peaceful again - but it's an eerie, sick sort of peace. The imagery of the last part of this track is almost undeniable - one can easily envision the leader of the victorious side riding about in celebration, then slowing down as the smoke clears and the casualties of war are revealed, changing a happy celebration into something less ebulliant, more introspective and reflective. But as the survivors tend to the wounded and Jon serenades us with the "Soon" conclusion, a tinge of optimism creeps forth - although many were lost, their sacrifice was not in vain, and the future will be brighter because of them. NOW do you get an idea of why so many people worship this track??!!

Of course, I've still left unanswered the questions from before. The first - why it is that I prefer Yes' take on King Crimson (and yes, with the "hard" edge evident throughout, all three tracks can be attributed with that tinge). The answer is basically this - mid 70's King Crimson had an absolute mastery of contrast between loud and quiet, as well as an incredible sense of how to build one into another. Yes demonstrates a similar mastery of that with this album, but also taps into an aspect Crimson never could - contrast between light and dark, good and evil. Which in turn leads into the second question - why it is that Yes would allow the album to be so schizophrenic in nature. The answer to this, I fear, will not come out particularly clearly, but I'm hoping I can find the words to explain my thoughts. So here goes.

Relayer, when you get down to it, is a mood album. Yes, you read that correctly, but I mean the term in a different connotation than you might be used to. Most of the time, a mood album "sets" a mood or a vibe through peaceful repetition of quiet phrases. Relayer, on the other hand, FORCES moods upon you. Not only that, but the mood swings violently from aggression to peace - the pretty parts of the album are some of the most gorgeous known to man, while the most aggressive parts could make the most ardent metalhead suck his thumb and cry for mommy. Just look at the way the album goes: "Gates" starts off peacefully, slowly builds into the violent battle section, which in turn oozes its way into the beautiful "Soon." Then from nowhere, we're launched straight back into angry aggression with "Sound Chaser," which has an occasional moment of calm, only to be swallowed up with the torrent of playing. And finally, we have "TBO," which starts out beautifully ... and then eventually goes through some "turbulence." The swings between light and dark, peace and anger, become closer and closer together, with less time to gradually swing from one to another ... until, in the end, the peaceful side wins out, giving us the beautiful guitar serenade whilst the band floats away into a beautiful sunset. Or something like that.

Yes, I am a nut. That doesn't make the album rule any less. I can't BELIEVE I once would have only given this a low ****.

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |

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