Tuesday, December 12, 2006

album of the day

The Yes Album by Yes.

I'm well aware I'm on dodgy ground here. Despite some recent artists releasing albums of a vaguely "prog" nature (most obviously Radiohead and, more recently, Muse) progressive rock still has a bit of a dodgy image, conjuring up images of Rick Wakeman and his capes, banks of keyboards and The Six Wives of Henry VIII On Ice, and Peter Gabriel dressed as a sunflower. And Yes, being the poster boys for the whole progressive rock movement, get the brunt of the criticism.

But....this is a great album. It's the first "proper" album by the fully-formed line up, released early in 1971, and for all that it displays all the hallmarks of prog rock (toe-stubbing key and tempo changes in mid-song, multi-part "symphonic" songs, or, to put it another way, lots of unrelated songs glued together at random), the overwhelming impression is one of sheer manic unbridled energy. You can hear this in the introduction to the first song Yours Is No Disgrace; crunchy guitar riff from Steve Howe, steaming organ from Tony Kaye, and then Chris Squire's bassline driving things along, despite playing about four times as many notes as most bass players would deem appropriate. Even the trademark lyrical nonsense from Jon Anderson about "shining flying purple wolfhounds" can't put a damper on things. The multi-part Starship Trooper is the best thing on the album, mainly because of Steve Howe's hypnotic space-rock guitar instrumental Wurm which takes up the last three minutes or so. Jon Anderson's A Venture is the album's weak spot, a bit whimsical for my taste, but the nine minutes of Perpetual Change finishes things off in style. In most ways it's the most orthodox rock song on the album, but even then they can't resist throwing in a squelchy polyrhythmic synthesiser and drum interlude about five minutes in, just to make absolutely sure no-one can do anything as frivolous as dance or tap their feet along to it.

This is the high water mark of Yes's career - the next album Fragile sowed the seeds of their doom by allowing each band member an individual "showcase" song to show off as they saw fit. It was a short step from there to Tales From Topographic Oceans (one album, two LPs, four songs), capes, King Arthur on ice, etc. But if it wasn't for this, punk would never have had to happen, and the course of popular music, and indeed popular culture, might have been very different. So.....think on.

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