The Yes Album (Steven Wilson Remix)


Atlantic, 2014

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Among its many distinctions, Yes is that rare band with multiple “first albums” in its catalogue. There’s their first as a band (Yes), their first with Rick Wakeman (Fragile), their first and only with Patrick Moraz (Relayer), their first without Jon Anderson (Drama), their first with Trevor Rabin (90125) and so on. The fact that each of the above albums is distinctly different from all the others is part of why people still care about the band half a century later.

The Yes Album was the group’s first with guitarist Steve Howe—here joining founding members Jon Anderson (lead vocals), Chris Squire (bass / harmony vocals), Bill Bruford (drums) and Tony Kaye (keys)—but the element that distinguishes it most from what came before is the music itself; this is the album where Yes the clever young art-rock experimentalists evolved into Yes the pioneering giants of progressive rock. Five-minute tracks expanded to seven or nine or 10 minutes even as songs began to give way to suites with distinctive segments and movements. Howe’s aggressive yet lyrical playing is all over the album, to be sure, but what’s most apparent is how much the band’s field of vision and musical ambition has expanded. 

The real question for this edition of the album, of course, is how much difference modern prog savant Steven Wilson’s fresh mix makes in terms of the listening experience. While the differences feel more subtle here than on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Wilson’s other remixes of landmark Yes albums—especially Relayer—every note feels sharper and brighter, like a freshly-polished gem.  

Nine and a half minute opener “Yours Is No Disgrace” benefits from greater sharpness all around, with both background elements like the supporting acoustic guitar line and foreground elements like Squire’s bounding, bubbly bass line feeling noticeably more prominent than in the original mix. Still, the differences feel incremental rather than transformational. “Clap” is “Clap”; there likely wasn’t much to be done with Howe’s live-recorded solo acoustic piece anyway.

The group’s early landmark mini-epic “Starship Trooper,” a 10-minute suite stitching together distinct segments composed by Anderson, Squire and Howe, respectively, sees the greatest benefit in the enhanced clarity and separation of the unison lead vocals of Squire and Anderson in the “Disillusion” section. It also feels like the acoustic rhythm guitar part Howe double-tracked under his electric lead in the closing “Wurm” section has been dialed up a bit.

“I’ve Seen All Good People” leads off side two of the original LP with an Anderson-Squire collaboration in two parts. Opening segment “Your Move” shines with improved separation and crispness for Anderson, Squire and Howe’s three-part harmonies. Squire’s bouncy “I’ve Seen All Good People” feels scrubbed clean but otherwise its old familiar self.

On the oft-neglected “A Venture,” Squire’s agile bass line feels more prominent in the jazzy closing jam, a welcome development. Finally, nine and a half minute closer “Perpetual Change” gains clarity and gentle echo on Anderson’s lead vocal, giving it extra shimmer. There’s also more volume on Kaye’s piano during the mid-song jam, before his be-bopping Hammond line takes over. And at 5:58, a Howe mini-solo has been unearthed from its former location deep in the mix.

Overall, The Yes Album has never sounded cleaner or crisper, and the separation in Wilson’s mix allows each instrument to stand out more distinctly than on the original. Still, Wilson’s work on this classic album feels more like a thorough detailing of an already-classic car than a rebuild of its engine. And that feels exactly as it should be—as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Rating: B+

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