Yes is a band known for the strong presence of keyboards on their albums, especially on their albums from the early 70s when Rick Wakeman was their keyboard-player (and a good one at that). However, Yes has changed severely since those glory days, not only in personnel but also in sound. In the 70s, the time that many would call their creative top, Yes were probably the most pretentious progressive rock band around (maybe slightly rivalled by ELP). By the mid-70s however, Rick Wakeman left the band, but the band proved to be able to make a good album without him (i.e. Relayer), thus getting him as far to join again. The reunion was however short-lived and only two albums were made during that reunion (Going For The One and Tormato). The band fell apart after Tormato, and even Jon Anderson (who has appeared on all but one Yes-albums) left the band. One album, named Drama, was made with a very strange line-up (the classic line-up minus Anderson and Wakeman with The Buggles replacing them) and it's probably Yes' strangest album too. After a short hiatus the band reformed in the 80s, with Trevor Rabin on guitar as a replacement for Steve Howe (since he had went to form his own band, named Asia) and with Anderson back on board. This line-up, which was arguably the most successful commercially, was way less progressive than older Yes. You could say Yes had turned pop. The band disbanded for a few years again after making two highly successful albums (90125 and Big Generator), and after 4 years they returned with Union, a collaboration between present Yes members and long departed ones, which was surprisingly bad. After Union the band returned with Talk, another poppy Yes album, but better than the two 80s albums. After that Yes reunited with the classic line-up (Howe, Anderson, Wakeman, White and Squire) but they didnt manage to churn out an album (not counting two live-albums with some new solo-material on one of them). Wakeman decided to leave the band once again and he was replaced by some other guy named Billy Sherwood. They produced the album Open Your Eyes which was quite similar to Talk, only a bit better, a sign of things to come. Then came The Ladder, which was again an improvement of the former album. And finally we come where we were waiting for.
is the latest album by Yes, and surprisingly, their best since the late 70s (imo, some might rival this). Now, why did I start this review talking about keyboards? Well, that's because there aren't any on this album (apart from some piano here and there). Yes has been reformed to a quartet of rock musicians (Steve Howe, Jon Anderson, Chris Squire and Alan White) plus a 60-piece orchestra led by Larry Groupe who is a notable soundtrack-composer. This might sound weird, but the orchestra actually does a great job. Therefore, let's evaluate the tracks:
The album starts off with some happy sounding guitar, and soon the other instruments (including the orchestra, excluding the drums) fall in. The orchestra is used nicely as the backbeat for this track, adding some sphere. Soon the drums come in and the track gets more rocking by the minute. The track then evolves from riff to riff, using the orchestra to it's full extent, for 7 minutes, never getting boring. Overall the track isn't really innovating by any means, i's the standard 90s Yes track but with some extra instrumentation which makes it interesting. The orchestra really shines on this track, it's not always as apparent on the album. 4.5/5
2. Spirit Of Survival:
Magnification flows easily into Spirit Of Survival, which once again starts with guitar (well, after some a capella singing by Anderson), although less happy sounding. It proves to not be a copy of Magnification though, seeing as it actually gets quite hard-rocking. The orchestra is here used in a more bombastic and simple way than in the title track. Squire shines on this track. 5/5
3. Don't Go:
After two somewhat longer tracks (respectively 7 and 6 minutes) we get Don't Go which has a more orthodox length of 4 and a half minutes, it's also more poppy than the two former tracks, reminiscent of Talk. The orchestra doesn't add too much to Don't Go actually, it could have worked perfectly without it. An enjoyable but forgettable (although it's rather catchy) track nonetheless. 3.5/5
4. Give Love Each Day:
The first track to start with the orchestra playing solo, giving a nice atmosphere to the track right from the start. It feels like the orchestra is planning to play solo the whole track, but don't be fooled, the band comes in at the 2 minute mark with some interesting sounding guitar and Anderson singing some stuff (I hardly ever listen to his lyrics, seeing as they aren't too interesting mostly). It doesn't take long before the drums kick in and the track again gets blown to epic status during the almost 8 minutes of music. 4.5/5
5. Can You Imagine?:
One of the four shorter tracks on the album, clocking in at a mere 2.58 minutes. It starts with piano, played by someone in the orchestra. It quickly gets followed by guitar and the rest of the orchestra and drums and bass kick in a little bit later. The lead vocals on here are not done by Anderson, but by Steve Howe (I think at least, it sounds like him, I don't have credits with me) with Anderson on backing vocals. Too bad the track is so short though, but I don't think it could have been made much longer. 4/5
