Relayer: A Brief Retrospective

relayer

A visually stunning album cover. Profound and thought-provoking lyrics. Epic instrumentation and vocals. I could be describing almost any progressive rock album of note, but I am specifically referring to the underrated Yes album Relayer in this case. I say underrated because this album, featuring only three songs, all of which are worthy of the designation “progressive,” ended up wedged in between the controversial Tales from Topographic Oceans and the (relatively) lackluster Yes albums of the late 1970s/early 1980s.

First a brief comment on the sleeve design. Roger Dean is an integral part of Yes’ image, and his design for Relayer only bolsters the importance of his role. Inspired by images of war and the Knights Templar, Dean draws the viewer in to a world of fantastical images and drama, as the knights on horseback arrive to do battle with the twin snakes. Before one even listens to the album, he can already grasp its focus and themes: war and peace, victory and hope. Dean can capture in an image what Anderson, Squire, and Howe can capture in music.templar

The three songs are not only well-written, but they are also well-performed. This may seem like an understatement in regards to Yes, but this cannot be said about every song they released. The epic opener Gates of Delirium, inspired by Tolstoy’s even longer epic War and Peace, and featuring superb work on keys and synths from Patrick Moraz on his only Yes album, was best described by Jon Anderson: it is a “war song,” but not one that seeks to explain or denounce war, but rather a song that explores war’s aspects: there is a “prelude, a charge, a victory tune, and peace at the end, with hope for the future.” Sound Chaser, a frenetically paced tune featuring a true guitar solo from Steve Howe, solid drumming courtesy of Alan White, and a sizzling performance on bass guitar from the late, great Chris Squire, allows Yes to explore their jazzier side. The final tune, To Be Over, moves at a more relaxed pace, anchored by Howe’s electric sitar. It is a beautifully straightforward song, and it provides the perfect final touch on a visually and acoustically stunning album.

In sum, Relayer may not be the most renowned album in Yes’ extensive catalogue, but in this reviewer’s humble opinion, it is one of their finest works overall, and one that deserves more attention and respect.

YesYears: Twenty-Five Years Later

Remember YesYears?  It was one of the first really nice box sets to come out, back in the day when the only nice box set was that Bruce Springsteen one that had come out in the late 1980s?

yesyears
YesYears–a Nice Fiction that Every Member of Yes Loved One Another, Beginning to Present

YesYears came out on August 6, 1991.  Union had come out at the very end of April that same year.  Unless you were really connected to the internet (not that easy in 1991), Yes fans just had to guess as to what was going on that summer with the band.  Was Yes really an eight-person band?  And, how long would that last?  YesYears seemed to present the eight as living in harmony with one another.  After all, while the four discs did not include anything from Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe, it did list them as a part of the really nice fold-out sleeve, tracing every aspect of Yes history from “The Warriors” to Yes incarnation #9.

Whether real or not, the packaging of YesYears certainly makes a coherent narrative of the band and everyone of its members from Alpha to. . . well, certainly not Omega!  Yes was alive!  Or, so it seemed.

At the time that YesYears came out, I was very poor (a second-year graduate student) and still listening to cassette tapes.  Despite the expense of the YesYears box set, I purchased the four-cassette package.  And, yes, it made a deep cut in my savings account.  Those were years when I would skimp on lunch (usually not even eating one) to spend the money on music or books.

Yes+Yes+Years+350639bAnd as far as I remember, I never regretted having bought that box set.  Sadly, though, the cassettes that came with it were not of the best quality, and I wore my copies out rather quickly.

Jump forward two decades.  Today, in the mail, all the way from an Ebay seller in New Jersey, arrived a mint condition 4-cd box set of YesYears.

Wow, it is a thing of beauty.

I know that many of the songs that had not been readily available in 1991–such as Abilene, Vevey, Run with the Fox–are now very easily available.  Still, the 1991 box set is really, really gorgeous.  I actually paid less for this mint condition version (including postage) than I did for the cassette version 25 years ago.

Just as in 1991, I have no regrets.  The sun is out, my kids are laughing somewhere in the house, and I’m listening to disk three of YesYears.

Still amazingly beautiful. . . even a full quarter century later.

A Brief Remembrance of 90125

yes 90125
One of the most important reboots ever.  November 7, 1983.

