What follows is from one of the magazines of the British Science Fiction Association, either Matrix or Vector. It was accompanied by pictures of the Rodger Dean covers for YesSongs, Fragile and Close to the Edge.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE
by David Wingrove 1986
FEW BANDS HAVE BEEN SO APPROPRIATELY NAMED AS YES, WHOSE
Time And A Word, which appeared in July 1970, confirmed Wilson's faith in the band, yet gave only the smallest indication of their future direction. Once again there were two covers in the mix, and the emphasis was on love songs like 'Sweet Dreams', 'Clear Days' and 'Time And A Word', just as it had been on their first album ('Sweetness' and 'Yesterday And Today' in particular). But two tracks on Time And A Word suggested the revolution that was to occur in the band's lyrics and music within the next two years.
With 'The Prophet' and 'Astral Traveller', Jon Anderson began to bring his growing fascination with what we might term 'astral-mysticism' into the arena of the group's music. And, as strongest and most determined personality in the band it was little wonder that his obsession with transcendence and the transcendental - perhaps best expressed in a half-line from 'Astral Traveller': 'Leave out the body load' - was to radically alter the musical direction of Yes, particularly when he found sympathy for his ideas in Chris Squire, who co-wrote 'The Prophet' with him. Peter Banks, however, had little time for this dalliance with the etheric realms and quit the group; replaced almost at once by the virtuoso guitarist Steve Howe.
Howe's entry into Yes marked a considerable change of emphasis in the group's repertoire, and with The Yes Album, released in March 1971, Yes began to explore new lyrical and musical structures, embracing not merely the mystical and the symphonic, but also the science fictional. During the rehearsals of the material for The Yes Album (in Church Hill, Devon during the spring of 1970) Bill Bruford had played the other members the first two King Crimson albums with their razor-tight, hard-edged rhythmic patterns and - under the influence of poet Pete Sinfield -their science fiction/fantasy-influenced lyrics. The possibilities inherent in both the lyrical material and the rhythmic patternings were not lost on a band who were already moving in that direction under their own steam, yet Anderson and Squire wanted to keep those distinctive close harmonies and the optimistic major chord sequences. The results of Bruford's enthusiasm are more to be heard on Fragile, released in January the next year, than on The Yes Album; nevertheless, Yes can be seen at this stage of their career, as an alternative King Crimson, the affirmative to Fripp's stark negation: the other side of the sky, if you like. Indeed, when it was time to record the third Crimson album, Lizards, Jon Anderson sang the vocals on ' Prince Rupert Awakes'.
The Yes Album, with its longer, more complex and far more ambitious pieces, marked the birth of a distinctive 'Yes' music, close enough to the band's roots to remain recognisable as rock, yet in its time sequences and melodic structures sharing some- thing both with classical (Howe) and jazz (Bruford) forms. And, for the first time, there was a use of overt science fiction imagery, in particular on 'Yours Is No Disgrace', a curiously- optimistic post-holocaust song with a poignant final verse and a memorable chorus, implying mankind's lack of a coherent life direction and the potential outcome of that lack:
Even at this stage, Jon Anderson's lyrics were beginning to lose the clarity and concision of grammatical form as he experimented with blurred, oblate forms where the emotional effect of key words and sequences of words replaced direct meaning. The music, with its soaring instrumental runs and grandiose chordal structures, emphasised this new lyrical emphasis: the emotions created by the merging of music and oblate lyrics creating an indivisible emotional bonding in the listener, such that what makes sense in context can quite easily seem (particularly in mid-period Yes) semantic drive on the col page. But it was never Anderson's intention for the lyrics to be taken out of context. If the attempt is made, as here, that musical context should be constantly borne in mind when trying to unravel the 'meaning' behind the words.
