Review Summary: Keys to DEscension.(This review is #7 in my "Regretting the Past" series, a series that looks at albums that either ended the careers of artists, or were said artist's first efforts that they clearly don't want anyone to know about, or albums so bad that they forced the band back to the drawing board. Previous reviews in this series will be linked to in the comments section for this review.)
I like to think that I make it pretty obvious what a "Regretting the Past" review is. Hell, you just read the above explanation of the series. In the days since I decided to start making these reviews, I've had a number of people (both on this site, and friends IRL) ask me about specific albums. One request I get quite often is Yes' notorious 1991 flop Union
. That's a pretty easy target for a number of good reasons; one being that it was a huge, ambitious undertaking with regards to its lineup, and that the band themselves absolutely hate it. However, and this may surprise you, although the album itself gets a very mixed reaction, the actual time period itself is actually remembered very fondly among the fanbase. Its tour is often considered to be one of the best in the band's history,and "I Would Have Waited Forever" and "Take Water to the Mountain" are seen as some of the band's absolute best work among people who hate it, even. The band themselves kept trundling on and delivered some moderately successful works, which brings me to another easy target, Open Your Eyes
. And if Yes hadn't managed to bounce right back with one big comeback album right after, this review would probably be of that album.
Which brings me, ironically, to a not so easy target, and I say that because it's one that only Yes fans seem to remember: Magnification
. Yeah,and I thought Linkin Park's Minutes to Midnight
existed in quite possibly the weirdest vacuum ever.
How we arrive at this chapter of the Yes story is a pretty amusing chapter in and of itself. Yes' days of being mainstream prog-rock tastemakers was something of a fluke- after 90125
ended up being a mainstream darling, and 1991's Union
put an end to that, the band were still moderately successful enough to keep their fans' attention with 1994's Talk
and arguably their most ambitious undertaking yet: a double album consisting of half live tracks and half studio material Keys to Ascension
, which managed to see legendary keyboardist (and just as legendary flake) Rick Wakeman return for the studio portion of said material. The problem, however, was that Rick Wakeman once AGAIN decided to quit Yes for the 57th time because it pissed him off that the studio material itself, which he considered to be some of the band's best work at the time, wasn't its own studio record (he'd later get his wish in 2001 with the compilation album Keystudio
). So this saw Yes go through yet another revolving door of keyboardists, 1997's Open Your Eyes
having future bassist Billy Sherwood, and Billy Sherwood in 1999 becoming the guitarist and the addition of keyboardist Igor Koroshev for their big comeback album The Ladder
. This ended up being lightning in a bottle for the band, as both the album and the lineup itself was considered to be one of the band's best since at least the 90125
days. But all that came to a screeching halt when during the promotional tour for The Ladder
, Koroshev decided to be an absolute sex creep towards two backstage guards at a concert, and as soon booted from the band. So naturally, this left them without a keyboardist.
Their solution? No keyboardist for the next album, but rather a symphony orchestra. And on paper, this kind of seems like a neat idea. Yes' music has always had a very symphpnic feel to it; And the band had already done it once on Time and a Word
, so what exactly could go wrong?
The opening title track actually manages to lay down a solid foundation- it's no "Close to the Edge", but beginning with acoustic guitar, some strings, soft vocals from Jon Anderson which build to a very catchy chorus that takes on two tempos, the second having that very ear wormish "Magnificate, Magnification" line, and even vocal melodies VERY reminiscent of the classic days, one could easily be forgiven for assuming that tr album will be a major lot successful experiment. Why do I say that? Because it only takes the second track, "Spirit of Survival", for this formula to get old very quickly. While not exactly a bad song by any means, the orchestra clashes majorly with this song's hard, driving edge, at times even sounding like the orchestra belongs to a completely different song.
The reason for such an occurrence is quite simple: reading up on the album's production history, how exactly the orchestration went down is something of a mess. The first reason being a hilarious case of boomers not understanding how technology works. Ironically for a band who have patted themselves on the back through the years for being at the cutting edge of promotional techniques, like their song "Homeworld" being the official theme song for the video game of the same name, when it comes to actually recording, they were stubbornly old school. Yes instead on using a 24 track tape machine, which the. went to a 48 track, and then finally digital, because their producer at the time kept trying to tell them that recording such music on tape isn't quite possible. Another being that the band decided to write orchestral parts first and band the music around the orchestral parts, and this absolutely shows. Tracks like "Don't Go" and "Can You Imagine" are two of the biggest cases of this, with the latter being a two minute throwaway track with Squire singing lead. Steve Howe himself recounted in a number of interviews that the orchestra affected his style of songwriting and guitar playing, which results in whole chunks of the album having him holding back where he should be letting loose.
The two biggest pieces of evidence of this come in the form of the album's two ten minute epics, "Dreamtime" and "In Presence Of". "Dreamtime" is a song that is faster and heavier than most of the tracks on the record, has a number of catchy hooks and even absolutely powerful vocal deliveries from Anderson himself, and it's even a rare instance of the orchestra working with the music. So what's the issue? The song itself ends at seven minutes in, and we get three very pointless Orchestra interlude that exists just topad the song out.The latter, on the other hand, is a song based on a demo from the classic days, and its an absolutely gorgeous song... that is drowned in absolutely screechy orchestra that gets in the way of the song's gorgeous melodies and emotional lyrics. This ends up being a case of not just misunderstanding how technology works but also not understanding how songwriting works
. which is criminal for the band who gave us the single greatest A-side of all tome, Close to the Edge
The result is an album that is very schizophrenic sounding. You have four absolutely veteran musicians and songwriters who are basically held creatively hostage by a key element that should blend flawlessly with the music. And things do not get better when you watch the live DVD from the album's tour, Yes Symphonic
. The problems are clear right off the bat with the opening performance of "Close to the Edge", where the orchestra's presence basically strangled the band to deat, and we see a band having no clue what the *** to do on stage, not helped by the orchestra's cringy dance moves and gestures at times. It is one seriously awkward to watch performance, one where even songs that should be powerhouses with an orchestra backing them ("The Gates of Delirium", in particular) instead just faceplant with all the grace of a dump truck.
And so, the Yes story only gets more complicated. A comeback tour is attempted in 2008, but Jon Anderson is sacked for the mere reason of having throat problems, another comeback album is attempted but not in any way successful, and Yes end up becoming their own tribute band following Chris Squire's death. And to think it all happened because of a single Orchestral album.
FAILURE, FIASCO, OR SECRET SUCCESS: