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Yes - The Yes Album CD (album) cover




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5 stars REVIEW #9 - "The Yes Album" by Yes (1971). 07/07/2018

Its been a while since I've done a review, and over the last few weeks I was able to witness my first Yes concert. While the group today is radically different than it was in the seventies, with Steve Howe being the only remaining permanent member from that period, the band still played a myriad of works from throughout their history. One album the band relied on heavily was 1971's "Yes Album", which is largely considered to be the band's breakthrough work.

Two month's prior to the release of the band's second studio album "Time and a Word", the band's original guitarist Peter Banks left the group. This set the stage for Steve Howe to enter the band, bringing Yes's sound to the next level as they were trying to find their footing in the progressive rock world. Howe's presence would elevate the band, even prior to the induction of keyboardist Rick Wakeman. While Wakeman would join Yes later in 1971, Tony Kaye is still keyboardist on this album. Otherwise, we have the same lineup of Jon Anderson (vocals), Chris Squire (bass), and Bill Bruford (drums). With pressure from Atlantic Records to produce an album that was commercially successful, Yes got to work in creating the album which would give them a taste of success at the mainstream level.

The album begins with "Yours Is No Disgrace", which is a very well-liked live staple of the band which gives the listener a wonderful taste of what the band can bring to the table in 1971 as opposed to 1970. In addition to the powerful drumming of Bruford and the diverse bass techniques of Squire, we hear the very fast-paced and borderline acoustic style of Howe's ES-175. I would say that this piece is a great exposition to the album, and furthermore very progressive to boot with a few guitar solos and a keyboard solo. Kaye is not as talented on the keyboards as Wakeman would be, but nevertheless holds his own enough to not distract from the music. "Disgrace" is an anti-war tune that lasts almost ten-minutes, and gives enough instrumental breathing room to compensate for Anderson's vocal passages. I understand that some people are turned off by the vocalist's falsetto, but I view Anderson as probably the defining member of the band alongside Howe, and his voice gives Yes a level of uniqueness that allowed them to stand out in prog. However, Howe deserves a lot of credit for the direction of the band, as evidenced by the acoustic interlude "Clap" that follows the opener. I am personally a big fan of Howe's acoustic work, and "Clap" is perhaps his greatest achievement in that regard. Sourced from a live performance, it is a three-minute fast and upbeat instrumental influenced by Chet Atkins and Mason Williams. I found this song particularly inspiring thanks to its similarities to the work of gypsy jazz virtuoso Django Reinhardt, who introduced me to the quality of critically listening to music. That being said, one will appreciate "Clap" even more when they realize how difficult it is to play; not only is at a rapid tempo, but Howe utilizes a special technique when he does not only use a pick, but he also strums with his ring and pinky fingers simultaneously, demonstrating his impeccable ability with the guitar. Howe would go on to contribute more acoustic pieces to the band, as well as a live solo album dedicated entirely to acoustic work, which I recommend you check out if you are a fan of "Clap" and its style.

Rounding out the first side is quite possibly my favorite Yes song in "Starship Trooper". In typical progressive fashion, the song is split into three parts, with each part being written by a different member of the band. Seguing directly out of "Clap" the first part "Life Seeker" immediately impresses with its spacey opening sound combined with Howe's guitar. Written by Anderson and based on the 1959 scifi novel "Starship Troopers", the vocals are extremely prevalent here, with a theme of religious realization and the search for God, a topic which he seemingly like to rely on. This is a very fun passage, with Squire's bass being especially prevalent alongside Bruford's drums. With a rhythm section as powerful as the Fish and Bruford, it is absolutely key to utilize them to their strengths, which is what Yes does on this track. After three minutes we enter the movement "Disillusion", penned by Squire. The symphonic element of Yes is emphasized here with an acoustic backdrop which eventually moves its way back towards a reprise. I found it surprising that Squire did not a radical bassline that would allow him to show off his skill more than in "Life Seeker". Finally, the final part of the song is in my opinion one of the best passages in the Yes catalog - the instrumental "Wurm" penned by Howe. Based on a piece used in Howe's old band Bodast, it is a cadenza of chords played at a tempo reminiscent of Ravel's "Bolero" that goes along a continuous build-up lasting a couple minutes with the help of Kaye's keyboards and intense drums. Finally at the climax Howe comes back in at the forefront for one last great guitar solo that serves as the de facto coda. Not to discredit Howe's epic shredding session, but Squire's deep throttling bass in the background absolutely makes this moment for me as it just augments the electronic treble coming from the ES-175. Fading out to conclude the first side, Yes could have seriously stopped there; in fact I think this song would have been great as the absolute album closer, but I was satisfied when the band used this piece as the grand finale of the show that I went to - to make things cooler the group did have Tony Kaye come out during the encore to perform this piece alongside "Disgrace".

