Earlier today, Brad had an excellent post on Talk, the final album of the Yes-West era, as it is sometimes called. After submitting a comment on the post, I was invited to expand on it with a full post of my own. I am only too happy to oblige, so let’s go.
Talk is a difficult album to analyze, at least for me. The context for my own evaluation of this album pre-dates its release by some three years, with another big event in Yes history – the Union era. I’m not a big fan of the album itself (and prefer the Trevor Rabin-penned Lift Me Up and Miracle of Life over all other songs on that record), but I am ever thankful for the eventual tour it spawned. My first Yes concert (discussed here) was in 1979. After that there was turmoil, break-up, re-unification, more break-up, and re-re-unification. I had had two near misses with Yes concerts, one in 1984 and the other in 1988. And after Jon Anderson departed for ABWH, my thoughts were that I would not get another chance to see them live. So when I became aware of the Union Tour, I was very happy, and I was elated when their show at the then-named Walnut Creek Amphitheater in Raleigh, NC was announced. Tickets were purchased as soon as they were available, and on July 10, 1991, I finally caught up with my favorite band again. After thinking I’d never get another chance to see them, being there that night was very emotional for me. It was the best of both worlds, the classic Yes lineup and the Yes-West lineup, all in one. And it was an utterly fantastic show, the best of the six Yes concerts I’ve had the good fortune to attend.
In the wake of the Union-era, I had hoped that something more permanent would come out of it. Surely they could find some way to work together as a band, couldn’t they? With that in mind, the revelation that Talk would mark a return to just the Yes-West lineup, I was a bit disappointed. That disappointment was made more acute when I became aware of rumors that Rick Wakeman wanted to work on the album, and the band itself wanted the same. But apparently, lawyers and record companies got in the way, or so I am told. If so, a pox on their houses, as one of my unfulfilled Yes fantasies is that Rabin and Wakemen never worked on a Yes album together. It was pretty clear during the Union show I attended that they had some real chemistry together, particularly when Rabin would jaunt onto the stage during Wakeman’s keyboard solo and the two would trade licks. And Wakeman was one ex-Yes member who had great respect for what the band had accomplished with 90125.
Some of my disappointment was abated when I finally heard the first cut of the album, The Calling, one late night driving home from work. I’ve always felt strongly that Rabin’s voice in Yes harmonies was one of the unparalleled strengths he brought to the band, and this song was a smashingly good example of that. It’s still my favorite song on the album. Vocal harmonies were a Yes trademark from the very beginning, but as far as I’m concerned, they were at their very best and most powerful during the Rabin years. In musical terms, this song was quite good as well, with some nice playing. Although it had somewhat conventional verse-chorus structure, it had a lot of nice, Yes-like wrinkles to it. For me, The Calling exemplifies what Talk was about in musical terms, a meeting in the middle between the 90125 version of Yes and the proggier version of the 1970’s.
Two tracks from Talk I could do without were Walls and I Am Waiting. My agreement with Brad on these songs is total, both of them are sappy. Walls I note was co-written with Rodger Hodgson of Supertramp fame, and it certainly sounds like it, particular in its pacing (to be fair, I do like a significant amount of Supertramp’s work). These songs simply didn’t work for me.
Another Talk song that most definitely did work for me was Real Love. Upon purchasing this album, my initial thought on seeing this title was “oh no, another sappy love song.” Luckily, it was anything but that. Instead, the song proceeded with a slow, heavy groove. With a somewhat grungy sound, it fit the times of Talk’s release, but still sounded like a Yes song.
Many Yes albums produce an underrated gem, and on this one, State of Play fills that role. Once again we are blessed with a powerful, three-part harmony vocal featuring Rabin, Anderson, and Chris Squire. Combined with some jumpy, upbeat music and you’ve got a winner, at least for these ears.
Where Will You Be was the most lyrically interesting song for me, with its contemplation of life after death. I remember reading the newsgroup alt.music.yes back in those days, and this was the one song on the album that actually won some accolades from those Yes fans that were otherwise fairly negative on the whole Rabin era.
The centerpiece for Talk is, of course, the three-part suite, Endless Dream. As Yes epics go, this one is actually pretty good. Oh sure, there are better ones – Close to the Edge and The Gates of Delirium come to mind. Still, Endless Dream is better than at least one Yes epic that preceded it (The Ancient, for which the first twelve minutes becomes insufferable after about two or three), and in my opinion better than any Yes epic that followed it (Mind Drive and That That Is always felt forced to me). Like the album’s opener, Endless Dream provides a nice balance between the classic Yes sound and the Yes-West sound exemplified by 90125.
A few other notes before I close … I do think the production of this album was quite excellent in its crystal clarity. Rabin has a reputation for being a master in the studio, and this album is a testament to that. At the same time, I would have liked to heard more of the thick, trebly Rickenbacker sound on the bass parts. And as I mentioned above, I wonder a lot as to what the end product would sound like had Wakeman been included in the recording of this album. I have to admit that of all the Yes keyboardists, Tony Kaye was my least favorite, and in my opinion, the most limited. Wakeman’s dexterity could have added something to this album, and given the mutual respect and admiration between him and Rabin, I can only believe it would have been a significant improvement.
Around a year after hearing this album, I was sitting in a computer lab at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, surfing the still primitive internet. One of my favorite websites in those days was NFTE.org, or Notes from the Edge for those of you that have never been (it since seems to have gone defunct or at least down for a while). On that day I saw the news that both Rabin and Kaye had resigned from Yes. With Rabin’s departure, I had some serious mixed feelings. The return of Howe and Wakeman that was also announced certainly made me happy in the sense that it signaled Yes fully returning to its prog roots. On the other hand, I was somewhat saddened to see Rabin go. With a lot of Yes fans I feel he never got a fair shake. Of the albums he recorded under the Yes banner, only one, 90125, was recorded in anything close to optimal conditions. Big Generator was marred by a number of troubles, including the fact that musically the band seemed to be trying to go in two opposite directions at once. The problems of Union are almost legendary at this point, a case of way too many cooks spoiling the broth of something that was thrown together too quickly in the first place (but at least we got that awesome tour!). And as Frank informed us in the first comment on Brad’s piece, Talk was weighed down by a number of things non-musical. In general, I felt with Rabin’s departure there was a lot of unrealized potential in the version of Yes that existed with him on guitar, and yet none of this was his fault. Such is life, though.
Still, as swan songs go, Talk is not a bad one for the Yes-West era. There is still some very good material here, and the album shines in a those areas where Rabin’s strengths were. So let me close by saying to Rabin, take a bow, Trevor – and thank you for your contribution to Yes history. You gave the band a new lease on life in the 1980’s, and you can hold your head high knowing that you always brought your best to the table. You are missed.