Thursday, August 30, 2018

From the Archives: The Yes Chronicles. Part 18: Open Your Eyes (1997).

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.


"Yes wasn't really sure what was going on with itself. Having finished Keys to Ascension in my studio, I was pretty much inspired working with Yes. I kind of grabbed the ball and said to Chris, 'Why don't you and I start writing some songs and we'll see what happens.' ... In the process, we sent Jon 'Universal Garden' and 'Wonderlove' and 'New State of Mind.' He really liked it and said, 'I'd love to sing on this stuff.'"
-- Billy Sherwood, Music Street Journal (2000)

"I think the Open Your Eyes album combines a bit of the '80s Yes and the '70s Yes prior to us doing the longer pieces. Open Your Eyes also has a definite '90s sound to it, so we're very happy with that album..."
-- Chris Squire, Innerviews (1998)

"We came to the stage where we had to rebuild the group. ... (Management) said to us, 'How about getting out some current material?' .... Chris has been recording with Billy and basically building up some tracks for a Chris Squire/Billy Sherwood album. What they said was, 'We've got all this material.' I said, 'Yes, but it's not Yes material!' ... That album isn't satisfying. It's a disaster. ... Jon and I were squeezed, pushed, undermixed and not allowed to develop and change that music due to the time pressure. I knew that it was wrong, and Jon knew it was wrong. Supposingly, other people didn't."
-- Steve Howe, Kuno Online (1999)

Open Your Eyes
Beyond 1997
Rating: **
Best song: "Fortune Seller"
Produced by Yes
Logos by Roger Dean
Engineer: Billy Sherwood
Additional keyboards: Igor Khoroshev, Steve Porcaro

Jon Anderson: vocals
Steve Howe: guitars, vocals
Chris Squire: bass, vocals
Billy Sherwood: keyboards, guitars, vocals
Alan White: percussion, vocals

Track listing (standout tracks in bold):
New State of Mind
Open Your Eyes

Universal Garden
No Way We Can Lose
Fortune Seller
Man in the Moon

From the Balcony
Somehow, Someday
The Solution

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Billy Sherwood had been hanging around the outer periphery of Yes for about a decade at this point. Through a musical association with Chris Squire, he and Bruce Gowdy, a bandmate from Sherwood's neo-prog outfit World Trade, collaborated with the remaining members of Yes when Jon Anderson left after Big Generator. Only three songs from this period, all Squire/Sherwood collaborations, were officially recorded and released between a lull in the Yes action between 1989 and 1991: "Say Goodbye," which Sherwood re-recorded for a World Trade album; "Love Conquers All," featuring Trevor Rabin on vocals and appearing on the 1991 Yesyears box set; and "The More We Live -- Let Go," which originally had Sherwood on vocals but was re-recorded with Squire and Jon Anderson taking the lead for its release on Union. Of the two Yes releases, Sherwood appeared on "Love Conquers All"; Gowdy played on neither.

But Sherwood would retain his association with Yes after this period, returning in 1994 as a touring member of Yes on the Talk tour, contributing additional guitars, bass, keyboards, and percussion -- sort of an all-around utility guy. In '95, under the banner of World Trade (although World Trade at this time was just Jay Schellen playing drums and Sherwood singing and playing everything else), he showed up on a pair of tribute albums on the Magna Carta label: On Supper's Ready, where he played Genesis' "Keep It Dark," and on Tales from Yesterday, a Yes tribute, where he worked up a faithful rendition of "Wonderous Stories." And also during this time, his association with Squire continued, as the two teamed up to work out some new music and play some small clubs in the L.A. area in a side project called the Chris Squire Experiment. Out of these sessions would come a song then known as "Wish I Knew." Yes fans would get to know the tune very well, very soon.

Sherwood grew up a Yes fan and has suggested he understands how the "classic" Yes formula works. Perhaps that's part of the reason the band turned to him when they were putting together their most '70s-sounding album since the '70s themselves -- Keys to Ascension 2. He co-produced the album with Yes, marking his most significant contribution to the band yet. But his partnership with the band he grew up idolizing had bigger things in mind for him: member status.

The decision to add Sherwood didn't sit well with everyone in the band, and he was apparently brought in more by Squire than at the request of the other members. But he had what the band needed, or at least what Yes management wanted: an ability to play a variety of instruments, including keyboards; a strong voice; and, most importantly, a fresh batch of material that he and Squire had been working up in anticipation of a new Squire solo album, including a studio version of the Experiment song "Wish I Knew."

That song turned into "Open Your Eyes," the title track for a ridiculously rushed Yes album that came out just two weeks after Keys 2 did.

The styles on the two albums couldn't have been more disparate. Some fans must have wondered whether the members of Yes were schizophrenic, for first they were given Keys 2, an album featuring Wakeman and showing the band playing in full overblown '70s mode, and then just days later they heard Open Your Eyes, on which Wakeman was gone and the emphasis was on shorter, radio-friendly pop tunes. Which was the real Yes?