'Starship Trooper', the 9 minute mini-epic in three parts that made side one of The Yes Album, was also the first of a new kind of song; one that attempted to embody in its structure astral flight Anderson first sang of in 'Astral Traveller', the balloon of that song replaced by a starship (an evolutionary leap that seems somehow significant), The powerful instrumental climax of the song, 'Wurm', creates a genuine sense of transcendence - a sense first suggested in Anderson's lyrics to the opening movement, 'Life Seeker':
The same slowly building climax also suggests the movement of a vast, mile-long spaceship through the void -the musical equivalent of the opening sequence in Star Wars - and evokes, through this suggested image, what science fiction readers would recognise as a 'sense of wonder'.
A tentative connecton might be drawn between this track and the novel of a similar title Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein, which won the science fiction field's coveted Hugo award in 1960, particularly because of the line 'Sister Bugler flying high above', which seems to refer directly to Heinlein's tale of future war. But apart from that connection - which may well have been the starting point for the song - Yes's affirmative vision of mystical wonder doesn't correspond with the book, with its dour xenophobic arguments, wholly alien to Anderson' s philosophy.
Fragile pushed the musical and lyrical experimentation a stage further - in certain respects as far as Yes were to take them. To my mind, it's the most flawed of their albums, particularly on the five solo pieces, yet the group compositions, coldly atmospheric as they are, are classic Yes.
At first hearing, 'Heart Of The Sunrise' could easily be King Crimson, with the combination of Bruford's drumming, Squire's bass and Howe's guitar every bit as tight as Giles, Giles and Fripp on In the Wake of Poseidon, but the entry of Jon Anderson's voice following the hectic instrumental introduction distinguishes the track as something only Yes could have done. Once again the lyrics are inferential rather than descriptive: suggestive of a mood which varies as the mood of the music itself changes - 'How can the wind with its arms all around me'. Here, as never before, the lyrics are utterly dependent upon their musical context and upon Anderson's clear, soaring delivery, his voice essentially another instrument with its own range of expressive sounds.
Jon Anderson's developing taste for classical music - for Sibelius and Stravinsky in particular - was accompanied by a growing love of esoteric literature. He was reading Melville, Herman Hesse and science fiction at this time - and whilst he was never a part of any of the drug-oriented cults that then flourished (particularly in America), his interest in consciousness-raising and in cosmic awareness was very much of its time, even if it was more than a passing phase for Anderson. Millions of years, millions of miles, sunlight, dreams and soaring flight - these things, expressed in the lyrics of Fragile and illustrated by the music, are all evidence of Anderson - and, more importantly, Yes - assimilating and reformulating his influences. However, to ascribe the whole of the band's sudden lurch into Cosmic territory to Anderson is to do a great disservice to Chris Squire (a glimpse at his 1975 solo album, Fish Out of Water demonstrates how attuned he was to Anderson's vision) and Steve Howe. Also to new keyboards man Rick Wakeman, who arrived midway through the Fragile sessions to replace the departed Tony Kaye. Wakeman was a science fiction enthusiast in his own right (if of the rather 'schlock' kind which surfaced on his 1974 solo album, Journey to The Centre of The Earth).
If The Yes Album had created a distinctive Yes sound, then Fragile, with its Roger Dean cover of a strange flying boat hovering above a tiny, disintegrating planet, created a distinctive Yes image - one that was to be developed over the next four albums (and which was eventually used on seven albums in all, as well as becoming the basis of their massive stage- set). Dean's graphics emphasised the science fictional otherness of the group's appeal, providing a visual motif for the music. Indeed, such was the influence of Dean's graphics upon the band that Jon Anderson developed the idea of the flying boat in his first solo album, Olias of Sunhillow, in 1976 (calling it 'the Moorglade Mover') - a pure science fictional idea that demonstrates what Yes might have done if they had moved wholly in this direction. Anderson acknowledged Dean's influence in a sleeve note - 'FOR PLANTING THE SEED Roger Dean'.