Picking up where we left off, the band brings on another progressive suite with "I've Seen All Good People", which is split into two passages as opposed to three. Opening up with an a cappella vocal harmony, Howe enters the scene with a Portuguese vachalia guitar for the Anderson-penned part "Your Move" which in similar fashion to "Life Seeker" provides deeply philosophical lyrics to aid with the sublime musical themes and motifs. In fact, things get intensely progressive as Anderson likens the human relationship to a game of chess, long before Gryphon made that album with the chess concept. There is a spontaneous transition to the second part "All Good People", written by Squire and this time featuring a technical and discernible bassline to go behind the chorus. There are a couple references to the works of John Lennon in this song, from a lyrical reference to the song "Instant Karma!" to an organ motif that bears similarity to "Give Peace a Chance". Maybe this was some sort of unintended foreshadowing for the eventual induction of Plastic Ono Band drummer Alan White into the band, who played on Lennon's hit "Imagine". While I have never been much of a huge fan of this piece, it did surprisingly garner the approval of music critic and vocal prog-hater Robert Christgau of the Village Voice, who referred to it as a "great cut". Of course he would later go on to rate the album as a "B-". Perhaps the only piece which falls short on this album is the simplistic "A Venture" which relies heavily on both Kaye and Anderson. It is not a bad track, but it just fails to stand out in an album which is staffed by seminal tunes composed by the band. Fortunately, it is only about three minutes long, roughly the same size as "Clap" and is over with quite quickly as the band decided to omit a Howe guitar solo which comes in right as the music fades out. We finish things off with another Yes classic which I look upon very highly in "Perpetual Change". I consider this tune to be the most upbeat of the tracks on "the Yes Album", and is grandiose enough to match "Starship Trooper" to close a side of the album. While the lyrics come with a rather unnatural mellow and prodding background, the band hits the nail on the head with the symphonic chorus, and better yet, includes a progressive middle instrumental section that features the band going off in two different directions similar to the style of King Crimson. While I prefer the intensity of "Starship Trooper", "Perpetual Change" holds its own in concluding the album while still being a classic staple of the band, largely in thanks to the power of its choruses. I find the ending to be a little bit underwhelming, and I still stand by my opinion that "Trooper" is the natural conclusion to this album in its entirety.

"The Yes Album" reached #4 on the UK album charts, serving as Yes's commercial breakthrough. Better yet, the album set the stage for the release of the seminal "Fragile" album released later that year, and eventually the GOAT album "Close to the Edge" in 1972. All three of these albums have been given their fair share of respect in the prog community, and all three deserve to be labeled as essential works of prog. The vast majority of this album is memorable and listenable, and even when the filler track "A Venture" is involved, there still are no negative takeaways from this album. In fact, the group would continue to get better by adding Wakeman for the next album. As I have noted, "Starship Trooper" is my personal favorite Yes composition, but "Clap" is also one of my favorite prog tunes since I'm a huge fan of Howe's acoustic work. In many ways, it could be argued that Steve Howe is the member responsible for Yes's ascension to prog fame, as his guitar work on this album excelled in bringing the band's sound into its own. I look forward to reviewing these golden age Yes albums in the future, mainly because they have stood the test of time which remaining obviously seventies. For "the Yes Album", I award a five-star rating (94% - A) which puts it ahead of their 1973 album "Tales from Topographic Oceans", which I reviewed earlier (and you should check out).

SonomaComa1999 | 5/5 |


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