Review Summary: There have been stronger return-to-forms, but with years of throwaway material in its wake, The Ladder performs above expectations.
Only their most loyal fans must still have had faith in Yes producing a great album in the late 90’s: recent history was speaking for itself. 1997’s Open Your Eyes
was yet another failure in the line, Chris Squire and Rick Wakeman’s replacement Billy Sherwood being creatively responsible for nearly a disc-full of overproduced pop songs, topped off with a 24-minute epic that certainly was no Close to the Edge
, or anything remotely close to it. Yes’ final 90’s release The Ladder
saw yet another obligatory personnel shift, Sherwood proceeding to share the guitar spot with Howe, and Russian player Igor Khoroshev, who had previously contributed on Open Your Eyes
, taking over the keys. A slightly odd transition, since the group’s line-up had practically never featured two guitarists.
Those things aside, was The Ladder
a step forward" The band promised, not for the first time, a return to the more classic Yes sound, and for a major part, that is indeed what this record is going for. Epic-length opener Homeworld
takes time to get going, but is definitely a highlight here, especially instrumentally, doing a fairly decent job at emulating that classic 70’s vibe and effectively setting the scene. Most of the better tracks are actually found on the album’s second half, which grows more consistent towards the end, starting with the frantic Finally
, possibly a homage in part to one of Yes’ all-time greats Siberian Khatru
. There are more deliberate nods to the Fragile
-era: Can I"
bears an obvious similarity to We Have Heaven
, and New Language
contains passages close to those in the characteristic Roundabout
. Call it a lazy move, but it is surely more pleasant than listening to some of their past garbage.
Musically at least, the band seem fitter than they’d been in quite some years. Whether this was Khoroshev's intention or not, the keys are far less dominant than usual, which is actually refreshing since it allows for a more guitar-centred sound. Anderson, perhaps Yes’ most recognizable factor throughout their existence, but often a point of annoyance on previous works, is fortunately also in much better shape, though the happy-go-lucky lyrics and vocals often influence the entire sound of the material too strongly, leading to The Ladder
’s greatest flaw. Potentially great songs like Lightning Strikes
turn just a little too vibrant for their own good, and the sugar-sweet ballad If Only You Knew
is an easy low point.
Despite a few hiccups, The Ladder
is actually the most enjoyable Yes album, or the most Yes album for that matter, that the band had made in quite some years. That doesn’t say a whole lot considering what was brought out before it, but with just a few fillers the record is altogether solid. Why it can’t hope to be more than that is plain and simple: as pleasant and return-to-form as an aging group like this can make an album sound, they cannot possibly hope to recapture their younger creativity at this point in time. The Ladder
isn’t all that memorable, but it’s the closest you’ll get to enjoying a progressive Yes album made after the 70’s ended.
The Ladder’s Yes was:
- John Roy Anderson ~ Lead Vocals
- Stephen James Howe ~ Lead Guitars, Backing Vocals, Mandolin
- William Wyman Sherwood ~ Rhythm Guitars, Backing Vocals
- Christopher Russell Squire ~ Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals
- Igor Petrovich Khoroshev ~ Keyboards, Backing Vocals
- Alan White ~ Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals
TO BE CONTINUED...