Review Summary: Talk is a mixed-bag of goodies with songs that, while well-conceived and executed, have trouble distinguishing themselves. The album is worth a listen, though, for the final song alone.
In 1994, 90125-era Yes re-united to record the album Talk, with Trevor Rabin (guitar/keyboards, vocals, programming) in the producer's chair. This time, unlike 90125 or Big Generator, Jon Anderson (vocals, Yes co-founder) would be an integral part of the writing process. The end result was Yes' best album since 90125, with a potential commercial success that was ultimately squandered because a lack of record company and label support. Joining Anderson and Rabin on the album was Chris Squire (bass, vocals, Yes co-founder), Alan White (drums), and Tony Kaye (hammond organ).
The album, on the whole, is a mixed bag of goodies. Points in its favour include that fact that rhythm section Squire and White had been by this point playing together for years, so they put in a strong, cohesive performance, and Rabin and Anderson are also in good form. This album also showcases the exceptional vocal talents that have always been a Yes trademark. The vocal harmonies are simply gorgeous. Moreover, unlike on some other Yes albums (Tormato, Union), there is a strong, stylistic cohesiveness running throughout.
However, a few elements mar this album and prevent it from becoming a Yes classic. First of all, despite Anderson's involvement, the album bears Rabin's stamp throughout - good if you like Rabin's style and song writing, bad if you don't. Rabin is a good guitarists with a fine ear for melody, and though he lacks the unique eclectic style that make Steve Howe the ultimate Yes guitarist, he puts in a fine performance here. However, although the album was made in the 90s, it feels like Rabin's heart is stuck in the 80s, meaning that this album sounds dated today. Another problem stemming from Rabin's strong presence is that the album is slanted towards a few areas - the vocals, the guitar, and, to a lesser extent, the keyboards - and so the album is not really a band performance. That's a pity, because previous Yes efforts have indicated that Squire and White, if not Kaye, are capable of so much more than what they put into this album. On this album, White is pretty well stuck in powerhouse mode while Squire is forced to back off his trademarked lead bass style because, simply put, Rabin's parts leave Squire very little space in which to manoeuvre. This is a shame, because his bass is a fundamental element to classic Yes. The album also suffers a little due to the fact that none of the songs really stick out from each other; the stylistic cohesiveness in this instance also proves a fault.
Talk includes the following songs:
"The Calling" (6:56) The album opener, and a fairly strong song that sets the stage for everything that follows. If you like this song, you'll probably enjoy the entire album as nothing strays stylistically too far from this one. There is a cool break down just past the three minute mark leading up to a jaunty solo with a country tinge, followed by a quick organ solo and another guitar break before breaking down once more and dropping into the chorus. Another, more conventional rock solo follows the chorus before returning to the softly strummed chords that began the song. An excellent start to the album.
"I Am Waiting" (7:25) This song begins with a few measures that are almost new age in their sound before shifting briefly into a hard-rock version of the opening melody. At 1:08 the song drops abruptly back into new age. The song is quiet and melodic for the most part, broken up by heavier sections based around the same melody line. There is a bridge at the 3:30 mark that is out of place, though, as it breaks the mood and comes and goes without affecting the direction of the song. It could have been removed entirely, and the song wouldn't really suffer for it. Actually, in all this song doesn't really justify its length, with its endlessly repeated guitar melody. The song could have been cut by couple of minutes without taking away from the overall effect.
"Real Love" (8:48) From the get-go, this song establishes a heavier, darker vibe which, while enjoyable, is somewhat questionable when contrasted to the lyrical content. Definitely one of the stronger songs on the album, and its heaviness helps set it apart from its cohorts. However, like the last song, there really isn't enough ideas to justify its running time.
"State of Play" (5:00) Another powerhouse, up-tempo rocker. This one begins by alternating full band choruses with stripped-down verses, with some effective bass-playing in the second verse. This song also includes a cool two section guitar solo, which contrasts a rocking solo, with the kind of soaring lines that Rabin favours on this album, with a clean, funkier solo. However, this song, while relatively short, becomes tedious in its repetitiveness. The song doesn't benefit from its length and its repeated choruses.
"Walls" (4:57) Another song that overstays its welcome, even though its the shortest song on the album. The second weakest on the album, it's really indistinguishable from the two songs surrounding it. It's basically an up-tempo pop tune with too many choruses, and with Rabin taking the lead vocal, it hardly sounds like Yes at all - in fact, Anderson doesn't even come in with his lead vocal until the towards the very end of the song. There is also a strange aspect to the fade out - instead of just fading away, on the chorus music, with about twenty seconds left in the track it cuts back to the verse music for no real reason.
"Where Will You Be" (6:09) By all means the weakest song on the album, this song begins with a new age-kind of loop that continues throughout most of the song. While some interesting things happen during this tune, the endless loop prevents this song from really developing, and after a minute or two the loop becomes annoying. This song is about Rabin and Anderson, with the rest of the band having a very weak presence.
"Endless Dream" (15:42) Divided into three parts (Silent Spring/Talk/Endless Dream), this is the kind of epic that Yes is known for and by far the best song on the album, as good as anything Yes has done on any album. The song begins with a chaotic piano loop and some crashing chords, then gets busy and moves along at a brisk pace. This first section, "Silent Spring", is barely two minutes long, but the best two minutes on the entire album to date. It's well thought out, develops nicely, and doesn't at any time get boring. This first section abruptly cuts out and a single, quiet piano line carries us into "Talk," which begins with Rabin singing by himself through some kind of filter, accompanied by the piano. Gradually, some guitar creeps in and the piano changes to playing chords, setting up the primary theme for Anderson's first verse. Following this is some strangely filtered guitar, followed by a powerhouse rhythm section with Rabin's soaring guitar lines and some powerful, uplifting vocals. At this point the song falters a bit, as everything cuts out to make way for some synth, an unwelcome change since everything to this point has been building up to a climax. Not that what follows - the return of the chaotic piano loop - is uninteresting, but the change kind of breaks the mood of the piece. Anyways, it builds back up into the central chord pattern, with accompanying majestic vocals (and soaring guitar solo) before finally concluding, in "Endless Dream," with a final vocal passage accompanied by minimal instrumental backing.
All in all, this is not a bad album, and worth picking up, especially if you see it on the cheap. In any case, "Endless Dream" is itself worth the price of the CD. All in all, a solid 3.5. Yes had done much better - but they've also done worse.