With Close to the Edge, released in September 1972, the process of oblation in Jon Anderson's lyrics had reached its ultimate. It was no longer possible to ascertain a 'story-line' in the three lengthy tracks, only a general sense of Blakean mysticism - 'a dewdrop can exalt us like the music of the sun' - and a sense, captured in Roger Dean's marvellous centre-spread for the album cover - of a plateau of transcendence: of the conquest of the mundane conditions of existence. Indeed, these lyrics are oblate in both of the dictionary definitions of the word; there is both a flattening of effect, of meaning, and a solemn yet joyful offering of a vague something to the 'Gods':
The title track begs some kind of explanatory note, denying, as it does, the expected progression of ideas. In its imprecision of setting and subject - that wide area of interpretations it allows -it is a kind of SF/fantasy, particularly in the third movement, 'I Get Up, I Get Down', where the Lady's domain could well be anywhere at any time. In the face of such veils of allusion, one is bound to ask, Close To The Edge of what? Of Enlightenment? Of the Taoist Way? Hesse's Siddhartha was supposedly Anderson's chief influence in writing the lyrics, though there is only, once again a tentative connection: the motif of the enlightened man (Siddhartha) sitting 'close to the edge, down by the river'. Yet the lyrics, if not the music, have an eternal, timeless quality - they are set, if you like, in an ever-present moment of otherness. Such a timeless moment, indeed, as exists in 'Heart Of The Sunrise' and 'South Side Of The Sky' on Fragile, and which Hesse (whose use of science fictional ideas in a Cosmic, mind-expanding manner echoes Anderson's) often used. And like Hesse, while Yes used Western artistic techniques (the most advanced recording techniques of the time), it was to the East that they looked for their philosophy.
The questions about the lyrics arise, however, only when you struggle against the powerful interchange between music and lyrics. In both 'And You And I' and 'Siberian Khatru' there is the hallucinatory clarity of a drum-dream revelation. The first is a love song, but with the Cosmos as much as with an individual woman - with Mother Earth, as Hesse would have said. It is anti- political and pro-mystical, and the 'answers' given- if answers they are - are personal, not social. One thing can be clearly deduced from the lyrics, however, and that is the belief of the band in the eventual spiritual evolution of Mankind:
As with much of Yes's lyrics, they are talking of a far future state of events - of how Mankind must evolve. And in that first line is, perhaps, a teasing reference to Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, where the Mutant enemy, The Mule, dramatically changed the planned evolution of a peaceful and rational galactic empire. Perhaps...Elseways it makes little sense.
'Siberian Khatru' is the most obscure of the three songs - 'Khatru' is a Yemeni word meaning 'as you wish' - where, in the final upward rush of the song, the singularly uttered words become simple emblems of spiritual aspiration. There is the density of meaning of esoteric poetry here which again both demands and yet denies exposition. Is it a Christian song? A song about seasonal variation and a need to accept such? Or is it best, perhaps, merely to note the imagiste juxtaposition of evocative phrases; 'cold reigning king', 'Blue tail, Tail fly', 'Gold stainless nail'. In any case, it scarcely matters, for the powerful combination of fast-paced melodic phrasing and intense lyricism creates a definite sense of invigoration, almost of accomplishment, in the listener.
If same critics were quietly dubious about the direction of the music on Close To The Edge, most were openly hostile when the next studio album, Tales From Topographic Oceans, appeared in November 1973. With the side-long 'Close To The Edge', Yes had produced what could best be described as 'symphonic rock' - and on Tales... they took it a stage further, with a four-part 'symphony' extending over the whole of a double album - the ' Grand Concept' Anderson had secretly visualised for years.
The idea for Tales... originated with Anderson's reading of Paramhansa Yogananda's Autobiography Of A Yogi, with its description of the four-part Shastric scriptures, covering the whole of Mankind's existence. From this starting point, Anderson and Howe sketched out their own four-part vision of Man's existence, a concept echoed by science fiction's foremost philosopher/novelist, Olaf Stapledon, whose Last and First Men (1930) covered the same kind of vast time-scale (from Creation to the final evolution of Man into spiritual super-being).
