Thursday, August 30, 2018

From the Archives: The Yes Chronicles. Part 15: Talk (1994).

The following several posts come from a website I created way back in 2001, in honor of my favorite band, then and now: Yes. 

Some of the writing makes me cringe 17 years later, but I feel it's good enough to live on. That Roger Daltrey (yes, that Roger Daltrey) was given some of my text to speak as narrator of the Yesspeak biographical DVD is testament to the quality of at least some of the prose, I guess. 

I pulled down my site, called The Yes Chronicles, years ago. But thanks to the Wayback Machine, which does its part to make sure that nothing published to the internet ever dies, I was able to find archived copies of my reviews. Another site, Yes in the Press -- which appears not to have been updated for about 11 years now -- also saved the reviews. I notice in the introductory blurb that the keeper of Yes in the Press attempted to contact me with no success. I'm not sure what happened, but if that person stumbles across this blog -- hello, it's me. 

All text is original from 2001. Links have been updated where possible. Happy reading.


"I thought Talk was a 90125 of the nineties."
-- Alan White, interview with Tim Morse, in Morse’s Yesstories: Yes in Their Own Words (1996) 

"I’m very happy with what Trevor and Jon came up with." 
-- Chris Squire, 1994, as documented in Yesstories (1996) 

"I think it ('Endless Dream') is exactly as good as anything we’ve ever done. … I’m in heaven when I’m singing that like I am when I do 'Close to the Edge' or 'Awaken.' It really works on a par with them." 
-- Jon Anderson, 1994, as documented in Yesstories (1996) 

"I had so much fun while I was doing it ('Endless Dream'). I'll never forget that when Jon came in to sing the backing track, he had tears in his eyes." 
-- Trevor Rabin, from Chris Welch's liner notes in the re-release of Talk (2002) 

"In most respects it’s a good record, except to the point of being a Yes record. It doesn’t seem to be a Yes record." 
-- Steve Howe, 1994, as documented in Yesstories (1996) 

"I find it very presumptuous of him (Steve) to make these comments. … I don’t think that is only a slight on me; I think it’s a slight on everyone. It sounds like he’s saying ‘Without me there can’t be anything that remotely resembles Yes.’" 
-- Trevor Rabin, interview with Tim Morse, in Yesstories (1996) 

Victory 1994
Re-release: Spitfire 2002
Rating: ****
Best song: "Endless Dream"
Produced by Trevor Rabin
Cover by Peter Max
Engineers: Michael Jay and Trevor Rabin 

Jon Anderson: vocals
Trevor Rabin: guitars, keyboards, vocals
Chris Squire: bass, vocals
Tony Kaye: organ
Alan White: percussion 

Track listing (standout tracks in bold):
The Calling
I Am Waiting
Real Love
State of Play
Where Will You Be
Endless Dream:
  a. Silent Spring
  b. Talk
  c. Endless Dream 

Bonus track on 2002 re-release: The Calling (Special Version) 

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Bill Bruford spared no words in his disdain for the Union project, calling it the only album in his entire body of work (and it is quite an extensive one) by which he is embarrassed. In truth, perhaps nobody but eternal optimist Jon Anderson was happy with the end result, but at least one member, Steve Howe, was in favor of trying to keep the good intentions of the Union project alive by proposing that Yes continue in its extended lineup, with people rotating regularly in and out to give all the members a chance to have their own space. It was a good enough idea, and probably the only way the extended lineup could have continued, considering the size of the egos involved, but Howe’s proposal was ultimately scuttled, along with Howe himself. 

Meanwhile, longtime Yes associate Phil Carson had just started a new record label, Victory Music. He approached the band with a vision for a new Yes album, with the caveat that he wanted the 90125 lineup in the studio and Trevor Rabin as the producer. That offer seemed to give Yes the direction it so desperately sought and needed after Union, so plans were set in motion for the album that was to become Talk

A first listen to this album may suggest to some that Yes intentionally went out of its way to appease the old-time fans of "classic" Yes whose hopes had been raised with ABWH and then dashed in the aftermath of Union -- after all, the band had won the old fans back with the previous tour, and they comprised a sizable base of listeners that was worth trying to hold onto. But the unique style heard on Talk is, I contend, more a natural evolution of the YesWest style heard on the well-crafted introduction to "Miracle of Life" on Union. It was a sound that originated there and blossomed to near perfection by the time the band completed Talk. 

And that sound is a rich, fresh, invigorating approach that combined the best elements of ’70s Yes and ’80s Yes into a vibrant new musical vision, poised to take Yes boldly in an exciting new direction. In the spirit of a band that thinks itself progressive (or at least aware of the "progressive" label that has long been ascribed to it), Yes took the powerhouse AOR-injected art-rock style that characterized YesWest and added a healthy dose of the ambience and the longer, more elaborate, exploratory frameworks that were the hallmark of "classic" Yes -- the best of both musical worlds -- to create something new upon which to build. 

So why was the album a colossal commercial failure? 

