Time And A Word


Atlantic Records, 1970


REVIEW BY: Herb Hill


A tale of two covers.

This was the second album from Yes and it was a continuation of the great experiment in progressive rock that Yes, and others, started in the late 1960's. However, this is not an album on the cusp of greatness; Time And A Word is really more of a coiling of the creative spring prior to the uninhibited musical explosion that would be their next release, The Yes Album.

There are two separate album covers for Time And A Word and they tell much of the group's attitude and transition during this period. The UK release is a "mod art" headless and naked woman reclining on checkerboard pattern. A naked female figure on an album cover is a bit of a moral stretch by 1970's standards; but stretching limits is what Yes is all about. The cover on the U.S. release is a more 'modest' picture of the band which includes Steve Howe even though Howe was not in the band during the recording of the album. So, what was probably a simple mix-up of marketing memos across continents ends up saying as much about the musical direction of the band as the music did. The UK version says that Yes considers themselves unbound by conventional rules.. the US version says, "Mr. Banks is out."

At this point in time Yes was winding tighter and tighter in on itself; gazing meditatively at its own navel while simultaneously chomping at the bit trying to break free of the 60's musical mold. Tension such as this can create great leaps in creativity. It can also force a creative stasis, which is the musical equivalent of static cling, in which nothing, or very little, moves. Movement, by definition, is a prerequisite for progressive rock. Oh, oh.

Yes knew they needed to move on and they were looking, almost desperately I would say, for a way out. They even tried using an orchestra on this album as a means to this end but to little avail. Regrettably, it was too much and they were too musically young to take full advantage of the orchestral power at their finger tips. By all appearances they didn't know what to do with it once it was there and it took them thirty years to finally find the correct fit for an orchestra within Yes music on the 2001 release my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Magnification. An orchestra was clearly not the way to greater heights at this point in time for Yes. Although using longer and more complex musical structures coupled with orchestral arrangement was the eventual mold breaker for Yes it is clearly not evident on this album. Yes was a rocket ready for takeoff, but lacked the initial spark to light the fuel.

Not that this is a bad album. There is good music to be heard here and for the fan of early prog some real treats buried within. For example, the upbeat beginning and ending sections of "Astral Traveler" are melded together with a guitar and organ mix of what can only be compared to Genesis of the classic prog era almost two years in the future. Really! The change from jazzy Bruford/Squire to rocky Banks/Kaye is a little clumsy, but that's early prog for you. If you listen to the middle section of this track and can't hear hints of the same style that lead Genesis to its own magnum opus "Suppers Ready," then the drugs you are using are dulling your senses, my boy.

The fact that Yes were still not really finding a way into their own style is highlighted by the presence of two covers; "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed" by Richie Havens and "Everydays" by Steven Stills, plus two co-written pieces by Jon Anderson and David Foster from the Warriors (Anderson's old group). You can't escape the feeling that the pot was still simmering with yesterdays stew. However, the addition of the orchestra and the chance to re-arrange this 'older' music gave Yes more time to continue sharpening their arranging capabilities while still searching for their own style.

The original works on Time And A Word are good examples of Yes striving towards, and not yet achieving, their own distinctive sound; the sound that would define an entire genre. "Then" shows off Bruford's quick tempo fills and jazz percussion skills and Andersons vocals started to gain a little more traction. But the organ solos are lacking finesse and the lead guitar, what there is of it, is just not potent enough to stand up to the rest of the song. The fact is that Bruford, Anderson and Squire (in that order ihmo) shine through on the album while Banks and Kaye tend to fade.

"The Prophet," another Yes original track, begins well enough with adequate keyboards from Mr. Kaye. But adequate is all it is and the track doesn't really pick up until Bruford and Squire take over almost half way through. The orchestral strings are well used in this track and it shows an interesting glimpse of the Yes' arranging skills getting another workout.

So what do we have here? Well, we have a powerful musical engine stuck in second gear, lurching forward as the rpms approach the redline and then missing the shift into third. Time And A Word could well have been Yes' last kick at the can if it were not for the heavy duty personnel changes just around the corner.

Yes as a group could probably feel that something extraordinary was just out of reach, but they needed someone special to help them make the turn. By winding the creative spring ever tighter the group had built up a dangerous level of unreleased creative energy. With no place to go this tension produced the unfortunate spectacle of Mr. Banks being squeezed outthrough one of the resulting cracks in the group's multi layered, highly polished veneer.

For a group that was in grave danger of eventually running around in ever-decreasing creative circles until they disappeared up their collective orifices this is still a good album. A vision of greatness not quite achieved or a group under so much static tension that something had to give... your choice is your own.

Rating: B-

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© 2004 Herb Hill and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.