Tales... has a 'horizontal' structuring rather than any true musical progression - it's more a succession of atmospheric layers than a working out and embellishing of themes. Many accused it of lacking any structure at all - it was, as Yes later admitted, inched out in the studio, and was in every sense an experiment in composition for the group - but as with Close To The Edge, there is a distinct 'feel' to each of the side-long movements. As before, the lyrics melt and flow, and a meaning can be discerned often only at the expense of grammatical sense: syntax must be sacrificed in analysing the lyrics to Tales... But what emerges is not simply the old mystical concerns - that dream of a higher consciousness extended from the individual to the race -but also Anderson's acute distaste for modern materialism and cultural vulgarity. In a Melody Maker article of June 1973, headed 'Yes Today', the writer commented on the 'spiritual fervour and clear-eyed vision' of the group: this communicates itself not in the literal meaning of the lyrics to Tales... but in the experienced sense of the words, if such a distinct/on can be permitted. In the same article, Anderson spelt out what the Grand Concept was about:
'The Album will contain four pieces - the first about the revelation of God, and the enjoyment of knowing there is a God, and why things happen in life, like a patchwork quilt... The second part is about remembering your own life, and remembering there were civilisations before ours. The third reflects on the ancient civilisations of China, India and Mexico, and the fourth is concerned with the ritual of life, based on the scriptures of Sanscrit. It will be very joyous .'
From Anderson's over-simplistic explanation it would seem that they had not strayed far from Yogananda's four-part Shastric scriptures, whereas the album does far more than this. It is 'very joyous' - almost ethereal - in passages, but it's also highly varied, moving from moments of intensity to sections where the band seems to relax utterly and drift. And it is not concerned simply with tracing Man's past and drawing those threads together, but in projecting them into a future where Mankind returns to nature as children of the sun - 'Nous Sommes Du Soleil' enacts this projected return. In this sense, what Tales... depicts is a utopia - indeed, much of Yes's material posits this better, finer future when Mankind has awakened from its present folly.
As far as overt futuristic references are concerned, there are few in Tales..., yet in the second movement, 'The Remembering', there is a passage - following 'Don the cap and close your eyes...' -where the time-sequences and unusual harmonies, linked with the lyrical material, are evocative of something alien, something other: 'Other skylines to hold you.. '.This is also the section of Tales... which refers forward to their next album, Relayer, which again uses that 'ever-present moment of otherness' I mentioned when discussing 'Close To The Edge'. The topography is not of a definite place or time, but of a state of being: Yes, like science fiction's utopian writers, are attempting to chart Mankind's spiritual aspirations. Unlike most of science fiction's writers, however, the conclusions Anderson and Co. reach are affirmative, positive visions and not the grey dystopian visions of such as Orwell, Huxley and Zamyatin. For Yes the future is all potentiality; a movement home 'Flying Home/Going Home' - and not a divorce from Gaia and the self.
It is difficult to discuss Yes at this period without examining their philosophy, because that intensity of vision shapes the music, indeed is the music, when all's said and done. And sufficient people shared that vision - that is, liked the music - that all of their albums at this stage of their career were in the top five of the charts throughout the world. Even so, few critics attempted to come to terms with what Yes were doing and dismissed the lyrical content either as pretentious dilettantism or as obscurantist rambling. Very few discerned that the power of the music derived from the lyrical vision. Many - like Chris Welch in his Melody Maker review of December 7th, 1974 gave a huge sigh of relief when Yes presented them with Relayer, a 'relatively low-key project'.
