The Yes Album


Atlantic Records, 1971

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


It is a little odd, when you think about it -- calling this The Yes Album. How many other bands have given their THIRD album such a definitive, "this is who we are" name?

But then, "a little odd" goes a long way toward describing many of Yes's most memorable moments as a band. They've generally produced their best material when in the midst of turning expectations on their head.

The title of this album reflects the sense of the band at the time (1971) that it represented a new beginning, a sort of rebirth after only two years and two albums (there would be more such "rebirths"… many, many more). The band's initial pair of albums -- made with the original lineup of Jon Anderson (vocals), Chris Squire (bass/vocals), Bill Bruford (drums), Tony Kaye (keyboards), and Peter Banks (guitar) -- featured an eclectic blending of styles, adding instrumental flash and classical flourishes to folk-based pop music that owed much to The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel. You could sense the band trying to reach, to break out of the rock and roll pack with a definitively NEW sound… but they weren't there yet.

The Yes Album marked their arrival, the first real definition of the kind of ground-breaking band Yes was going to be, and the central element of the transformation was the replacement of Peter Banks on guitar by Steve Howe. Banks, for all his notable talents as a player, never approached either Howe's skill with his instrument or his breadth of musical knowledge and ambition.

With Howe on board, the band took a quantum leap forward, moving into the forefront of a complex new style critics would label "progressive rock." The album's opening cut, "Yours Is No Disgrace," quickly established the new approach. Clocking in at over nine minutes, the song is a virtual rock and roll concerto, traveling through several distinct movements with varied tempos and styles ranging from energetic, even dramatic rock and roll to ethereal folk. Howe, Squire and Kaye take turns driving the song forward, trading licks and building to crescendoes that settle back into Anderson's plaintive refrain: "Yesterday, a morning came / A smile upon your face / Caesar's Palace, morning glory / Silly human, silly human race."

Hey, it makes about as much sense as any other lyric the guy's ever written...my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The point is, coupled with the accompanying music, it SOUNDS terrific. This album marks the moment when Anderson's "sound painting" approach to lyrics, valuing tone and cadence over meaning, began to -- pardon the Andersonism -- flower.

If Howe's impact hadn't been 100% obvious on the first cut, it had to have been after the second, his solo acoustic excursion "Clap" (notoriously mislabeled on the LP cover as "The Clap," as in, a musical ode to venereal disease). The classical influence is strong in some of his more delicate picking, yet he also foreshadows the driving rhythms of much of his electric work to follow, making this brief track a tasty appetizer for things yet to come.

The main course on this album follows, the trademark/landmark Yessong "Starship Trooper." Trademark, in the way it melded dynamic music with spacy, science fiction-oriented lyrics (the title is borrowed from the Robert Heinlein novel, which had the dubious distinction of being made into one of the stupidest movies of the 1990s). Landmark, in that it is overtly split into three movements penned separately by Anderson, Squire and Howe, an approach they would successfully repeat many times in the future. Each segment embodies its author's strongest musical characteristics. Anderson's "Life Seeker" is the melodic, upbeat heart of the song. Squire's "Disillusion" is highly rhythmic, with terrific vocal harmonies between him and Anderson, and Howe's "Wurm" is a slow-building jam that repeats and amplifies themes steadily until Howe breaks into a series of brilliant, incredibly nimble electric guitar solos at the fade.

Side two (so sue me, I listened to it on vinyl for the first 20 years I owned it) features two more extended pieces sandwiched around the album's low point, the weaker, shorter, lyrically and musically retrograde "A Venture," which sounds like a leftover from the band's previous incarnation.

The first of the two longer pieces, "I've Seen All Good People," has been so aggravatingly overplayed by classic rock radio that many long-time Yes fans cringe hearing it today. Still, it really is a hell of a song. The first movement ("Your Move") is all Anderson, a pretty acoustic set piece with soaring harmonies. The second ("All Good People") is all Squire, his muscular bass lines bounding up and down the scales while Howe solos over the top and all three chant the two-line non sequiter that constitutes this section's "lyrics."

The closing "Perpetual Change" is almost an anticlimax, arriving as the fourth-most memorable of the four longer tunes on this album. Nonetheless, it features some sweet soloing by Howe and solid work from Kaye on the keys.

In the wake of the album's success, both Kaye and the band seemed to realize he was not the best fit for the direction they were heading. At a time when the band was growing interested in adding more complex and exotic keyboard tones to its work, he continued to dote on his beloved B-3 Hammond organ, and his direct, uncomplicated style seemed out of step with the instrumental flash displayed by the other players. If any evidence was needed that the next lineup change to follow -- exit Kaye and enter keyboard virtuoso Rick Wakeman -- was the perfect move, one need only listen to the 1973 live triple set, Yessongs. Wakeman's playing on the cuts taken from The Yes Album takes the songs to a whole new level.

Still, this album was a major turning point for the band, the true debut of what would come to be known as "the Yes sound." As such, calling it The Yes Album makes perfect sense in retrospect... not to mention the fact that " The Yes Album, In Stores Now" makes for a much more inviting advertising campaign than "Get The Clap"…!

Rating: B+

User Rating: B+



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