Atlantic Records, 1974

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Relayer was an important transitional album for prog-rock avatars Yes. There almost seemed nowhere left to go after watching the band's compositions balloon from four to six to eight to an astonishing 20 minutes over their previous three studio albums, Fragile, Close To The Edge and the infamous four-song double-LP opus Tales From Topographic Oceans. For better or for worse -- and you'll find plenty of Yes partisans on both sides of that one -- Relayer saw the trend toward epic-length pieces begin to reverse itself.

The album also marked Rick Wakeman's first departure from the band, of which there have been four to date, not that anyone's counting. (This band's family tree looks like a Joshua Tree crossed with a weeping willow. They have more former members than the Mormon Tabernacle -- oh, you get the idea.) For this one album, Wakeman's magic fingers were replaced behind the keyboard stacks by those of Patrick Moraz, later of Moody Blues fame.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Moraz's presence coincides with a brief but significant change in the band's sound. Where most of their albums have a majestic (some would say slightly pompous; some would omit "slightly") feel, Relayer takes a rougher, looser, jazzy approach absent from the band since its earliest days.

The difference is obvious from the first movements of the album's opener, the 22-minute "The Gates Of Delirium." The band's first side-long epic two years before ("Close To The Edge") was stately and often soaring; by contrast, "Gates" is chaotic, almost bipolar in its moods. Opening with a jittering, echoey, nearly atonal guitar solo from the chameleon-like Steve Howe, the song veers along above an ever-shifting bed of exotic time signatures laid down by bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White (who gives the most intricate, technically skilled performance of his career). As it builds, the track gathers a kind of frenetic energy in places that reminds me of a young Rush. Midway through, a series of bizarre "battlefield" synth effects from Moraz offer an effective complement to singer Jon Anderson's uncharacteristically focused lyric, addressed squarely at the evils of war.

One of the highlights of this memorable piece is the "Soon" section three-quarters of the way in, where the thundering battle falls away to an uneasy stillness, replaced by Howe's shimmering slide guitar as Anderson sings beseechingly of the rebirth of hope in the aftermath of conflict. It's a striking moment that evokes my own personal image of "Gates" as being like a medieval tapestry - alien, beautiful, violent and magnificent.

Of the two shorter (yeah, only nine minutes apiece!) pieces that fill out the album, "Sound Chaser" is the more interesting, with its hyperactive acid jazz opening, all frantic keyboard runs and scat-singing, followed by a more measured middle section that finally accelerates back into a reprise of the opening psychedelia. The closing "To Be Over" is neither as varied in tempo nor as interesting in execution, aside from Howe's always-proficient acoustic and electric guitar work.

Final score for Relayer: one stupendous rock symphony, one interesting jazz-rock experiment, and the latter's lesser twin. Though not for everyone, in my view the Moraz era of Yes was brief but rewarding, and worthy of any prog-rock or jazz-rock fusion fan's attention. Next would come the return of Wakeman - the first one, anyway -- and what looked at the time like the last stand for Classic Yes.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B+



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