Open Your Eyes (New Vinyl Edition) by Yes

July 20, 2012

Ah, the smell of fresh vinyl. If you came of age during the CD era you probably never had the experience or joy of the odor of a freshly opened vinyl album. It was memorable and should be experienced by all music lovers at least once.

Vinyl has been making a comeback lately with annual sales now in the millions of copies. Open Your Eyes, by Yes, has just been reissued as a double vinyl LP. It returns on 180 gram heavy-weight vinyl, which has enhanced the listening experience. The sound is crystal clear and if a person possesses a good stereo system, record player, and most importantly a quality needle, then the sound of a record can be the equal of a CD.

Open Your Eyes was the 17th studio album by Yes. The band at the time consisted of singer Jon Anderson, guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire, drummer Alan White, and keyboardist Billy Sherwood. Steve Porcaro and Igor Khoroshev also provided keyboards on several of the tracks.

The album is sometimes underrated in the vast Yes catalogue. It contained simpler and shorter songs for the most part. It was also not as cohesive as many of their past releases as the music travelled in a number of directions, which in some ways gave it some charm.

“New York State Of Mind” and the title track were guitar-based and Steve Howe’s solo on the first found him at his creative best. “Universal Garden” was typical Yes as the synthesizer foundation found the band in familiar territory. Harmonies have always been an important part of the Yes approach and on “No Way We Can Lose” they shine. “Wonderlove” was the oddest song on the album due to its quirky structure, but was a prime example of the band experimenting with their sound. Sometimes simple is best and “From the Balcony” is just Howe’s acoustic guitar and Jon Anderson’s vocal.

There are no surprises with this reissue except for the format. The music is upbeat and interesting, but readily available on CD. It all comes down to whether a person wants to collect or experience the music on vinyl.

The music is spread over four sides so don’t forget to turn the records over every now and then.

Article first published as Music Review: Yes – Open Your Eyes [180 Gram Vinyl Edition] on Blogcritics.

Atomic Rooster by Atomic Rooster

August 11, 2011

Everything seemed to be going just fine for The Crazy World of Arthur Brown in early 1969. They were touring the United States in support of their huge hit, “Fire,” and had just hired Carl Palmer as their new drummer. The good times and the tour came to an abrupt end, though, when keyboardist Vincent Crane left the band and returned to England with Carl Palmer in tow. He then added vocalist/bassist Nick Graham to the mix, and Atomic Rooster was born.

The band would undergo multiple personnel changes during its lifetime. Carl Palmer quickly left to join Emerson, Lake & Palmer, which in retrospect was one of the better career decisions in music history. Guitarist/vocalist John Du Cann replaced Graham, changing the keyboardist/bass/drum vision of the original line-up.

Atomic Rooster had two distinct periods during their history. Their 1969-1975 period was more experimental than their second incarnation. They were always more popular in the U.K. and Europe than in the States as they had a couple of hit singles and several commercially successful albums.

Their second reunion period, 1980-1983, featured a narrower sound as they emerged as a hard-rocking progressive band. DuCann and Crane recruited session drummer Preston Heyman and recorded their self-titled 1980 comeback album. It is now available again from MVD (Musical Video Distributors).

The 1980 Atomic Rooster was not for the weak of heart. The vocals were gritty and the music had a sledge-hammer quality that attacked the senses and attempted to overwhelm the listener.

The album’s first track, “They Took Control Of You,” sets the tone for what’s to follow. The keyboards are progressive rock while the guitar sound travels in a hard-rock direction. It makes for an interesting mix as the two instruments vie for control with the drums thundering in the background.

“He Did It Again” continues the same approach as the guitar and keyboard renew their duel, while “Where’s The Show” increases the tempo until it becomes an all-out frenetic attack. Best of all is “Do You Know Who’s Looking For You,” which is also the album’s hardest-rocking track.

Atomic Rooster remains a nice piece of hard rock/progressive history. Crane died in 1989; there will be no reunions. So if you want to hear some down-and-dirty, early-’80s rock ‘n’ roll, then this is an album and band for you.

Article first published as Music Review: Atomic Rooster – Atomic Rooster on Blogcritics.

The Ladder by Yes

June 11, 2011

After the critical and commercial debacle of their 1997 album, Open Your Eyes, Yes regrouped. Vocalist Jon Anderson, drummer Alan White, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe were back, as was Billy Sherwood, who was retained as a second guitarist but no longer as the keyboardist. The group became a six-man band when keyboardist Igor Khoroshev was officially added to the group. The band also brought in outside producer Bruce Fairbairn, who unfortunately died just before the recording process was completed.

The Ladder returned Yes to their progressive rock roots and while it may not have been of the same caliber as their classic work, it was at least welcomed and ultimately very listenable. When taken on its own and not compared to their past work, it emerges as a fine modern Yes album.

