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.

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.

Yes Acoustic (DVD) by Yes

January 6, 2011

The film Yesspeak was issued January 26, 2004. It was a chronicle of the classic Yes line-up comprised of keyboardist Rick Wakeman, drummer Alan White, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, and vocalist John Anderson.

Following the debut, the patrons at the cinemas were treated to a live performance by Yes that was beamed into the theaters via satellite. The performance was acoustic – or unplugged if you will. It was released briefly after its broadcast but quickly disappeared. It now returns as a DVD titled Yes Acoustic.

The quality of the picture and clarity of the sound is excellent throughout. The only real negative is the shortness of the performance, which clocks in at about 37 minutes. They have a wealth of material, so the affair could have been lengthened well beyond the seven songs presented here, although there may have been time constraints due to the type of transmission.

The DVD is fleshed out by a twenty minutes of behind the scenes documentary of the band preparing for their live performance, narrated by Rick Wakeman. All the trailers for the film and original acoustic performance are also included.

Yes is known for their electric, improvisational material, so when they are in acoustic mode, it presents their music in a different light. It places the focus upon the musicianship and style of each band member.

Three tracks from Fragile form the centerpiece of the album. “Long Distance Runner,” “South Side Of The Sky,” and “Roundabout” are all reinvented in a good way. My only criticism is the bridge parts from the last two were eliminated. The other two outstanding tracks are “Time Is Time” from Magnification and “I’ve Seen All The Good People,” which included the movements “Your Move” and “All Good People.”

The final two performances were “Tiger Rag” with Rick Wakeman on the piano, and “Show Me” which was a new Jon Anderson song at the time.

Yes Acoustic is one of those releases which is good but could have been better. Still, it is worth a view as it presents a classic band in a new and unique way.

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

Symphonic Live by Yes

May 29, 2009

Yes has returned with a new two-disc CD offering titled Symphonic Live. The music was previously released in 2002 as part of a DVD set of the same name. The group had decided to tour in support of their latest album release at the time, Magnification.

They brought in the European Festival Orchestra, conducted by Wilhelm Keitel, to back them in concert. The resulting sound retains the original structure and intent of their material, but the songs are enhanced with new textures and layers.

This version of Yes contains four fifths of their classic line-up. On board are vocalist and guitarist Jon Anderson, lead guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire, and drummer Alan White. Keyboardist Tom Brislin fills in for Rick Wakeman, and he is missed.

I must say that I had lost track of Yes over the last 18 years or so. They were a staple on my turntable during the 70s and 80s, but their 1991 Union album was the last release I had purchased by the group, so it was nice to catch up. Also, since I do not own the music in DVD form, this album had to stand on its own without the visual presence of the group or orchestra.

I found Symphonic Live to be an interesting, creative, and a technically adept album. They wisely chose to mix in their hits and older tracks with some songs from their newest release and it all combined for a superior listening experience.

I had not heard the music from Magnification, so tracks such as “Don’t Go,” “In The Presence Of,” and the title song were all new to me. They contain all the elements of a classic Yes sound and seemed to fit the orchestral backing a little better than the older material.

They reach way back into their past for several songs. “I’ve Seen All The Good People” from 1971’s The Yes Album finds their harmonies in good shape. “Starship Trooper” from the same album receives a nice workout. “Long Distance Runaround” from Fragile is an excellent reminder of the guitar virtuosity of Steve Howe.

The album concludes with two of their best-known songs. “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” and “Roundabout” both benefit from reduced orchestration as they present the basic group at its best.

Symphonic Live brings Yes into the 21st century and it updates their classic material in a unique way. It proves that you can teach an old dog new tricks.