Thursday, August 30, 2018

From the Archives: The Yes Chronicles. Part 20: Magnification (2001).

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.


"For many years people kept saying to us we should record with an orchestra, because the music really lends itself to orchestration. … A lot of fans and people around us kept saying: ‘You must do this again.’"
-- Alan White, Kuno Online

"It seemed to me that since we were looking for an orchestra partly in place of a keyboard player, I suggested one day, why don’t we do that with the record; instead of having a keyboard player, why don’t we use real instruments when we want them; if we want strings, why don’t we have real strings. So the penny dropped. … [W]hen I pointed it out, the guys said, well, that’s a pretty good idea."
-- Steve Howe, Notes from the Edge

"They are my favorite band of all time, so it really is a dream come true. … I could've played it safe, and not pushed the envelope. But I did what I thought would work. … The mixed rhythms and difficult meters aren't as prevalent, but the contour of the melodies and harmonies is probably more mature than before."
-- Larry Groupe, composer/conductor, San Diego Union Tribune

Beyond 2001
Rating: ****
Best song: "Spirit of Survival"
Produced by Yes and Tim Weidner
Executive producer: Jordan Berliant
Cover by Bob Cesca; logo by Roger Dean
Engineer: Tim Weidner
Additional engineering by Nick Sevilla, John Elder
Orchestra recorded by Charlie Bouis and Le Mobile
Orchestral music written, arranged, and conducted by Larry Groupe
Orchestrations: Larry Groupe, Bruce Donnelly, Frank Macchia

Jon Anderson: vocals, MIDI guitar, acoustic guitar
Steve Howe: guitars, vocals
Chris Squire: bass, vocals
Alan White: percussion, piano, vocals

Track listing (standout tracks in bold):
Spirit of Survival
Don't Go
Give Love Each Day
Can You Imagine
We Agree
Soft As a Dove
In the Presence Of:
  a. Deeper
  b. Death of Ego
  c. True Beginner
  d. Turn Around and Remember
Time Is Time

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

Fans with a solid knowledge of Yes history couldn't really be blamed for being skeptical about this project. Yes, after all, had tried working with an orchestra way back on 1970's Time and a Word with questionable results. And after that album, the band began shedding some of its original members in favor of more versatile musicians who could make the band itself sound like an orchestra, without the need for outside assistance. 

But that was then, and this Yes is somewhat of a different animal. On Time and a Word, the band employed an orchestra for help in achieving the bigger sound the members were seeking. Thirty-one years later, and having proven as recently as the 2000 "Masterworks" tour that they can still tackle their famous '70s epics and still make five people onstage sound convincingly like 50, this Yes has chosen to step back a bit from the usual fire and flash, confident in knowing that they can sound orchestral on their own if they want to and thus giving them the luxury of revisiting the band-plus-orchestra idea out of choice, rather than necessity. The members' musical maturity also has helped them to know what they want to hear from the orchestra this time around, so that the end result is an integrated sound that doesn't leave the orchestral parts feeling tacked on as an afterthought, or even as padding. In short, Magnification is an album this seasoned band couldn't have made in 1970, when they were young and still finding their footing. 

The idea for a symphonic Yes album seems to have been born a few years before the release of Magnification, if interviews with Jon Anderson and Chris Squire around the time of the album's release are to be believed. If so, it seems that the decision to make the album at this point in their career was a pragmatic one as much as an artistic one, since there was no longer a keyboardist in the fold after the band parted ways with Igor Khoroshev following the "Masterworks" tour. The band obviously was left with a decision to replace him or find a viable substitute for the keyboard role. Before long, a poll showed up at Yesworld, the official Yes fan site, asking readers whether they thought Yes should pursue an orchestral route for their next project. Fan support was virtually split down the middle, far from a resounding "yes," but reportedly at management's prodding, the band moved in that direction anyway. 