Funny how certain moments leave profound impressions.  The winter months always make me think of Yes’s 90125.  I very well remember purchasing the album on its release, November 7, 1983.  For months, every night, I listened to it on my headphones, after dinner and in the dark, sometimes two or three times.

I’d been a good Yes fan since first hearing Yessongs in 1973.  As I’ve mentioned before on progarchy, I fell in love with every aspect of Yessongs–the art and music.

Of course, I knew 90125 represented a huge break with the past, but it seemed like a rather brilliant break.

I’ve never stopped loving 90125.  It’s pretty much been in constant rotation since I first heard it at the age of 16.

I wish I had something profound to write about it at the moment.  I don’t.  Except, thank you Trevor, Chris, Trevor, Alan, Tony, Eddie, and Jon.

BillyNews: Jon Anderson’s MYSTERIES OF MUSIC

This from the always excellent folks at Glass Onyon:

Jon Anderson.
Jon Anderson.

Legendary Singer/Songwriter Jon Anderson’s “Mysteries Of Music” Special Now On Soundcloud!

Asheville, NC – Legendary singer/songwriter Jon Anderson’s “Mysteries Of Music” special is now on Soundcloud! In this 40-minute special, Jon talks about his own musical development as well as his appreciation for World Music and the sounds of nature. The soundtrack includes many examples of these topics, as well as the YES masterpiece “Awaken”.

To listen go to: https://soundcloud.com/jon-anderson-online/jon-anderson-mysteries-of-music-special

In other news….

Anderson Ponty photo 4Jon Anderson and Jean-Luc Ponty have announced the formation of a new ensemble – The AndersonPonty Band! YES’s original singer/songwriter for 35 years, Jon Anderson has had a successful solo career, which includes working with such notable music artists as Vangelis, Kitaro, and Milton Nascimento. International jazz superstar Jean-Luc Ponty is a pioneer and undisputed master of violin in the arena of jazz and rock. He is widely regarded as an innovator who has applied his unique visionary spin that has expanded the vocabulary of modern music. Together these two music icons form a musical synergy that is unparalleled! This past September the APB band gave a special live performance at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, Colorado. The show was filmed and recorded and is scheduled for release on CD/DVD this coming spring! Tour plans for the AndersonPonty Band are also currently in the works.

Check out the official AndersonPonty Band Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/andersonpontyband1

Says Jon, “I am very excited listening to the live show we did in Aspen, the mix’s and video are coming along great, so you wonderful peeps out there will have something new to listen to this spring time.”

Jon Anderson Family Circle coverGONZO Multimedia recently released of a new charity single “The Family Circle” by Jon Anderson and former Counting Crows bassist Matt Malley. The money received from the single will go to the following charities: Flutie Foundation – http://www.flutiefoundation.org (Jon Anderson), Sahaja Yoga Meditation – http://www.sahajayoga.org (Matt Malley) and National Autistic Society (Rob Ayling, GONZO Multimedia president).

Listen to a sample of the track here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hATdN-XMBSQ

To purchase Jon Anderson & Matt Malley’s “Family Circle”: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/famil … d911786898

For more information:

Jon Anderson’s official website: www.JonAnderson.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheJonAnderson?ref=br_tf

Press inquiries: Glass Onyon PR, PH: 828-350-8158, glassonyonpr@gmail.com

The Other Bookend – Talk and the end of the Yes-West Era

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.

Continue reading “The Other Bookend – Talk and the end of the Yes-West Era”

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Six)

lift

I bring to you, my fellow Progarchists, yet another fine American band that  would have been left in the dustbin of history if not for the saving graces of the Internet.  This group chose the rather optimistic name of Lift.  Hailing from New Orleans, Lift released one album in 1974, the curiously titled Caverns of Your Brain.  It is probably the best obscure prog album I’ve ever listened to.  All five band members are more than capable when it comes to handling the complex rhythms and lengthy compositions that distinguishes progressive rock from other musical genres.  Fans of Yes, ELP, Hawkwind, and even Premiata Forneria Marconi will enjoy this band.  Lead singer and flautist Courtenay Hilton-Green sounds similar to Jon Anderson (sans Lancashire accent) and Franz di Cioccio (of PFM fame).  Cody Kelleher’s bass guitar sounds similar to Greg Lake and, at times, Chris Squire (from his pre-Fragile days).  The standout on the album, however, is keyboardist Chip Gremillion.  His work on all four songs is comparable to that of Tony Kaye, and he does a superb job on each piece.  Guitarist J. Richard Huxen and drummer Chip Grevemberg are excellent on their respective instruments as well.  Here is a brief description of each song:

