Open Your Eyes by Yes

June 6, 2011

Every time I have listened to Open Your Eyes, and I have to admit, the times have been few and far in between down through the years, I can’t help but think Yes should have taken more time and put a little more thought and effort into its creation.

Rick Wakeman had left the band again due to a disagreement concerning their Keys To Ascension 2 album. The band was planning a tour and decided to quickly record a new album to promote while they were on the road.

Chris Squire and Billy Sherwood had been working on a project together. Jon Anderson became interested and the music became a full-fledged Yes project. The result was Open Your Eyes. Other than being a weak album, it also had the misfortune of being released shortly after the second Keys To Ascension album, which only served to focus attention on it being one of the poorer Yes studio releases.

It was more pop than progressive rock and the emphasis, for the most part, was focused on the harmonies rather than the instrumental creativity that was always at the core of the best of Yes’ work. The songs also had an eclectic feel as they never settled into one style. Add that to a lack of creative depth, and you have the makings of a disappointing album.

There are basically two songs that are interesting. “Universal Garden” features some creative guitar interplay between Steve Howe and new member Billy Sherwood. It is one of very few Yes tracks to feature two guitars rather than the keyboard/guitar match-up. The album’s best track is its simplest. “From The Balcony” is basically Steve Howe’s acoustic guitar and Jon Anderson vocal. It proved that when in doubt, keep it simple.

Unfortunately the above two songs do not an album make. It was tracks such as the plodding “New State Of Mind” and the half-hearted “Man In The Moon” that were representative of the rest of the album.

Open Your Eyes is not up to the usual Yes standards, as the music does not just reach out and grab you. Groups like Yes, who have been around for decades, will issue a weak album now and then. In the long musical journey of Yes, this is one album best avoided as there are many better stops.

Article first published as Music Review: Yes – Open Your Eyes on Blogcritics.

Keys To Ascension 2 by Yes

June 2, 2011

Vocalist Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, and drummer Alan White had an inspiration during 1996.They reformed as the classic Yes line-up, recorded live tracks from a three-night stand in San Luis Obispo, California, added a few new studio songs, and released Keys To Ascension. It proved to be a commercial and critical success.

If at first you succeed, stay on the gravy train. They returned a year later with more live tracks from the San Luis Obispo concerts, and more new studio songs, and released another album appropriately called Keys To Ascension 2 (a two-disc set). Unfortunately, Rick Wakemen wanted to release the studio tracks as a stand-alone album with a live bonus disc but was outvoted. He promptly left the band for the fourth time, if you are keeping count.

The quality is very close to its predecessor, but I tend to like the studio tracks on disc two a little better than the live tracks on disc one. All in all, it comes out about the same and is one of the better modern Yes albums.

The live “I’ve Seen All The Good People,” “And You And I,” and the just under 20-minute long “Close To The Edge” are like having an old friend come to visit. They have all appeared on numerous releases, and while nothing really new is added here, you appreciate their presence nevertheless.

The shorter pieces fare a little better, as they are changed a bit. “Time And A Word” is built around some masterful piano work from Rick Wakemen. “Turn Of The Century” is a Steve Howe guitar clinic, as he brings his classical guitar expertise to the forefront.

The studio tracks are built upon the epic and intense 18-minute long “Mind Drive.” It is as good as any extended track Yes has ever produced. It has distinct parts that explore the overall melody before returning to the basic theme. Eighteen minutes can be a long time for one song, but this is one of those occasions where Yes makes the length work in its favor. The other outstanding studio track was “Foot Prints.” Chris Squire carries the early part of the song alone and then settles in for some of the better bass lines of his career.

Keys To Ascension 2 was another album that reassured the Yes fan base that everything was fine. It remains a nice live update for some of their better known songs and a good introduction to some new studio material.

Article first published as Music Review: Yes – Keys To Ascension 2 [2-CD Set] on Blogcritics.