6. We Agree:
Starts of with Spanish guitar, reminiscent of Mood for a Day (from Fragile). This song has a darker feel than the former tracks, but that changes throughout the song (which is again longer, 6 and a half minutes). I don't really know why, but I like this track less than the other ones on this record. It's not bad though, I think it just sounds a bit more cliché than the others. 3.5/5
7. Soft as a Dove:
Another one of the shorter tracks (2:17 now, they're getting shorter every time). It's mainly acoustic guitar with flutes, harp and violins over it, and with the ever-present vocals of Jon Anderson. No sign of either bass or drums. Pretty forgettable track. 3/5
Now this is what I call a great track. It's the longest on this album, and probably the best (only rivalled by it's successor, I'll get there in a minute (well, actually, 10 minutes)). It starts of with a fast paced guitar riff, reminiscent of earlier Yes (as in 70s Yes), joined by the orchestra which sounds very bombastic on here. There's a solo violin in here which is awesome, it sounds somewhat like a gypsy violin. At 2 minutes and a bit we get the main riff from Dreamtime which is very fast-paced, including great percussion work (I was almost starting to worry about Alan White, who seems to play very basic stuff on this album). Steve Howe really owns this track with some excellent guitar work. The track ends with the orchestra playing solo for about two minutes. I think the track could've done without this, but it sounds pretty nice (although you can really hear Groupe's soundtrack-music-influence here). 5/5
9. In the Presence Of:
This track (the longest on this album, besides Dreamtime, and probably the most epic too) is divided into four movements. Although I haven't listened attentively to the lyrics I think it's about starting to believe in God or a higher being (coming to the light), reminiscent of the concept of Tales From Topographic Oceans which was also about religion.
The track starts of with Deeper
which is driven by a simple piano-melody which is taken over by the rest of the band/orchestra.
II. Death of Ego
follows Deeper up effortlessly, if you're not holding attention you probably won't even notice the fact that it changed to another movement.
III. True Beginner
flows over from Death of Ego reprising the main melody from Deeper. True Beginner starts of pretty bombastic but goes then over in a softer part.
The song then fades out and then fades in again with Turn Around and Remember
, the key-part and finale of the track. It starts of quiet with just Squire playing bass but one by one the rest of the instruments join to come to a beautiful epic ending and an awesome slide guitar solo by Howe, kind of comparable to the one in High Hopes by Pink Floyd.
Although I have said I liked Dreamtime more than this one, I think I'm gonna take that back, they actually are both equally great, and my preference changes. Both of these tracks definitely belong to Yes' best work in decades and are worthy of being on one of Yes' classic 70s albums. 5/5
10. Time is Time:
Kind of an anti-climax, this track. I would have been perfectly happy with In the Presence Of as the ending track, but Yes chose to add this short track (only 2:08 minutes). It's not a bad track by any means, but it just falls short compared to the awesomeness of the preceding track. 4/5
Overall, this album is great. Although I quite liked The Ladder and Open Your Eyes they were both not much more than just decent albums, full of the clichés Yes had been using in the 80s and 90s. Although these are still apparent on this album, they're used to a lesser degree. Some of the tracks on here are among the best stuff Yes has made since the late 70s (i.e. In The Presence Of and Dreamtime). However, the album isn't classic status or anything, there are some major flaws on here. Alan White really doesn't come to the foreground on here, he mainly plays basic rhythms with a nice fill here and there, but compared to his work on, say, Relayer this sounds like a completely different and less-talented drummer. Another huge flaw is the orchestra. Mostly it does a fine to great job in accompanying the band but at times it really sounds uninspired. Groupe's background of composing for soundtracks is really apparent at those moments (soundtrack-music is not really known to be ground-breaking or very inspired, off course there are exceptions). What I am missing on here as well, is a lengthy guitar solo. The bits that Howe gets to solo (mostly only some 10 or 20 seconds) are however awesome. In some places Wakeman's (or someone else's) keyboard-additions are missed as well.
To conclude, this is not a beginner's Yes album. If you have however already picked up the bulk of their 70s material you might want to pick up this one. It's the most relevant album they made in some 20 years. If I was asked the questions "Who made this album?" and "Is Yes still able to make great music?" I would be able to answer the same word.
PS: this is my first review on here, so don't be to harsh on me.