Time Tested: Solid progressive rock

6 mins read

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City. It also marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of the progressive rock band Yes. Perhaps that’s why the group chose Quebec as the venue for the start of their world tour. It’s hard to believe that Yes got their start when LBJ was in the White House and that it would be another 15 years before Amy Winehouse was born.

Unfortunately, time and tide hold back for no man, not even for the lead singer of Yes, Jon Anderson. Anderson took ill and the tour was canceled. Hopefully, he will recover and the tour reassembled in the near future because, despite Anderson’s occasionally banal lyrics and somewhat grating voice, Yes is truly the ultimate in progressive rock bands. They really did progress, as a journey through their many albums will attest.

Their first album was a ground breaker in terms of musicality, structure, and genuinely inspired playing. Their best known albums and the ones that still get airplay on rock stations, ‘Fragile’ and ‘Close To The Edge,’ followed later and the group’s career blossomed. They took the progressive rock genre almost to the point of absurdity with ‘Tales From Topographical Oceans,’ a double album which enabled the group to give rock music an almost symphonic structure. If you hit this particular album cold, it would probably leave you frozen: you would have to understand how they had arrived at this musical marathon and why the tendency to cacophony with eventual resolution is so satisfying. More albums of varying degrees of brilliance followed – especially noteworthy being ‘Going For The One’ and ‘Relayer.’

 By 1978, the group had gone through several personnel changes with luminaries such as Rick Wakeman and Bill Bruford coming and going. Even Jon Anderson quit. The group seemed to have plateaued and found little new to say until, in 1983, South African Trevor Rabin joined the group as lead guitarist, principal songsmith and, initially, lead singer. He compiled an album’s worth of material and various members of the group started recording. They realized an important ingredient was missing and contacted Jon Anderson who had been pursuing a solo career and demo-ed the new songs for him; he was excited and immediately signed on again. The resultant album, ‘90125’ was their bestseller and produced their only number one hit, ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart.’ There were two more albums ‘Big Generator’ which took years to produce and, unfortunately, turned out to be a bit of a clunker, and ‘Union,’ another great album in which many of the group’s growing band of alumni participated. But the next release, 1994’s ‘Talk’ has a genuine claim to be the best progressive rock album of all time.

This is a fabulous album that avoids the main pitfall of progressive rock in that there are no self-indulgent long drawn-out solos or musically tedious meanderings. It is absolutely solid from beginning to end with some insightful lyrics (Rabin seems to have been able to control Anderson’s worst urges), delicious guitar playing and, as with every track laid ever down by ‘Yes’ perfect bass lines from Chris Squire, the one constant in the group’s line-up. Make no mistake, this is not a pop/rock album, a charge which could definitely made about ‘90125.’

There are some lengthy anthemnic tracks, notably the title track, but all the tracks are musically very adventurous.

What distinguishes ‘Talk,’ though, from other albums by ‘Yes’ is that it really rocks and the arrangements and production (Rabin again) are truly outstanding. One day, maybe, the Daily Bulldog will be able to include sound clips on its site and, if that ever comes to pass, then to this page they should add the last couple of minutes of ‘Real Love,’ the third track on ‘Talk.’ It’s a slow burner but becomes breathtakingly powerful: Mr. Rabin has a claim to the guitarists’ hall of fame. Or a sample from ‘Walls,’ the fifth track, might do the trick of hooking skeptics.

For those who haven’t heard ‘Yes’ or who have not yet been won over by the group, the album ‘Talk’ is a superb introduction. If you like it, and I’m sure you will, you can backtrack through their catalog. The whole album is technically brilliant, and here’s the kicker: I’ve seen them playing this album live – which I wouldn’t have thought possible – and they’re even better on stage than in the studio. At full concert volume, this is something to be experienced, and no artificial enhancements are necessary! So, when they come back to Quebec or Boston or anywhere within driving distance, go see ‘Yes’ and enjoy an exciting show with all the wizardry and drama of progressive rock.

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