Twenty years ago, on a Sunday morning, I was departing Mass, heading back to my brother’s house in Boise, Idaho. Much to my surprise, I recognized Jon Anderson’s and Trevor Rabin’s voices on the radio. The local AOR station was playing “The Calling.” I had no idea that Yes had a new album, and I wasn’t even convinced it was Yes. Maybe Anderson and Rabin had started a projected. This was before the time of immediate internet gratification and information, so I had to hope against hope it was a new Yes album. I didn’t the song was brilliant, by any means, but I was excited by the possibility of a new album.
Let me offer two caveats here.
First, I’m not a Yes hater or an “aspect of Yes” hater. If it has “Yes” on the album sleeve or cd booklet, it’s a Yes song. The first album I ever remembering hearing was “Yessongs,” the 3-album live album. I was only probably six or so when I first heard Yessongs. I was the youngest of three brothers, and thank the good Lord, they loved prog. I benefitted immensely from what they’d purchased. When “Owner of a Lonely Heart” came out, I was just as happy as could be. Yeah, it wasn’t Steve Howe on guitar, but it was pretty good.
Frankly, I’ve never understood the huge division among Yes fans. Yeah, Wakeman is great, but Downes is pretty amazing as well. The same with Howe and Rabin. I love Chris Squire’s playing, but when Tony Levin played with ABWH, wow.
Had I been asked, I would’ve have suggested that the band that made “90125,” “Big Generator,” and “Talk” keep their original name, Cinema. It’s not that I don’t think the band was Yes, but Yes had such a deep history and distinctive sound that the band members themselves would have felt even freer to go in what direction they wanted. Plus, the name Cinema really does fit the music of 90125. If that album isn’t cinematic, no album is.
Second, this post you’re now reading (thank you, by the way) was promoted by waking up to an excellent piece by Conor Fynes over at Prog Sphere: http://www.prog-sphere.com/specials/yes-talk/
Talk is a point of confusion for me in so many ways. Long before I ever got around to checking out Yes‘ fourteenth album, I’d heard reports that it was the so-called saving grace of the Trevor Rabin era. Some rose-tinted listeners went as far to say it ranked up there with the band’s classic material. This high regard was sharp contrast to the hideously sell-outish album art, which may very well be one of the least appealing covers I’ve ever seen. If anything, the cognitive dissonance going into Talk made the anticipation that much more compelling. I was excited to find out what I’d think of it- after all, it couldn’t be any worse than Union… Right?
When I first heard “Talk” back in 1994, I was immensely disappointed. The songs dragged, the production was way too perfect, and the cover just looked ridiculous, something my three-year old nephew at the time could’ve drawn. On the good side, I was blown away by the lyrics and the vocals. The lyrics are some of the best Yes has ever written. They’re still airy and hippyish, but they’re also quite poetic and meaningful. The vocals are to die for. Of all of Anderson’s partners, Rabin best understands how to use his voice and how to write music to suit his voice. And, the trio of vocals of Anderson, Squire, and Rabin is simply one of the best in the history or rock.
[My only complaint with Rabin–and it basically holds for every member of Yes–is his wardrobe. Every time I watch “9012Live,” I keep thinking, “dude, those pants are so tight, it’s disgusting.” Heck, give me Wakeman’s cape ANYDAY over those bizarre tight pants.]
Over the last 20 years, aside from the final song suite, “Endless Dream,” I’ve hardly listened to the album. Indeed, I don’t think there’s been a Yes album I’ve listened to less. I even liked “Union” better than “Talk.”
A month or so ago when seemingly everyone and his brother had somehow managed to download a copy of “Heaven and Earth” and the same everyones and their dogs hated it, I decided to go back to “Talk.” Much to my surprise, I kind of liked it. I didn’t love it, but I did like it—far more than I did when I first bought it.