There are two extended tracks, a few ballads, and overall the music has a nice hard edge to it. When you add in the usual level of competent musicianship and the tight production, you have an album that has withstood the test of time well.

“Homeworld (The Ladder)” is one of two tracks that clocks in at over nine minutes. It was the album’s first track and its classic progressive rock style sets the tone for what follows. “New Language” was the other longer song and used a jam from their previous album recording sessions to form the foundation for the song. The length of both songs gives the various band members room for solos.

“It Will Be A Good Day (the River)” and “Face To Face” may veer a little toward traditional rock, but both are catchy and melodic. Plus, they fit into the concept of the album well. “The Messenger” was a fine tribute to Bob Marley. “Nine Voices (Longwalker)” has some nice acoustic guitar work.

The Ladder may not explore any new ground, but at over three decades into their career at this point, I’ll accept the old. There may be better places to start when exploring the Yes catalogue, but at least there is nothing offensive, and in places there is some good music.

Article first published as Music Review: Yes – The Ladder on Blogcritics.

Talk by Yes

May 23, 2011

Any band that has existed for as long as Yes has usually produced a number of great albums, a few good ones, some average ones, and no doubt a few clunkers along the way. And so during early 1994, to channel Tennyson, Trevor Rabin led Yes into the valley of death and released Talk.

Just three years previous, Yes had consisted of eight musicians. Rick Wakeman, Bill Bruford, and Steve Howe had left, leaving a line-up of Jon Anderson, Tony Kaye, Chris Squire, Alan White, and the aforementioned Trevor Rabin.

Rabin and Anderson co-wrote all of the tracks with some help from Squire on two tracks and Roger Hodgson of Supertramp on one. Rabin wanted to return the band to the polished rock of 90125 and Big Generator, while Anderson wanted to return the band to their classic progressive roots. What emerged was an unsatisfactory hybrid that probably traveled closer to Rabin’s vision, but ultimately proved unsatisfactory to both styles. It was a commercial failure by Yes standards, not even reaching gold record status for sales. The accompanying tour, likewise failed to fill halls that prior incarnations of Yes, including their Union Tour, had filled to capacity.

Rabin was the main culprit, as in addition to his writing chores he produced the album and played an array of instruments, including electric & acoustic guitars, keyboards, plus programming, and even provided some lead vocals.

“The Calling,” which led off the original album, is at least listenable. It was constructed in the “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” vein, and while it did not have its polish and appeal, at least it was a good try. The song is built upon a guitar riff which may not be memorable enough for a truly outstanding seven-minute song. Tony Kaye makes his only outstanding contribution on this track.

Things go south quickly thereafter. “I Am Waiting” is a seven-minute Journey rip-off; if I want good Journey music I will go to the source. The album just about hits rock bottom with “Walls,” which is amazing as it was composed by Anderson, Rabin, and Hodgson, who all created good, and in many instances, great music during their career. It sort of bumbles and whines along for five interminable minutes.

The final track was an attempt at a classic Yes epic. “Endless Dream” has three parts; two small sections with the 12-minute “Talk” in the middle. In the past some of their longer tracks have just flown by, but here it drags. The guitar and synthesizer parts, both played by Rabin, combine to drone on.

Talk is one of the weakest albums in the Yes catalogue. Rabin took pride in the fact that he mixed the entire album on an apple computer. He would have been better served to have remained in the studio. There may be some hardcore Yes fans out there who appreciated this release, but when exploring their music this is not a place to start or end.

Article first published as Music Review: Yes – Talk on Blogcritics.

Union by Yes

May 18, 2011

During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s there were two different Yes bands. There was the official group of Chris Squire, Trevor Rabon, Tony Kaye, and Alan White. Then there was the unofficial group of Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman, and Alan White. Both found themselves in the studio at the same time and Squire and Anderson decided to combine the projects into one release. The resulting album was titled Union.

The music was complex and interesting yet inconsistent. The two Yes bands were very different in sound and style, and while they might have united for the album’s creation, their various contributions made for a disjointed affair. In the final analysis, though — when taken separately — the tracks are very good. The critical reaction was mixed but the album was nevertheless a commercial success, receiving a gold record award for sales in the United States. The resulting tour was both a huge critical and commercial success.

The first two tracks are in the vein of the pop/rock Yes of 90125. “I Would Have Waited Forever” and “Shock To The System” are both polished rock. “Without Hope, You Cannot Start The Day” was the fifth track and follows much in the same style. They probably should have combined it with the first two tracks, actually, rather than separating them.