Relayer was - excepting 'Awakening' on Going For The One - the band's last dalliance with lengthy suites, and stands in some respects as a postscript to Tales From Topographic Oceans. 'The Gates of Delirium', which fills side one of the album, is a timeless message about the need to fight for freedom against oppression and argues against any simplistic view of Yes as weak- kneed vegetarian pacifists. Vegetarian they are, but the lyrics of 'The Gates of Delirium' leave no doubt that they are realists as well as visionaries: 'Destroy oppression' and 'The pen won't stay the demon's wings...' are realisations that the visionary future glimpsed in the song's final section, 'Soon Oh Soon The Light', must be earned- 'Create our freedom'. The message might be timeless, but Yes express it in a very modern way, utilising a science fictional concept, that of alternate possibilities:
These lyrics are perhaps the clearest for some time - again, another reason why the critics embraced Relayer as fervently as they'd rejected Tales... - and, but for that final, ethereal section, are Yes at their most aggressive ever.
Rick Wakeman, never wholly attuned to Yes's intense lifestyle, had left the band before Relayer and Patrick Moraz, a Swiss jazz musician had come in on keyboards for that album, by the time of Going For The One, in July 1977, however, Wakeman was back. It was the first new Yes album in three years, and the first since Time And A Word not to be engineered or produced by Eddie Offord, the 'sixth member of the band'. The result was a rather muted production for what were otherwise classic Yes tracks. 'Turn Of The Century' and 'Wonderous Stories' are both science fiction stories, the latter summarising, perhaps Yes's particular use of SF's imagery and range:
A future where 'Love!' is the only imperative. Indeed, in 'Wonderous Stories', Anderson is again talking of the 'Astral Traveller' himself:
While in 'Turn of the Century' Anderson creates an eternal love story - between Roan and his lady on the face of it, but also between the artist and his spirit - again evoking that sense of a timeless realm of otherness. In this respect Anderson shares a kinship with The Moody Blues and is, perhaps, more successful in conveying the nebulous otherness of the visionary/spiritual world.
'Awaken', the 15 minute track which ends Going For The One seems almost to be a condensation and personalisation of Tales.... utilising the same ideas and motifs to create what is, ultimately, a love song. The idea of key words and key phrases reaches an ultimate in 'Awaken', almost as if Anderson had used William Burroughs' cut-up techniques on previous songs and juxtaposed them: 'To the sun, oh let my heart dreaming'. But it's more than a word-game, or concept-game. Once again, the music embraces the lyrics and gives them an emotional sense that suddenly spills over in the final, gentle section when the lyrics revert to something simple, direct, and grammatical:
This reversion is crucial in Yes's evolution, for after the spiritual and lyrical extremes of previous albums - which seem to reach peak intensity to a personal and not Cosmic love song. The four-fold mastery (Master of Images/Light/Soul/Time) becomes a singular love, as if to say that whatever else changes, much is true and eternal. The awakening is to the imperative 'Love!'.
'Awaken' is, to my mind, a high point from which Yes descended. Which is not to say that Tormato, released in September 1978, was a poor album, simply that the almost religious intensity of 'Awaken' has subsequently disappeared from their music. Indeed, as far as science fictional influences are concerned, Tormato was primarily an SF album, with no fewer four of the nine tracks having an SF premise.
Side One of Tormato opens with 'Future Times', set, seemingly, in the 'seventh age' of 'Madrigal' (the fourth track on side one). Its lyrics merely reiterate in SF terms the mystical utopianism of earlier songs: that the future will see a return to innocence for Mankind - a reversal of the original Fall. The song's conclusion seems to itemise the six stages of Man's evolution towards the 'seventh age', before segueing into the next song 'Rejoice', which is the return intimated in 'Future Times': not merely a return 'Home' as in Tales..., but a return to the band's own roots after 'Ten true summers long'.
'Madrigal' again takes up the theme of a 'golden age' - which is the 'inner flame' of Yes's vision. The astral travellers have become 'Celestial travellers', but they're essentially the same, with their future ideal of 'Sacred ships' which 'sail the seventh age'. It's a song which casts its retrospective glow over all of Yes's previous work, making explicit at long last what was formerly obscure - at least, in lyrical terms it achieves this much, for the madrigal setting actually reduces the effect of the words for once.