What Would Make “Talk “Great
So, this morning, after reading Fynes’s wonderful and thought-provoking review, I put the headphones on and gave the entire album a full listen and, then, a second. If I could re-make the album and re-release it as a 20th anniversary edition, here’s what I’d do (please remember: I’m a college professor of history and literature, not a musician!).
First, and very importantly, the title needs a change. “Talk” has almost nothing to do with the album in any way, shape, or form. The entire album, from beginning to end, is about words and The Word. The album title should reflect this. “Talk” not only doesn’t fit with the message of the album, it’s downright pedestrian. Yes needs to reach much higher.
Second, the album needs some different art. It doesn’t have to be by Roger Dean, but it should be something beyond a scrawl of Yes. Get someone brilliant such as Ed Unitsky, Jim Trainer, or James Marsh.
Third, the revised version of the album needs to delete “I am Waiting” and “Walls.” There’s no salvation for these songs. Sap and boredom mixed into one. Maybe, they could count as unfinished b-sides, but I see no hope at all for either.
Fourth, the album needs to be integrated in a much better form. It should be seamless, and every song should perfectly blend into every other.
Fifth: I would recommend the following track order:
- An extended version of “Endless Dream: Endless Dream.” It should be extended to allow the vocals to repeat themselves for another few minutes, to linger as it were.
- This should phase into a much rockier version of “The Calling.”
- Then, “State of Play,” a reprise of “Endless Dream: Endless Dream.” After a segue into “Where Will You Be.”
- The album should finish with “Endless Dream: Silent Spring” and “Endless Dream: Talk.”
- But, the entire album should close with “Endless Dream: Endless Dream,” again extending the song but not duplicating the “Endless Dream: Endless Dream” of the opening of the album. The revised and final version of the song should include hints of the melodies of all of the other songs on this album as well as brief references to “City of Love” and “Shoot High.”
Such a conclusion would beautifully close the Rabin era.
Please know, I write this as a fan of all manifestations of Yes.
15 thoughts on “How “Talk” Could’ve Been a Perfect Yes Album”
Brad, I have a different point of view as I was living with Michael Jay the engineer for a few years before this. He was working with Trevor and then moved to CA to finish this beast and we heard previews for a long time, only to be disappointed with the final product after such an incredible burn of time and expense. By then the band was totally gridlocked by lawyers, ownership of the name, contract disputes, etc. and the slow ponderous feel is a reflection of that time. I thought I Am Waiting was one of the few bright spots where so much of the album just plods with a non traditional (for Yes) bass sound, sounding more like synth bass. However, it still sounds better than the new ones to me. It would be interesting to hear a version with your recommendations. Thanks for revisiting this one.
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Frank–what great inside knowledge. It definitely helps explain parts of the album.
I’ve always liked Talk and Rabin’s other albums with Yes. The cover artist is Peter Max, who was ubiquitous in the late-60’s/early-70’s. Think of the Beatles’ animated film, Yellow Submarine, and you’ll know his style.
My great friend, Tom Woods, just emailed me as well–he, too, loves I Am Waiting.
Peter Max. This was the responsible party for the cover art. Some fool also let him paint a 777 for Continental Airlines. The aircraft flew the Houston-Paris route. I’m sure the French were tickled at that…
The production values and dynamic range of ‘Talk’ just blew me away on first listen. Just fabulous! To this day very few albums are as sharp and clean as this one. However, as you point out, if only the songs could have been as good. “Endless Dream” is awfully darned nice, though, and has stood the test of time.
Thanks, Brewingfrog. I probably should’ve looked the guy up before bashing him. Still, I don’t think the cover is anything special.
I found your article very interesting. However, I have never thought in terms of ‘how an album could be improved’, even with poor albums. I tend to have the approach that ‘it is what it is’. If an album happens to be poor, at the very least it serves to emphasise the better efforts in a catalogue: you can’t appreciate the sweet without tasting the sour.
As it happens, I think this is one of my favourite ‘Yes’ albums. It is over-produced but, for me, it works with those songs and is very much a product of it’s time.
