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Yes - Relayer CD (album) cover

RELAYER

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

4.37 | 3005 ratings

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timburlane
5 stars The very first Yes album I ever bought was "Relayer"; I was thirteen years old and this was back in the days when I didn't even know what progressive rock was. My record collection at the time probably amounted to no more than eight or nine albums; a couple by Queen, Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon", a Kraftwerk album, "Status Quo Live" and another live album by the Stones. It was all just rock music to me but I'd heard that Yes were a "good" band and I bought "Relayer" purely on the grounds that I liked the cover. Well, nothing I had listened to previously even remotely prepared me for what I heard when I got it home; music of extraordinary complexity where uncompromising squalls of angry guitar and otherworldly synths are set against wonderful angelic melodies. When the final notes of "The Gates of Delirium" died away and I had to turn it over I took a moment to inspect my mind and found it to be well and truly blown. To this day it is still my favourite Yes album and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise!

This is an incredibly dense album in places and there are times, (most of "The Gates of Delirium" and the beginning and end of "Sound Chaser"), where the instruments seemed to be locked in some brutal astral combat as Steve Howe's guitar and Patrick Moraz's keyboards vie for supremacy against a backdrop of pounding bass and drums. There are other parts of this album however that are almost impossibly fragile and beautiful ? "Soon" which is the closing section of "The Gates?" and "To Be Over" the final track on the album. Over the three tracks you'll hear folk, metal, experimental music, funk and fusion - often all at once.

To give you a bit of historical background, Relayer comes between the shockingly rubbish "Tales from Topographic Oceans" and their "last great" album "Going For The One". Wakeman had vacated the keyboard stool to pursue his solo career, (although he returned for GFTO), and Swiss keyboard virtuoso Patrick Moraz had been drafted in to take his place. The other relative new boy was Alan White who had replaced Bill Bruford on drums for "Tales?" Bruford having departed following their career high-water mark "Close to the Edge" to go and play with King Crimson. Yes were keen to re-establish their credentials following the critical mauling they had received for "Tales?" and it's no accident that "Relayer" repeats the format of "Close to the Edge" in that it has three tracks one of which is a side long with the other two taking up side two.

"The Gate of Delirium" is the monster opening epic, (it's over twenty-one minutes long) and is worth the price of admission on its own. Right from the start it kicks in with a sort of overture section bristling with Howe's muscular guitar runs, shimmering with intricate keyboard work and under-pinned by Squire's signature bass sound and White's alternately delicate and blistering drumming. Then Anderson comes in with the vocals. You either love or hate his unique voice, which I recently heard described as "a pixie on helium" but I love it, and I also love the harmonies which are there in abundance.

The lyrics are tosh of course but that's a Yes thing. They always have been rubbish and always will be but they are a part of the Yes "sound". To be fair there does seem to be some narrative drive to this song in that it seems to be about a battle or a war and certainly that's where the music takes you, particularly as you get into the instrumental section of the song where Howe and Moraz fight it out solo for solo while in the background con be heard screams and crashes and what sounds like a full blown sword fight. About ten minutes into the song they slip into a super-funky riff while around them the battle rages on. This morphs into a victory march which eventually gives way to the lovely, wistful ballad which ends the number, by which time you'll probably need to take a couple of minutes just to get over the musical emotional switchback you've been riding for the last twenty minutes. It leaves me feeling wrung out even now and I've been listening to this album for over thirty years.

Track two, or the first track on side two of the original vinyl, is "Sound Chaser " which is probably the most "out-there" track Yes have ever produced. It starts out all fusion then drops into a pounding fast, spiky and syncopated riff that would leave The Mars Volta feeling tolerably pleased with themselves. This gives way to an eastern tinged, totally deranged guitar solo before pounding us with the riff again just to make sure we've got the point. This track really does showcase a bunch of musicians right at the top of their game.

"To Be Over" is the third and final track and following the previous number it's like a lovely hot bath after a punishing day at the coalface. Gorgeous melodies weave around each other in a gossamer textured introduction which leads us into a total bliss-out Yes ballad of ravishing beauty. Howe really gets to show off his chops in this number with some lovely slide guitar, sitar-guitar and all manner of other guitar related instruments.

Taken as a whole "Relayer" is a masterpiece. Where Wakeman was all flash and whizz- bang, Moraz brings truly innovative and imaginative sound design to the band. Sure, he does solos and they're excellent, but it's the palette of sounds that he uses which sets him apart from his predecessor and I often wonder what might have happened had they kept him on. It's fair to say that this is a much rockier, more guitar dominated album than their other work, again this is probably due the Wakeman's absence. If you're only going to own one Yes album get "Close to the Edge" but if it's going to be two then get "Relayer" as well, it's a work of genius.

timburlane | 5/5 |

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