Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Yes



Yes is not merely a band - they are a force of nature.  They have had about a dozen lineups, each of which have created some wonderful music.  I'd even argue that much of it is spiritually fulfilling art.  Albums like Fragile and Relayer solidified them as the progressive rock giants.  Close To The Edge is my all-time favourite prog album, and I might as well call it scripture.  Going For The One is often lost in the mix, but as far as I'm concerned it is the most aesthetically gorgeous album they ever recorded.  All essential listening for anyone even remotely interested in either rock or classical music.  These records merged the aforementioned two previously incompatible worlds of music together like no other.

The big 70s Yes hit, Roundabout, spawned no less than a thousand prog rock bands who tried to match it, but most of them failed miserably to come even close.  Plenty of them had Yes' technical chops, but they lacked the one key element that virtually every moment of 70s Yes music had - melody.  At any given moment, the melody was always at the forefront, which is what made them the most accessible of all the progressive bands.  By the 80s they shifted gears to focus more on the rhythmical element of their sound to remain relevant in the MTV age, but by the 90s they combined their melodic and rhythmic sides to create great records like Talk, Keystudio and The Ladder.

Their most recent record, Fly From Here, released just a few months ago, more or less returned to the 1980 lineup of the band that included The Buggles.  A very audacious record, it's kind of like Drama meets Close To The Edge.  Even as a big Yes fan, I was very surprised that the record is this good.  Had I not known the history, I'd be thinking I'm listening to a band of guys in their 20s - hungry, wanting to conquer the world, and making their mark on the evolution of music.

I've been fortunate enough to see Yes and its various solo members on about a half-dozen occasions, each a memorable and musically powerful experience.  Jon Anderson carries a one-man show like no other.  Watching him sing Steve Howe's guitar solo at the end of Starship Trooper simply defies words.  And I've seen Steve Howe too.  His gentle touch playing Jon Anderson's melodies on a piece like To Be Over is an equally mesmerizing experience.

Many Yes fans begrudge the fact that they are creating music without Jon Anderson, but what they fail to realize is that Yes is bigger than any single person.  They have created great records without Steve Howe, without Rick Wakeman, and without Jon Anderson.  Decades from now when they will all have passed, I can see the name Yes enduring with a completely new set of musicians with a similar musical vision.  Kind of like the way Bach still exists.  It is a sound, a presence, a musical ideology that is timeless.  People will be listening to Close To The Edge a century from now, the same way we listen to Vivaldi and Chopin today.  Most things will fall by the wayside, but Yes will be heard in many a musical time capsule.

And hopefully the sound will be built upon by others.  Bands like Dream Theater, The Flower Kings, and Porcupine Tree have already begun.

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