“Masquerade” was a late addition to the album as the record company wanted a Steve Howe instrumental. It may have been short at just over two minutes, but he quickly proved why he is considered one of the better guitarists of his era. This acoustic track was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

Right in the middle of the album are two back-to-back tracks that are fine examples of creative, experimental progressive rock. “The More We Live – Let Go” and “Angkor Wat” have all the makings of classic Yes with guitar and keyboards combining to lay down the foundation for Jon Anderson’s vocals. “Angkor Wat” incorporated the Cambodian poetry of Pauline Cheng.

The album’s best known track spent six weeks in the Number One position on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks Chart. “Lift Me Up” treads the line between progressive and mainstream rock and was perfect radio fare during the early 1990’s.

The original album ended with “Take The Water To The Mountain.” It begins as a sparse track and gradually builds as instruments are added. The only problem is its length; at just over three minutes, it sounds kind of rushed.

Unionis a unique if inconsistent album. The union of Yes would be short-lived as Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman, and Steve Howe would quickly depart, returning the band to their 1983-1988 configuration. Yet it remains an interesting stop in the career of Yes.

Article first published as Music Review: Yes – Union on Blogcritics.

Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe by Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe

May 13, 2011

It looked like a Yes album, it sounded like a Yes album, it even had musicians that had created Yes albums, but it wasn’t an official Yes album. Well it sort of was but not really.

Jon Anderson was quarrelling with Chris Squire and was not happy with the direction Trevor Rabin was taking Yes, so he quit the band. What he did was bring together former band members, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman, and Steve Howe. All of a sudden 4/5 of the Yes line-up that produced such classic Yes albums as Fragile and Close To The Edge were back together. The addition of bassist Tony Levin completed the band. Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe may not have been the most creative name for their band, but it got the message across. The album release number of 90126 was very clever.

Their self-titled album was released during June of 1989, and while it may not have been the equal of their best releases of two decades before, it was still very good, and a welcome return to their brand of progressive rock.

The original release was a combination of longer epic type tracks mixed with some shorter pieces. While it was uneven in places, when it was good it was very good. The only real negative was the absence of Chris Squire, who not only was – and is – one of the more creative bassists of the last four decades, but his vocals were always an integral part of the Yes harmonies.

The opening track “Themes” is divided into three parts and is more complex than anything Yes had produced in the past decade. “Sound,” “Second Attention,” and “Soul Warrior” all explore various musical themes.

The best track was “Quartet,” which was divided into four parts. It is a song that builds from its acoustic beginnings to a full blown, heavily orchestrated number. It was classic progressive rock. The most adventurous composition was the ten minute, three part “Brother of Mine,” which allowed room for solo excursions by the various band members.

“The Meeting” was a piano-based piece. It is a track where Rick Wakeman kept his grandiose inclinations under control and produced a song of beauty. The other track of note was “Teakbois,” which incorporated some Jamaican rhythms into the mix.

Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, the album and the group, was a treat at the time of its release as it was an unexpected trip back in time for these four previous members of Yes. Sometimes this album remains hidden in the Yes catalogue, but it is worth seeking out for a listen or two.

Article first published as Music Review: Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe – Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe on Blogcritics.

90125 by Yes

May 5, 2011

Yes released the album Drama during 1980. At the time, I thought it was the final chapter of their career, as the band members dispersed in different directions. Much to my surprise, three years later a new Yes album was released. Much to my amazement, Jon Anderson was back as the lead singer and all was right with the Yes universe.

90125 (released in 1983) brought a lot of changes to the band. Jon Anderson was back after missing one album. Keyboardist Tony Kaye was back after missing a lot of albums. Guitarist Trevor Rabin had replaced Steve Howe.

Former Buggles member Geoff Downes was gone, and his bandmate Trevor Horn was sort of gone, as he had left the band but stayed around to produce the album. If you are keeping track, Yes now consisted of Anderson, Rabin, Kaye, plus holdovers Chris Squire and Alan White.

It was Rabin who probably exerted the most influence, alone and in combination with Anderson. He co-wrote all nine tracks and shared a writing credit with Anderson on seven. The songs veer away from their progressive rock roots toward what can be called arena rock. The guitar sound is up front and is backed by a thumping rhythm section. The songs are tighter and more polished than anything the band had released, which pushed the band toward the rock mainstream.

The track that best exemplifies Yes during this period of their career is “Owner Of A Lonely Heart.” There is a guitar riff, some ’80s synthesizer pyrotechnics, a polished melody, and is even danceable in an odd sort of way. It even became a hit single, reaching number one in the United States, an unthinkable prospect for the earlier incarnations of Yes. I have always liked the track in spite of myself.

My second favorite track is the album-ending “Hearts.” It was a collaborative piece by all five members and it soars. Rabin’s guitar and Kaye’s keyboards combine to form the foundation for the song. On the other hand, songs such as “Changes” and “City Of Love” have the feel of Anderson/Rabin duets rather than fully developed Yes songs. Elsewhere, “Hold On” and “It Can Happen” are more examples of flashy rock.

90125 is a hit-and-miss affair. Overall, it comes down to a matter of taste. Hardcore fans of the band will probably dismiss it as too close to pop for their liking. When exploring the Yes discography, it’s not a place to start. Still, while it may be different, it is enjoyable in places and is a good listen if you are not in the mood to concentrate.

Article first published as Music Review: Yes – 90125 on Blogcritics.

Drama by Yes

April 29, 2011

A very different Yes returned on August 22, 1980 with their tenth studio album. Rick Wakeman was gone once again but the big news was the absent Jon Anderson, who had quit the band due to creative differences. He would quickly return and this would be their only album to date without his lead vocals. The band’s Fly From Here is due in a few months and it will mark the second Yes release without Anderson’s participation.

Drama would mark a change in the band’s sound, mainly due to their new members. Vocalist Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes had played together as The Buggles. Their song, “Video Killed The Radio Star,” had been a Number One hit in the U.K. and reached the American Top 40. If I remember correctly, it was the first video ever played on MTV. They were basically a new wave group and their style and approach would influence Yes. They would not be with the band very long, however, so although it was unintended at the time, Drama would be a transitional or connector album. It would become another commercial success reaching Number Two in their native country and 18 in the United States.

All five members of the band take writing credits on all of the tracks, although one must wonder if that was for the sake of convenience rather than reality.

The first and the last tracks come the closest to their progressive rock past. “Machine Messiah” clocks in at 10:27 and is reminiscent of their past extended tracks. It is a group effort, and the new members mesh well with the old. “Tempus Fugit” is an often-overlooked song in the band’s extensive catalogue. Chris Squire’s bass playing is nevertheless a highlight.

The center of the album travels in a different direction. “White Car” was an odd track at just under a minute-and-a-half in length but it has been performed live as a part of a longer piece. “Does It Really Happen” signals the beginning of the harder edged tunes. “Into The Lines” travels in a pop/new wave direction. “Run Through The Light” is a straightforward rocker that looks ahead to the work of Downes and Howe with Asia.

Drama is an often overlooked Yes album due to the band’s lineup. Still, it was energetic and polished, remaining highly listenable over three decades after its release. It may be different but it is also very good.

Article first published as Music Review: Yes – Drama on Blogcritics.

Tormato by Yes

April 29, 2011

Yes returned with Tormato, its ninth studio album, on September 20, 1978. It was less ambitious than many of its prior releases, as there were no long and extended tracks. The songs ranged in length from 2:25 to 7:47 minutes.

Tormato was welcomed at the time, as it was an easier listening experience and continued the band’s commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching as high as number 8 in the U.K. and number 10 in The United States album charts. It was also true to Yes’ progressive rock roots but was more melodic overall, and the songs were more polished.

The original vinyl release suffered from poor production, especially with Chris Squire’s bass. I have heard a CD reissue of the album and the mix seems much better.

This would be the lineup at the time’s last album together. Squire, drummer Alan White, and guitarist Steve Howe would continue but keyboardist Rick Wakeman and original member Jon Anderson would both be gone before their next album release, and would not return for years.

Tormato was not Rick Wakeman’s finest effort but I have always liked his harpsichord work on “Madrigal.” My only complaint is the track is too short to really settle into and enjoy.

Another fine group effort was “Circus Of Heaven.” The melody is pleasing to the ear, as the lyrics explore the realm of fantasy. “Release, Release” is energetic and competent rock, as it settles into a good groove.

The final two tracks travel in different directions. “Onward” is classic Yes, as it makes use of an orchestra. “On The Silent Wings Of Freedom” is the longest track at just less than eight minutes. It is a somewhat somber affair but sort of lulls you and was a nice way to conclude the album.

As I have been traveling through the Yes catalog, the constant pleasure has been the guitar virtuosity of Steve Howe. Whether electric, acoustic, or somewhere in between, very few musicians can claim the consistent excellence of his body of work.

Looking back on Tormato, it was a little change of direction for the group. I remember playing the album quite a bit when it was released. Now, when I turn to Yes for some music, I tend to prefer their albums that contain longer, extended tracks. It remains an OK listen, but not a starting point in exploring the Yes catalog of music.

Article first published as Music Review: Yes – Tomato on Blogcritics.

Roundabout 45 by Yes

April 25, 2011

Yes is now recognized as one of the legendary progressive rock bands in music history. They have sold tens of millions of albums. They are primarily remembered for their albums, but every once in awhile would release a memorable single.

“Roundabout” was released February 12, 1972 and would become one of only two of their single releases in The United States to enter the top twenty. It would reach number 13 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

It was a shortened version of the album track. It was progressive rock with tight harmonies. It is the bass of Chris Squire that made the song memerable.

It is one of those songs that has held up well down through the years. It remains a classic of its type.