What is significant on Tormato is the collaboration of Anderson and Wakeman -the two SF fans -on three of the explicitly-SF songs. Wakeman's slightly 'schlock' influence surfaces on 'Arriving UFO' which abandons for once Anderson's insistence on 'inner space' and, as the lyrics state, sees 'The coming of outer space' into Yes's music for the first time. Even so, it's Anderson's voice, surely, which comes through in the second verse of the song:
If Anderson's vision was grounded somewhat by Wakeman in Arriving UFO', in 'Circus of Heaven' he deliberately lets himself be grounded by his own son, Damion, who rejects his father's visionary, Mystical 'Circus of Heaven', preferring one of the more mundane kind, with clowns. If Wakeman's vision was of the Close Encounters, wide-screen kind, Anderson's was more akin to Ray Bradbury's mystical fantasies (in particular to stories like 'The Fire Balloons' in The Illustrated Man collection), blending together myth, fantasy and futurism.
If Jon Anderson was becoming tired with or frustrated by the format of Yes by 1978, Tormato shows no evidence of it. Even so, the experience of two solo albums, and of working with Vangelis Papathanassiou on the album Short Stories, resulted in him leaving Yes early in 1980, before a start could be made on the new album. Drama, the first album without Anderson, appeared in August 1980, and, whilst it's distinctively Yes, there's something of the spirit of Yes absent from the music. It's a harder, colder album, lacking moments of real joyousness. Something of that slick coldness results from the introduction of Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, who, as The Boggles, had released the highly successful, SF-oriented album, The Age Of Plastic in 1979 (with overtly science fictional tracks like 'Plastic Age', 'Miss Robot' and 'Astroboy'). Wakeman had followed Anderson into exile before the album, and only Squire remained of the original 1978 Yes, along with Alan White and Steve Howe. Horn and Downes, long time Yes fans both, were quickly assimilated into the sound, but, and it proved a huge 'but' for Yes fans, the spirit of Yes - that soaring ethereal voice and its accompanying optimistic lyrics - was no longer present in the mix. Drama was, again, far from being a bad album - the music is quite excellent - but it was a shell without a yoke, typified by the image-obsessive tracks, 'Machine Messiah' (a bleak, dystopian vision - the first in Yes's pantheon) and 'Into the Lens. As might also have been expected, with Anderson gone, the lyrics were now crystal clear, and, as a result, unambiguously ineffective.
Perhaps it was clear to the remaining members of Yes that, without Anderson, they were musically adrift, for Steve Howe left the band before a new album could be cut, joining the blatantly commercial supergroup, Asia. Downes and Horn also bowed out, the latter staying on only as producer. For a time it seemed that Yes were dead as a group, and then, late in 1983, 90125, a new Yes album appeared in the shops (the title derived from the Atlantic code number for the record, 79-0125-1, evidence of a lack of unified direction behind the conception of the album). Not only was Anderson back in the group, but original organist, Tony Kaye had rejoined, together with Trevor Rabin on guitar.
90125 is, to date, the purest rock album Yes have ever made; heavier, simpler and more direct - part of that thanks to Trevor Horn's production work; he also produced Frankie Goes To Hollywood at this same time. Jon Anderson, no longer group- leader-cum-visionary, took a back seat for most of the album, coming to the fore only on the two compositions, 'Our Song' and 'Hearts', where the old Yes sound emerges for the only time on the album. Squire and Rabin are the primary composers, earning themselves a Number One single (Yes's first ever!) in the States with 'Owner of a Lonely Heart'. And along with Anderson's muted role with a muting of the SF/mysticism influences in the lyrics. As on Yes and Time And A Word, the emphasis was once more on the love song. Yet, in spite of the new emphasis - which has, strangely made Yes more successful than ever - it is hard to believe that Anderson will be satisfied with taking a back seat, and whilst we may not ever see another Tales..., it's more than likely that in future Yes will be extending the range of their music - and embracing SF-visionary themes - once again.