To their credit, the remaining four members of Yes took great care in weaving the orchestral contributions firmly into the album's musical fabric. Rather than simply farm the work out to an unknown entity and not give it a second thought, the band took an active role in making sure their orchestral leader would be an active part of the collaborating process as well as have solid credentials to back him up. The right person for the job turned out to be Emmy-winning composer Larry Groupe, a self-professed Yes fan who had been best known for his scores in the films The Contender and The Usual Suspects, in addition to a wealth of TV music. After sending a tape of some of his work to the band, the band members asked him to take their rough compositions and work out the basic orchestral arrangements. After doing so and sharing the results, the band was impressed enough to put Groupe in charge of not just writing and conducting the orchestral parts on the emerging album but also of writing orchestrations for the old Yes classics that were to be played on the upcoming tour. The results are here on Magnification for all to hear: gorgeous instrumentation that easily makes for the most satisfying, best-integrated rock/symphonic collaboration since the Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed came out way back in 1968. 

As for the band's input, it's their most consistently high-quality collection of music since Drama and their most varied and beautifully written collection since Going for the One. Anderson's voice resonates in crystal-clear tones and unusually high emotion; Squire puts down the anchor for the music with his expressive, often thundering, always fresh and high-energy bass lines; and Steve Howe is tastefully restrained for the first time in ages, working as part of an ensemble rather than pushing other people out of the way and, in the process, actually coming off sounding uncharacteristically precise and thoughtful on his guitars while still displaying his penchant for showcasing a variety of instruments, even throwing in a few new ones this time around. Alan White's drumming was rather static on The Ladder, and here on Magnification it's certainly not overly adventurous or at all groundbreaking, yet he gives the songs just what they need -- no more, no less. His forceful off-beat snare/cymbal punctuations and short fills on "Spirit of Survival," for example, leap out from an otherwise straight-ahead 4/4 beat with as much effect as any overlong, tedious drum solo could have done, and perhaps even more so. (The K.I.S.S. Principle reigns again!) The harmony vocals, shared by Squire, Howe, and White, are unusually polished and tight. And the compositions themselves stand out because they don't sound blatantly retro, as the Keys to Ascension albums did, nor do they indulge in overt artist-stealing-from-himself nostalgia, as was the case on The Ladder. (To be sure, there are reminders of past Yes music dotted throughout Magnification, but these are matters of bits and pieces resembling the spirit and style of past compositions rather than taking outright verbatim quotes from them.) Indeed, this album marks a fresh direction for the band, making the release one of their most truly forward-looking and "progressive" in many years, despite the lack of complex arrangements and technical wizardry. It all seems more real, spontaneous, and from the heart, abandoning most notions of how a Yessong somehow has to sound in favor of just making good, high-quality, genuine music. 

Speaking of eschewing nostalgiac piftalls, Roger Dean is gone this time around, after creating three Yes album covers in a three-year span that, with their blue backgrounds and generic molten-rock landscapes, were as interchangeable as they were unimaginative. Instead, we're given a series of attractive computer-generated graphics from Bob Cesca, beginning with a dark chart of the stars on the album cover -- including, naturally, Dean's classic "Yes" logo. A series of sketches on the inside pages of the booklet tells the story of an "Inter-Dimensional Reality" machine, or IDR, that an inventor tries to build based on an ancient talisman discovered in Tibet. This talisman, we are told, "supplemented or magnified perception during ages of harmonic convergence." The inventor, however, seems to fail to reach his goal, as it is noted toward the end of the booklet that "devoid of harmonics, the machine proved to be worthless." This comment helps to tie the story in with the music and thus create a kind of loose concept around the album, wherein music can serve to magnify one's perceptions of worlds and realities (hence the album's title) but cannot do so if the music lacks "harmonics" -- which explains the album's gorgeous melodies and harmonies and its minimum of dissonance. 