Simplicity– excellent opening song; similar in sound to Yes’ debut album; catchy bass and keyboard intro

Caverns– more tranquil and “spacy” song, similar in vein to Hawkwind and Gabriel era Genesis; piano solo reminiscent of Tony Banks’ finest work; “cool” guitar solo (reminds me of Gilmour)

Buttercup Boogie– fast paced song; exceptional keyboard work yet again; fine drum and bass anchor the piece

Trippin’ Over the Rainbow– another great keyboard and bass intro (bass sounds similar to Greg Lake’s best work); excellent synthesizer work gives song a space/acid rock feel; part of the bass line includes the Peter Gunn theme (famously played by ELP in concert)

These are four well executed songs.  For those of you who enjoy the symphonic side of prog and the fantastic keyboards that accompany it, this is an album for you.  And for those who are not excited by keyboard driven prog, it is still an album worth listening to.

Hope everyone had an enjoyable beginning to the New Year.  Let’s hope it’s a good year for freedom!

Here is the full album: 

90125 at 30 – A Retrospective

149178_f_1Thirty years ago this month, after being presumed dead in the wake of the ‘Drama’ album, Yes came roaring back into the music scene with ‘90125’.  Commercially, ‘90125’ was a spectacular success, yielding their only #1 single as well as several other staples for that era of rock radio.  ‘90125’ also brought in scores of new Yes fans, and became a gateway to progressive rock for many who were previously unaware.  However, with established Yes fans, ‘90125’ proved to be a lighting rod of controversy.

For some established fans, myself included, it was a joy to have Yes back as an active band, even if their new album wasn’t a full-blown prog album.  But to many established fans, this music simply wasn’t Yes.

At the center of the controversy was the new guitarist,  Trevor Rabin, who was the only Yes rookie on the album.  Rabin, while a fantastic talent in his own right, had significant stylistic differences with his predecessor, Steve Howe.  As a co-writer of every song on the new album, his imprint on the new music was larger than that of any other member.  And this music was a sharp departure from anything Yes had previously done.  Thus, with the membership change and the change in musical direction, many older fans declared “this is not Yes”.

So was it Yes?  Was it Yes save for the new guitarist?  And what to make of this strange new music (in Yes terms, anyway)?

Yes, it was definitely Yes

 A cursory examination of the membership makes it hard to declare the band that created ‘90125’ anything other than Yes.  Four of the five members on the album were Yes veterans.  Three of them – Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, and Tony Kaye – were original members of Yes.  The fourth, Alan White, had originally joined Yes more than a decade prior, and was firmly established in the band.  Calling the band Cinema, as they were before Anderson’s return, would have been odd, to say the least.  In fact, I’m willing to bet most of the “it’s not Yes” crowd would have said “well, it’s really just Yes” had they tried to get away with calling the band Cinema.  Four established Yes veterans with Jon Anderson on vocals is, for all intents and purposes, Yes.  And thus an album created by such a band is, for all intents and purposes, a Yes album.  When Anderson reconnected with Rick Wakeman, Steve Howe, and Bill Bruford in 1989, they may have called themselves Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe for legal reasons, but everybody knew is was really just another incarnation of Yes.  Otherwise, why call the shows on your tour ‘An Evening of Yes Music Plus’?

One person who was decidedly a fan of the new band – Rabin himself – was also against calling it Yes.  I have sympathy for Rabin’s position, given that he took the brunt of the criticism from the established Yes fans.  Still, there was nothing else you could call this band, with four veterans in the lineup including Anderson on vocals.  It simply would not have been credible to call it anything else but Yes.  With a different vocalist – or with the pre-Anderson lineup, the Cinema name would have worked.  Once Anderson came on board, Yes was the only name that would do.  The band that did ‘90125’ was not Cinema.  It was Yes.  Yes with a new guitarist? Sure.  A Yes wherein the newest member had the most impact on his first recorded output with the band?  Undoubtedly.  But still Yes.  There is simply no other credible band name for the lineup that recorded ‘90125’.

 Musically?

