Saturday, December 26, 2009

Yes Biography

Yes was the quintessential English art-rock band, with all the excess and all the glory that entails. Loaded with too much virtuosity, too many ideas and too many personnel changes for one band to deal with, Yes has produced its share of spotty albums over the past 20 years. Yet during its classic period (lasting between 1970's The Yes Album and 1977's Going For The One) Yes was almost consistently inspired. Anyone needing to defend art-rock only has to pull out the side-long title track of Close To The Edge (1972): It never got more visceral or more melodically soaring than that.

Initially Yes was simply a pop group that got very, very ambitious. Their first two albums have some R&B traces, thanks to the more basic styles of guitarist Peter Banks and keyboardist Tony Kaye, who both got weeded out early. Yet the delicate, almost feminine tones of singer Jon Anderson proved an early trademark, along with the jazz leanings of the rhythm section (bassist Chris Squire and drummer Bill Bruford, replaced in 1972 by the heavier-hitting Alan White). With the arrival of guitarist Steve Howe and keyboardist Rick Wakeman, Yes was free to explore the rock-symphony approach they aspired to.

Their ambitions reached a peak on 1973's Tales From Topographic Oceans--a four-song, lyrically dense double album that even Wakeman found excessive (he exited for a year, replaced by Patrick Moraz)--yet there were more than enough lovely and powerful moments to justify the stretch. Reunited with Wakeman after a year making solo albums, Yes stripped down to relative basics and made its last great album with 1977's Going For The One. Since then the band's inability to settle on a permanent lineup, coupled with the inevitable career fatigue, has kept them from hitting the same peaks. Anderson and Wakeman left in 1979, replaced by the two members of the Buggles (the resulting album, Drama, was nowhere near as bad as it could have been). Yes was then laid to rest until 1983, when Anderson, Kaye, Squire and White formed a new lineup with guitarist/singer Trevor Rabin. At first Rabin's mainstream instincts were just what the band needed--the 1983 album 90125 was both creative and commercial, if not quite the cosmic Yes of old--but wound up taking far too much control and made Yes sound too ordinary.

Anderson rebelled and pulled in the other ex-members for a competing band, clumsily billed as Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford, Howe--but that didn't work either, thanks to overdone production and spotty material. The nadir came when some unfinished AWBH demos were cobbled together with some Rabin outtakes as a Yes album, Union; an eight-man lineup cashed in with a reunion tour. The closest thing to a real comeback happened when the Topographic Oceans lineup reunited in 1996 for Keys To Ascension, a live album of great Yes obscurities, plus a surprisingly solid studio section (two new songs totaling 30 minutes, their first long suites in years). A finished studio follow-up album was said to be even better; yet it was shelved in 1997 when Wakeman left the band again. The remaining diehard Yes fans are undoubtedly used to such ups and downs by now.


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