I think it would be fair to say that any album could be improved or arranged differently but part of loving a band (in my view) is accepting their decisions on how a project turns out.
Please don’t think I am trying to discredit your article. I found it very interesting, enjoyed reading it and found your improvement suggestions thought provoking. I was just offering a different approach.
All the best,
Phil–thanks so much for responding. Much appreciated. And, you’re absolutely right–I’m playing “armchair producer”! Somewhat dangerous to do.
I see some of the other comments have beaten me to my thoughts in your revamp, Brad! No matter. Maybe a different title, but it’s interesting that Talk is taken from your favorite song, Endless Dream, and so points to it. Do you have an alternative? Imagine the album art that was rejected before that Peter Max logo! I Am Waiting is a beautiful song! Leave it! (ha, ha).
As to #s 4 and 5, egads! You must really love Endless Dream to want so much if it! It’s a good song. And I suppose even adding parts of the other songs you mention could be done in editing, unless you want a rewrite!
I think The Calling is the best song on Talk. When I first heard it in the radio, I thought “Yes is back!” (BTW, is was hearing The Calling the prompted Letterman to book Yes on the show, even though the performed Walls–or so I’ve been told).
I’d love to hear more of Talk being about words and The Word.
Thanks, Brian. I didn’t remember the Letterman appearance or any of the details behind it. Good stuff!
Excellent piece, Brad. I have a number of thoughts about Talk:
– I totally agree with you on ‘I Am Waiting’ and ‘Walls’. The former did seem kind of sappy too me. The latter was co-written by Rodger Hodgson, and you can tell, especially in the pacing of the song. It probably would have worked better on a Supertramp album.
– On the other hand, I absolutely love ‘The Calling’ – that big harmony vocal with Rabin, Anderson and Squire really makes the song. As I opined in my piece on 90125, Rabin was a much, much better singer than Steve Howe, and three-part harmonies he did with Anderson and Squire on this and several other songs were by far the best Yes has ever done. We definitely agree that the Rabin-Anderson-Squire trio, in terms of vocals, is one of the best in the history of rock.
– I can’t really see the Cinema name ever having really worked, even for this lineup when they did 90125. Four fifths of the band were Yes veterans, only one was a rookie, and the music, while certainly different, still had a lot of ‘Yessy’ touches to it.
– The slow, heavy groove of ‘Real Love’ really works for me. When I first saw the title, I thought “oh no, another sappy love song.” I was pleasantly surprised that wasn’t the case.
– ‘State of Play’, which also has some nice harmony vocals, is underrated.
– My initial disappointment with this album is more in the context of the Union Tour (which was awesome) rather than the Union album (which I did not like … save for the Rabin-penned ‘Lift Me Up’ and ‘Miracle of Life’, which I thought were the two best tunes on the album). While I thought it was unrealistic to expect another mega-Yes lineup like that of the Union Tour, I thought they could have had a different lineup. In particular, I was at least hoping for the return of Rick Wakeman, as it was clear on the tour that Rabin and Wakeman got along great. And I have heard that there was a mutual desire between the band and Wakeman to have him play on the album, only for that to be nixed by lawyers. I don’t know if that’s true, and I don’t want to go into any general lawyer bashing (hey, lawyers sign my paychecks!), but if it is true, a pox on the houses of those who prevented its occurrence. One of my unfulfilled Yes fantasies is that Rabin and Wakeman would play on a Yes album together, and this was probably the best opportunity for it to ever happen. It’s a shame that it won’t, because that’s the one thing in my opinion that could have made ‘Talk’ – or ‘The Word’ as you would call it, a truly great Yes album.
But I’ll still give it a 7/10 … there’s enough good stuff here for me to revisit it on occasion.
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Erik, this would make a brilliant separate post–if you have time!
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Brad – thanks – I’ll see what I can do. 😉
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Album puissant et aérien, pas eu le succès qu’il méritait, ni tournée à la hauteur …