Perhaps there was no longer an audience for Yes music, or at least for AOR-style music, which by 1994 was a dead format in the wake of the "alternative" music revolution. Perhaps the old-time fans saw that Howe, Bruford, and Rick Wakeman were no longer involved and never gave the music a chance. Or perhaps they were oblivious to the fact that Yes was even continuing beyond the Union tour, which is a possibility given the horrendous lack of marketing this album received. Victory, in fact, would go belly-up not long after Talk, and with the way the label made albums by big-name acts like Yes and ELP and even David Bowie’s band Tin Machine virtually invisible, by way of an astounding failure to publicize their products, it’s little wonder. 

Whatever the case, it wasn’t due to Talk being a bad album. Indeed, it is Rabin’s crowning achievement with Yes and was, up to that time, easily the band’s most original, forward-looking, exciting album since Drama, perhaps even Going for the One. More than that, it is probably the closest Yes has ever come to achieving, on an album-wide level, its original goal of balancing gorgeous multipart vocal harmonies with quality musicianship; on past albums and in previous incarnations, either the harmonies or the music tended to dominate. 

The band was high on this album upon its release, and with very good reason: For something this artistically satisfying to come out of the carnage of Union is nothing short of a miracle. Perhaps that’s what Anderson and his cohorts allude to when they joyously sing the opening lines of the album: "Feel the calling of a miracle/In the presence of the word/Now we hold the right to rearrange/How the stories can be heard." In those lines to "The Calling," we can see a re-energized band making a powerful statement: They are looking confidently into the future, knowing they hold the key to reinvent, or "rearrange," themselves and the sound that defines Yes. From Rabin’s bright, compressed opening guitar lines, which call to mind -- of all things -- the lighthearted mood of Van Halen’s "Finish What You Started," there seems to be a renewed self-assuredness and energy poised to open Yes music up to fresh and inviting territory. By the time we get to the bursting joy dancing out of Tony Kaye’s delicious Hammond organ break, we can feel all the bad vibes from the Union project melting away and the clouds parting as the band looks to start anew: "In the beginning is the future/And the future is at hand," and later, "There’s a fire burning in my heart again." 

And that’s just the opening track! Next up is "I Am Waiting," an achingly beautiful love ballad that takes the longing of "Final Eyes" and moves it one step further, with two main guitar lines carrying the piece: a delicate, almost weeping slide-guitar feel that would be at home on any "classic" Yes album, alternating with a sweeping anthemic statement of grandeur and grace -- rather like a sheepish question mark being followed by a thunderous exclamation point, which perfectly matches the alternating moods of the lyrics themselves: plaintive statements of wanting to love someone, followed by an emphatic declaration that the person’s love will somehow be won. "All my life, my world is you," Anderson proclaims as the song ends, with him carrying the torch in hopeful anticipation: "I am waiting! Can you hear me? Can you hear me?" The only thing that detracts slightly from this piece is a brief bridge that breaks into a hard-rock rhythm, with Rabin singing about a seemingly unrelated "secretive birth" before things cool back down to the opening slide-guitar riff. Maybe the band thought they needed to bring the piece to a fevered peak to offer some contrast and/or transition, but it really was unnecessary. 

Overall, Anderson sounds on Talk as if he’s enjoying himself again. No doubt that’s due to his ideas no longer being put aside while the rest of the band made an album apart from his full participation. In fact, he was involved from the very beginning this time, and Rabin saw to it that he was. The two band leaders literally locked themselves away and, for the first time since they began working together, truly collaborated on the songs that made their way onto the new Yes album. The results are on Talk for all to hear: they obviously clicked as a songwriting team and brought out the best in each other on a creative level. 

Nowhere is this heard more clearly than on the album’s magnum opus, a 15-minute epic called "Endless Dream." Commencing with a cyclone of whirling, frenetic energy that recalls the urgency of the opening from "Close to the Edge," we’re treated to a masterful display of both guitars and keyboards by Rabin, as well as some of Alan White’s finest drumming in years. Nearly two minutes into the proceedings, the cacophony grinds to a halt to be replaced by a gentle solo piano line that introduces the song’s first vocal theme, sung by Rabin -- a cynical take on the misuse of religion (shades once again of "Close to the Edge"!), and the importance of being true to oneself and not sidetracked by temptations. As the piece modulates into a new theme, Anderson sings vaguely about reaching out to life and the world with love, and as we progress further, we find that this love can be maintained even through the tough times by, once again, reaching inside oneself: "When the world brings you down, you can search you inside, for the love you can find." Thus, the lyrical theme is both resolved and brought full circle. All the while, the musical backdrop ebbs and flows, alternating between sublime beauty and dramatic, muscular power. We’re treated to an ethereal, free-flowing middle section punctuated by a soaring Rabin solo; an electronic lightning storm of multiple manipulated guitars; an interweaving of sweeping crescendos, alternating moods, ever-changing soundscapes, and revisited themes; heavenly vocal arrangements whose beauty brought Anderson to tears in the studio (so he says); a final majestic guitar solo; and a hushed, near-whispered tone, much like a gentle lullaby, to bring the events to a peaceful resolution, as a quiet electronic whoosh finally pans across the landscape, like an eraser across a chalkboard, to lead us to contented silence -- the end of our journey. This is an amazing work; between Drama in 1980 and Magnification in 2001, no other single piece of Yes music rises to this level. 

