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Yes - The Ladder  CD (album) cover

THE LADDER

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

3.27 | 687 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars From the opening notes there is a sense this will be quite different from the studio albums the band had released over the previous twenty years. Recent new member Igor Khoroshev provides the most creative keyboard tracks for the band since way back when Wakeman was playing target practice with Tormato's album cover. This is not the 'traditional' Yes sound, but it's certainly a decent attempt at artistic rather than commercial expression, and at least "Homeworld (the Ladder)" is a pretty decent opening track. The building keyboard & guitar bridge in the middle actually caught me a bit off-guard the first time I heard them - it had been a while since Yes had done anything that made me sit up and really take notice. Bravo!

Howe's guitar and Alan White's drums border on sounding like the Police on "It Will Be a Good Day (the River)", perhaps a holdover from the similar "Wonderlove" from the Open Your Eyes album. This is another in a several-year string up poppish, upbeat tunes that are clearly heavily-influenced by Jon Anderson's inexplicable infatuation with Trevor Rabin's 80's style. This one is okay, nothing special but certainly not annoying.

"Lightning Strikes" is a live version with a pretty decent mix except for the drums which seem a bit flat, and there's a really weird tempo on the short middle instrumental that the band was clearly having fun with. I'm guessing from the crowd noise that this was more impressive if you were there to see it live. The odd almost-reggae tone is a change for the band, but the album is so pleasantly accessible that even this doesn't really turn me off.

The goofy "Can I?" is a short, inexplicable shout-out to "We Have Heaven" from the band's 1971 hit Fragile. I really have no idea why.

Howe's guitar is very interesting on "Face to Face" (I'm pretty sure this is a steel guitar). I love that twangy sound the thing makes, chugging along with a pretty up- tempo beat from White and Billy Sherwood filling in the gaps on electric guitar. Not sure what Anderson is babbling about, but this is another happy song and has some very decent keyboards and guitar to boot. Pretty good, if underdeveloped. Right before the end Anderson's vocal inflection gives the impression he's about to launch off into places unknown for a while, but I guess I only imagined this and the song dies out. Too bad.

"If Only You Knew" gives itself away from its title - sappy ballad, sappy keyboards, sappy guitar, sappy vocals, sappy sappy sappy. Get the picture? Oh well, this one will give Christopher Cross something to aspire to.

On "To Be Alive (Hep Yadda)" Howe pulls out what I think is his mandolin, and Chris Squire throws in just a little bit of harmonica over Khoroshev's string/flute-inspired keyboards. This is another pop tune, really could have been left off the album as far as I'm concerned, but again Khoroshev's keyboards are clean and well-played.

The band reaches back to the mid-80's for the sound on "Finally", but Anderson's vocals are surprisingly tough and this is a really tight rhythm with both Howe and Sherwood playing understated but driving guitars. I kind of like this tune, especially the downward tempo shift midway through that has the effect of seeming to extend this track far beyond its six minutes.

I'm not sure where Anderson got the idea he was a reggae singer - maybe he got sucked in to the UB40 sound along with the rest of us in the 80's. Who knows, but this is a Bob Marley tribute that is quite rich with Khoroshev adding string sounds to the two guitars, Squire doing his Stevie-Stevens-on-bass thing, and a few of them (not sure who) backing up Anderson on vocals. This is also not a very complex number, but it sure does a good job of sounding like it is. Here again an abrupt drop in tempo at the end makes the arrangement seem richer than it probably is.

With "New Language" the band finally returns to an old traditional of including one long, progressive, and heavily instrumental work. And the bonus is that this one is very heavy on keyboards, with Khoroshev setting kind of a bouncy tone and Howe coming in behind Anderson's vocals to briefly put out a little funk before Khoroshev wanders off to do some of the spacey stuff. This track clocks in at a bit over nine minutes, but it seems shorter. Maybe it's the rather driving beat, unusual for an extended Yes track. Howe and Squire rule on this track, but I have to say that Khoroshev is surprisingly lively and his timing is impeccable. This ain't "Close to the Edge", but it's a fairly decent throwback to around that time at least.

The closing "Nine Voices (Longwalker)" is a rather weak acoustic-and-vocals bit about Africa or something - not sure, I've always had trouble following Anderson's lyrics and this one didn't seem all that important to try and decipher. White does some cowbell or something in an attempt to give this an African feel I suppose. It doesn't work. This is another that could have been left off.

So this is a much better album than anything since at least Drama, and the second in a row that the band shows a buildup in intensity and creativity. A respectable though not stellar album. Three stars.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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