Even with as radical a departure as this album was from its predecessors, it’s hard to think musically of ‘90125’ as anything other than a Yes album.  Certainly, it had a heaviness that was rarely heard on previous Yes albums.  The intro to ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ telegraphed early on that this was going to be a different kind of Yes music.  ‘Hold On’, ‘City of Love’, and ‘Changes’ produced more power chords than had been heard in any previous Yes album.  The music also had much more of a 80’s feel to it, and Tony Kaye’s description of it as sometimes being dimensionally sparse was fitting.

Still, there were more than a few common threads with previous Yes works.  And despite Anderson’s late entry into the project, there is no doubt that his creative impact on the final product was second only to Rabin’s.  No other song exemplifies this more than ‘It Can Happen’, in particular when the Cinema version is compared to the final Yes version.  The Cinema version of ‘It Can Happen’ appears, among other places, on disc 4 of the YesYears box set.  The lyrics on that version were those of a rather sappy love song.  Even keeping in mind that this is more or less a demo version, the music was relatively mundane.  In contrast, it is clear that Anderson had completely rewritten the lyrics by the time the final version was recorded. The rewritten lyrics have much more of the trademark cosmic mysticism that infuses so much of Anderson’s output.  Moreover, the music has much more in terms of ‘Yessy’ touches to it, beginning with the sitar intro.  If a Yes fan had entered a cave in 1979 and emerged in early 1984 to hear ‘It Can Happen’ on the radio, he or she might have concluded that Yes had never broken up or had gone through the turmoil of the intervening years.  The final version of ‘It Can Happen’ clearly sounds like a Yes song, and, 80’s production values notwithstanding.  It would not be out of place in the earlier Yes catalog.

Various vocal arrangements on the album also tie in nicely with Yes music past.  In ‘Hold On’, a multi-part harmony is sung on the verse that begins with “Talk the simple smile, such platonic eyes …”.  This bears a lot of similarity to the final chorus of “Does It Really Happen” (“time is the measure, before it’s begun …”) from ‘Drama’.  And of course, ‘Leave It’ is a vocal tour de force that begins with a huge five-part harmony that is unmistakably Yes (this was the second song I heard off of this album, and the one that told me “Yes is back!”).  In the previously mentioned ‘It Can Happen’, Anderson and Squire alternate on lead vocals, with Squire singing lead on those portions that serve as a transition from the verses to the chorus.  And finally, Anderson’s delivery on the album’s finale, ‘Hearts’, is not something that sounds unusual to the experienced Yes listener.

Other notable connections to previous Yes music includes the ebb and flow of ‘Hearts’, Squire’s bass work on ‘Our Song’ and ‘Cinema’, and the keyboard intro to ‘Changes.’  Had this lineup of musicians released these same songs under the guise of Cinema, I would have scratched my head and asked “why didn’t they just call themselves Yes?”, and I doubt I’m alone in that aspect.

What Rabin Brought to the Table

As we’ve already noted, ‘90125’ represented a significant shift in direction for the band, possibly more so than any other shift in their history.   And there is little doubt that much of that shift is due to the presence of Rabin.  It’s one thing to bring a new member into a band.  It’s quite another that the new member has such an outsized creative contribution to the finished product, and this was certainly the case on ‘90125’.Trevor+Rabin+rabin

I’ll start out by saying that I like Howe’s guitar work better than Rabin’s.  In his book ‘Music of Yes’, Bill Martin described this difference perfectly, noting that Rabin divided his lead and rhythm guitar work in a fairly conventional manner, as opposed to Howe, who most decidedly did not.  As a prog fan, it shouldn’t be surprising that I prefer the unconventional to the conventional.  But that does not change the fact that Trevor Rabin is an exceptional guitarist in his own right.  Nor does it change the fact that Rabin brought certain things to the table that Howe did not.

One thing Rabin brought through his guitar playing was a much harder edge (or heaviness, if you prefer) than Howe ever did.  Much of ‘90125’ flat out rocks, as Rabin had a knack for delivering a bone-crushing power chord at precisely the right moment.  There were occasions on previous Yes releases where I wish Howe would have unleashed, one notable example being ‘Release, Release’ from the ‘Tormato’ album.  Listen to Shadow Gallery’s version of this song on the tribute album ‘Tales from Yesterday’, and you’ll probably understand what I mean.  Comparing live versions of ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ with Rabin to those done with Howe (sans Rabin) provide another demonstration of what I mean here.