The other big highlight is "Real Love" -- not so much for the words, which seem to have something to do with the universality of emotions, but for the way light and shade are so sharply contrasted yet work so well together, as the eerie, expansive quietness of "Shoot High Aim Low" meets the rumbling crunch of "City of Love." 

Elsewhere, "State of Play" offers an inoffensive mingling of a hard-rocking, wailing guitar line with a modern dance groove; and "Where Will You Be" features a gentle but uptempo arrangement recalling the music of Rabin’s native South Africa while Anderson ruminates about reincarnation. 

Musically, the only unnecessary and rather pointless piece is the one that the record company pushed the most -- "Walls." Little more than a rehash of "Love Will Find a Way," it was a song Rabin originally had worked up with ex-Supertramp singer Roger Hodgson. Another unappealing thing about this album is not the music but its garish cover -- a primitive "yes" in rainbow colors scrawled across a plain white backdrop, all courtesy of "artist" Peter Max. And as for other disappointments in the music, they involve Rabin's production decision to excise an exquisite ambient section from the middle of "The Calling," where everything downshifted and floated freely into a dreamlike state for about a full minute, breaking the tension before everything bubbled slowly back up to full tempo. The original 8:04 version with this section intact was released on a promo CD and as a bonus track on the Japanese album, and that was the only way it could be found until Spitfire Records added it as a bonus track (the "Special Version") on the album's re-release in 2002. 

An album of such overall promise, and one that spoke of such hope for the future, deserved better than it got. Sales were low, and many dates on the ensuing tour found the band playing to lots of empty seats. Sitting on the sidelines and watching all of this unfold was Howe, who seemed to take glee in the project’s disappointing performance. With sour grapes undoubtedly generated by his being pushed out of the band after the Union tour, he publicly stated that he felt Talk wasn’t a true Yes album, thus reinforcing the image many have of him as very bitter and self-important, both character traits that unfortunately dominate his personality to this day while his once-impressive talents continue to erode. No doubt he reckoned The Ladder a "real" Yes album, even though it sold less than Talk, is just as commercial in parts as Talk, and relegated the band to playing in small venues. Apparently, being paid to go away so that YesWest could get on with making Talk without him (yes, that actually happened) wasn’t enough to satisfy him -- he had to kick the band when it was down. 

But, sadly, he wasn’t the only one. Amazingly (or maybe not so amazingly, considering the narrow view of Yes music that old-time fans tend to take), this album has a large number of detractors. Critics of Talk say it’s little more than a solo Rabin outing that proves him to be a control freak, but those charges become pretty hard to defend when it’s pointed out that Anderson was more involved with the creation of this album than with any of the other YesWest outings. Not to mention that Wakeman was originally slated to be a sixth member on Talk, and a musician of his stature certainly wouldn’t let someone else push him around, especially when the music being created was something as near and dear to his heart as Yes music always has been. (Wakeman and Rabin had wanted to collaborate ever since they struck up a friendship during the Union tour, and they set out to achieve that goal by adding Wakeman to the "new" Yes lineup that would record Talk, but managerial problems forced Wakeman to bow out of the project. The two would not pair up until 1999, when Rabin appeared on Wakeman’s concept album Return to the Centre of the Earth.) If Rabin's playing all the keyboards except for organ on this album forms the basis of some of the "control freak" charges, it's important to bear in mind that Rabin seems to have played all the keyboards except for organ on all the YesWest albums, the only difference being that the liner notes on Talk were more honest about the division of labor. And the reason they were divided that way is most likely that, just as in the old days, Kaye wanted nothing to do with synthesizers. Furthermore, judging from his onstage hatchet job on Wakeman's keyboard parts, Kaye just couldn't handle any remotely complicated passage of music, which in itself is probably part of the reason Rabin wanted Wakeman onboard -- so that Rabin could focus on guitar and hand the keys off to a musician who still possessed a solid amount of talent. 

Yes, Rabin was the producer of Talk, but the label asked him to be. Yes, Rabin recorded the entire album direct to a hard drive, allowing him to manipulate the music and shuffle parts around, but this was no different from an engineer splicing tapes up to assemble a finished product out of bits and pieces (hello, Eddie Offord) -- it just made the job a lot less messy. And as for the rumors that Rabin reworked some of Chris Squire’s bass lines -- even if true, Squire’s presence is still strongly felt and nothing is detracted from the album’s bass work. 

In any event, don’t listen to the naysayers -- listen to Talk with an open mind and open ears, and you may come to enjoy it as much as I have. It’s truly an overlooked gem -- Yes’s most underrated and underappreciated work. It had carried the ignominious distinction of being the only Yes album out of print ever since Victory went out of business, but it's available once again as of 2002, thanks to a resurrection by Spitfire Records. 
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