Well, to be fair, neither. Keys 2 was such a retro-'70s album that that style really couldn't be legitimately pulled off by a Yes that was missing one key member from that era, while Open Your Eyes was thrown together so quickly that it hardly qualifies as a true band project, for Anderson and Steve Howe did little more than glue some peripheral parts on top of what were partially completed songs by the time they had a chance to contribute. The majority of the guitar on Open Your Eyes is presumably by Sherwood, as most of it simply doesn't match Howe's style of playing -- most of it is in the rockier AOR mode of Trevor Rabin than in the eclectic but immediately recognizable style of Howe.

Basically, it just isn't an accurate representation of, or a compliment to, anybody's talents, but it did what it was intended to do -- get Yes back on the road.

In some strange respects, this was another one of those albums like 90125 that took Yes back to its roots, when the music was simpler and the vocal harmonies abounded. The cover itself is a throwback to the UK cover of the first album: Yes, the first album, had the word "YES" in an orange speech balloon against a black background; Open Your Eyes has the Roger Dean "Yes" logo, in orange, against a black background. Even the opening songs are similar, as both are propelled by a joyous, plodding, somewhat simple composition while the luscious vocal harmonies sweeten the spaces all around it.

And the albums also share the unfortunate characteristic that, overall, neither one is very memorable. Indeed, the vocal harmonies abound on Open Your Eyes, but they're grossly overproduced -- rather than having a lot of breathing space as they did on Big Generator, where each vocal line can be heard both separately and as a part of the whole, here the vocals more often create a thick, impenetrable wall that frequently sounds more like a muddled shout in which no single line can be easily identified. This plagues even the better songs on the album -- the aforementioned opener, "New State of Mind," as well as the title cut and "Fortune Seller."

On "Open Your Eyes," we do at least get a moment of vocal clarity when Anderson and Squire alternate lead vocal lines, in the Yes spirit of "Machine Messiah," "Shoot High Aim Low" and "The More We Live -- Let Go." "Man in the Moon" is effective as well, with Anderson and Sherwood singing the verses in clear unison over a simple, uncluttered song structure. (There's that KISS Principle again!) And "From the Balcony" works because it's Anderson alone, giving a heartfelt (if sometimes off-key) delivery to a lilting ballad over a solo acoustic guitar, apparently played by Howe.

"Fortune Seller" just happens to be the strongest song on the album (though that's not saying much), but it's also notable in that it features a fiery guest performance on organ by the person who would soon become the sixth member of Yes: Igor Khoroshev. The Russian-born, classically trained unknown talent was sort of Anderson and Howe's answer to Sherwood -- if Squire was able to bring who he wanted into the band, then Anderson and Howe wanted someone on their side too. (Only in Yes do partisan politics get as bad as they do on the floor of Congress.) Khoroshev would join the band on keyboards for the Open Your Eyes tour, which meant Sherwood would be performing mostly rhythm guitar and backing vocals onstage, but it was probably good for the music's sake that someone with an unquestionable talent on keyboards be brought in to do the keys work full-time, given how complex and integral many keyboard parts are in Yes's music.

There are a couple of other cool moments, including a sly lyrical reference ("1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, all good people...") to both the Beatles and to "Your Move," the Yes song that quoted John Lennon many years ago; and a long "hidden" track at the end of the CD that intermingles a cappella vocal harmonies from throughout the album with some soothing, new-agey nature sounds. But still, there are only five listenable songs out of 11 on Open Your Eyes. The rest is, to be blunt, crap -- there's just no other way to describe it. If Keys 2 was Yes's attempt to mimic '70s Yes, then maybe the idea behind Open Your Eyes was to mimic '80s Yes. If so, it does a horrible job. More than half of the album contains songs that are completely bland, without any defining character, indistinguishable from each other. Some sound like bad GTR outtakes; others are just underdeveloped ideas, some of which shouldn't have been developed at all. And then, before you can say "Saving My Heart," Yes takes another frightful foray into reggae with "No Way We Can Lose." "No Way I'll Ever Listen to This Song More Than Once in My Life" is more like it. Bob Marley must be spinning in his grave. Heck, even Tortelvis is probably cringing.

Maybe it's not fair to be so hard on an album that was done under such tight time constraints, but one would expect more from the talents involved, and the album ultimately cheapens the Yes name and legacy. On the other hand, it's arguable that the material just wasn't very strong to begin with and therefore couldn't be helped much. To wit: Some of the original Chris Squire Experiment pieces that helped form the basis of this Yes album, including the Squire/Sherwood recordings of "Open Your Eyes" and "Man in the Moon," were released on an album called Conspiracy in 2000, but they added nothing fresh or appealing to the original Yes releases. Not surprisingly, only one song from Open Your Eyes -- the title piece -- survived until the end of the ensuing tour.
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