The heaviness of Rabin’s guitar in Yes music was a good fit for its time and place.  Yes was not going to survive as a band by doing the epics of the 70’s.  They were going to survive by other means.  And while this did pull them closer to the mainstream, they never fully jumped into it the way their prog-rock peers Genesis did in the 80’s.  While Genesis largely ditched their progressive past to pursue top-40 hits, Yes under Rabin merely dipped their toes into the water a few times (with ‘Owner’ being the prime example on ‘91025’) while otherwise producing album-oriented rock that was just outside the mainstream.

Another of Rabin’s strengths was his capability as a multi-instrumentalist.  Although not known by many, Rabin did most of the keyboard work for the three albums that featured what we call the Yes-West lineup.  While he was no Rick Wakeman (but who is?), I am comfortable saying he was actually a better keyboard player than Kaye.  This stood out to me while listening to Rabin’s piano solo on the ‘Talk’ tour, in which he demonstrated a dexterity that Kaye never did during his time in Yes.  While ‘90125’ is more of a guitar-driven album to be sure, it does feature some interesting keyboard work, and the most interesting parts thereof were almost certainly played by Rabin.

However, where Rabin’s contribution to Yes really shines in comparison to Howe is in his abilities as a vocalist.  Rabin was much more than a merely capable lead vocalist.  With a rather smooth voice, he was indeed quite a good one.  This gave Yes a previously unknown vocal versatility which was used to great affect on songs like ‘Leave It’ and ‘Changes’, where he and Anderson take turns singing lead.  Rabin’s backing vocals on other songs like ‘It Can Happen’ added to the overall vocal picture in a synergistic manner.  And on harmony vocals?  Wow.  Rabin’s voice fit with those of Anderson and Squire so perfectly it’s almost frightening.  While I have no qualms saying Howe was a better guitarist, I similarly have no qualms saying that Rabin’s voice was a much better fit than Howe’s in harmonies with the voices of Anderson and Squire.  From a vocal standpoint, the version of ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’ that appears on ‘9012Live’ is far and away my favorite, as the harmonies of Rabin, Anderson, and Squire are very powerful.  Overall, the vocal dimension brought to Yes by Rabin infused the songs, both old and new, with an energy previously unknown to them.

When I look at the above and assess Rabin as a member of Yes, I can say two things for certain.  Number one, he fit into Yes in a manner much different than that of his predecessor.  Number two – he did so with virtual perfection given the time of his joining the band.

 The Final Verdict

 I’ll close out here by discussing two points that are seemingly contradictory.  The first is that ‘90125’ is not a progressive rock album, the second being that ‘90125’ is a very important album to the overall history of progressive rock.

I described ‘90125’ earlier in this piece as a work of album-oriented rock that was just outside the mainstream.  Indeed it’s hard to imagine any work which includes the creative imprint of Anderson being within the mainstream, and even the band’s big hit from this album was unconventional compared to other #1 singles.  The common threads with Yes music past as noted above also keep this album out of the mainstream of rock music.  In contrast, the hard rock playing of Rabin and simplification of the other instruments in the band (most notably, Squire’s bass on several songs) push ‘90125’ closer to the mainstream – and further away from prog – than any previous Yes album.

jjhODespite the direction of the music, ‘90125’ nevertheless earned its place as being an important album in prog history.  Due to its popularity, ‘90125’ literally brought millions of new fans to Yes.  Not all of these fans became progressive rockers, but many did.  It is not by any means uncommon to come across a prog rock fan who first came to the genre through Yes and ‘90125’.  I’ve met more than one fan who first became aware of Yes through this album, and subsequently took a liking to their back catalog.  The connections to the old music within ‘90125’ certainly helped in this aspect.  So too did their willingness to respect their past during their live shows by playing many of their 70’s classics, such as ‘Roundabout’, ‘Starship Trooper’, and the previously mentioned ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’, among others.  Contrast this with Genesis, whose 80’s music bore virtually no resemblance to their 70’s output, and who almost dismissively reduced their progressive past to nothing more than a medley during their live shows.

It is undeniable that ‘90125’ served as a catalyst for introducing a new generation of fans to progressive rock, even if it was not itself full-blown prog.  Moreover, it gave Yes a new (and rather long) lease on life.  Love it, hate it, or feel somewhere in between, ‘90125’ and the Yes lineup that created it are both owed a debt of gratitude for doing their part – no small one at that – in keeping the prog flame alive.  And therein lies the true, lasting impact of this controversial album.