How a band manages to convey the same enthusiasm, to have the same tonic effect on the listener after decades of activity, without seeming formulaic, I’ll never fully understand. And there’s no band more capable of inspiring someone with a bit of joie-de-vivre than Yes. Their lush, layered, groovy songs, always powerful, always accelerated act like an amazing injection of energy for me, and so I thought I’d write about this album, although it’s far from being their most iconic work. It’s the Yes album I heard first, and it stuck with me.
I find it very difficult to do anything else while listening to Yes, so I’m writing this in silence, which is unusual for me, and a good place to start this post. You see, Yes have a way of not only creating an overwhelming illusion of space around you, but also of populating that space entirely! Paradoxically, it feels like there’s no breathing room, no space for divergence and dissidence, just a dizzying array of sound and emotion which makes me feel like the ball in a pin-ball machine. I enjoy the feeling of overload, it’s just that I can’t focus on anything else. They reject my reality and substitute their own, as it were. And, once in a while, that’s not a bad thing at all. For a band singing about opening one’s eyes and changing perspectives, they do a great job of inciting that very thing in the listener. It’s like being picked up by the scruff of your neck, like a kitten, and lifted high above the ground, spun around and upside down and plopped back where you began at the end, with everything taken out of you except the glee and joy of having experienced the vistas and sensations of the trip. Of course, sometimes Jon Anderson’s voice, with it’s cascade of enthusiasm and optimism, can have the exact opposite effect, but that would be a very bad day indeed to turn to Yes. In any case, I find their musical architecture positively uplifting, not necessarily in a grandiose way, just… larger than life I suppose. Or, if we’re to give in to their seduction completely, as large as life.
In the ’70s, prog-rock bands exhibited a tendency to treat rock music like they would a symphonic score – lengthy, exhaustive works, tied together by great overarching concepts, magnum opuses to leave behind as a legacy. Punk was not easy on the prog-rockers, not in the least. Many of them faded away or just lost the spark, but some managed to adapt to the new paradigm, to roll with the punches and make it through the next couple of decades relatively unscathed. Yes is one of those bands, and I think this album proves it. There’s an unbroken line somewhere in the background between “Tales From Topographic Oceans” and “Open Your Eyes” and although I heard purists thrash their more recent work, I stand by the light emanating from this music and feel right at home.
There’s this wonderful phenomenon which happened in the seventies, specifically in prog-rock. They people involved in the conception and popularization of this genre (which is still my favorite), had the tendency to migrate from one project to the next and mingle with each-other in spectacular combinations. Bill Bruford left Yes to join King Crimson. Greg Lake left King Crimson to start E.L.P., Jon Anderson side-tracked for a while to work with Vangelis who had made quite a name for himself with Aphrodite’s Child… the list of changes and substitutions is endless. It’s like all these guys were friends, all of them shared something special, an attitude towards music which gave us one of the most coherent and impressive genres ever. Yes was at the forefront of this wave and they had a very specific approach – utter democracy. They would spend months and years in the studio, debating the importance of using one chord instead of another at any given time in their twenty-minute epic songs. Bill Bruford said that the move to King Crimson had a shocking effect on him, especially because of the fundamental difference between musical approaches the bands had. To counter Yes’ democracy, Robert Fripp ran King Crimson with an iron hand. I mention King Crimson, because they’re my favorite band and I’ll one day muster the courage to talk about their albums, but for now I limit myself to using them as contrast. The intensity of their albums comes from tension, there’s always an ingrained feeling of conflict, of frustration somewhere in there. With Yes, it’s the exact opposite. There’s a freedom, a joy emanating from their music which makes me picture the two as dramatic antagonists. Were I a cartoon character, the angel and demon popping up on my shoulders to give me council would be Robert Fripp and Steve Howe, the former a master of logic and structured thought, ruled by brutal precision and cut-throat wit, the latter an epiphany of intuition and inspiration, solar, open and eloquent. In my mind and heart, these two bands are forever linked.
So, for a bit of sonic sunshine, let Yes take over tonight, if you will. See you tomorrow!
P.S.: Sorry about the quality of the sound concerning “Universal Garden”, it’s the only link I could find and I couldn’t pick another song, I just couldn’t…