On the surface, then, it may seem ironic that Magnification contains some of Anderson's darkest lyrics in recent memory. "We Agree" focuses on the injustice of turning one's back to the plight of "refugees" (whether in the political or spiritual sense is unclear), and "Spirit of Survival" decries no less than greed, fear, hatred, blind obedience, the reckless nature of youth, and the accelerated pace of the modern world. "Give Love Each Day" even seems to impart a sense of resignation to the way things are with repeated lines like "some days it's a sad world; let it be." But, in vintage Anderson fashion, a ray of light ultimately pierces through the darkness in each song, which in turn serves to underscore the overarching theme of functionality-through-harmonics, illustrating that no matter how dark and discordant the world may seem, a true "harmonic" solution can always be found. Seen in the context of the lyrics, then, it's likely that Anderson is appealing for "harmonics" not just in music, as we originally may have thought, but in today's world as well. And if so, bless him, for what could better serve this world of road rage, ironic detachment, shallowness, ignorance, get-it-at-all-costs self-centeredness, brutality, and in-your-face, nothing-is-sacred vulgarity that passes as entertainment (including, poignantly enough, much of today's popular music itself) than a gentle reminder to be loving and respectful and treat others as we would want to be treated? Anderson's resolution in "We Agree" is to see "through the eyes of child" in order to "perpetuate this song of love"; the solution in "Give Love Each Day" is, not surprisingly, giving love each day. And even in "Spirit of Survival," wherein "the gods have lost their way," Anderson states his certain belief that "there is a safer place" to be found -- probably an inner refuge, but a safe one nonetheless. 

The sense of prevailing goodness is established immediately in the music and lyrics with the opening title track. Anderson sings that by magnifying our perceptions -- perhaps, the listener can surmise, by becoming more introspective and aware of one's own true self, which in turn would help us to act more mindfully toward others -- we can break out of our confusion and fruitless searching for answers to life's problems, as we come to realize that "everything is love." The musical mood is just as joyous, almost festive, with Howe's crisp, jangly acoustic guitars dancing lightly to set the scene. A few chords from Squire's bass follow, and then the orchestra makes its first appearance, setting a laid-back but uptempo 6/8 feel that will crisscross with straightforward 4/4 sections throughout the piece. Summery flourishes of flutes and strings permeate the early composition, along with some friendly wordless "aaaah" vocals from our backing singers, and then suddenly we shift tempo for the first time, into a section marked by a subtle rhythmic "beeping" tone (this may be Anderson's MIDI guitar, as it sounds a little too "electronic" to be a flute or piccolo) that strongly recalls similar moments from the past -- Rick Wakeman's single-note accompaniment on the "Total Mass Retain" section of "Close to the Edge," as well as Wakeman's recurring "chirping" sound during the "starlight, movement" bit of "The Revealing Science of God." After a few more shifts of tempo, the song enters a bouncy homestretch, complete with some understated banjo work from Howe! You have to really listen for it, but the banjo is indeed there, and kudos to Howe for introducing yet another color to the vast Yes palette, as this is the first known appearance of a banjo in Yes music. It's worked in quite tastefully here. But this nearly countryish mood eventually gives way to a markedly different grand finale, in which the band and orchestra collapse into a formless mess of jumbled sounds that slowly lurch upwards in search of harmonic reunification. As they do, the drums slow things to a halt, a forceful grinding chord brings resolution, and the harmonics of Magnification prevail over dissonance, in a section that bears a strong resemblance to the grandiose orchestral climb at the end of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life." 

But before the dust can settle completely, Anderson's unaccompanied voice rises from the depths in a lonely, nearly plaintive tone marking the beginning of the album's heavy hitter and first of four big highlights, "Spirit of Survival." In a driving 4/4 led by Squire's relentless eighth-note spy-flick bass line, this is no less than a vibrant cross between "Peter Gunn" and "Live and Let Die," complete with the latter's aggressive orchestral blasts, woofs, and dramatic crescendos electrifying the proceedings, but then even going a step further by adding some head-banging, start-stop, cymbal-choking power chords as well as an abundance of sharp and abrupt contrasts between loud and soft passages. In Yes terms, this piece rocks like the title cut from Big Generator fused with the driving bass-guitar intensity of "Tempus Fugit." It is easily Yes's most aggressive presentation since the Rabin years, and it also picks up on one of the best musical elements from that YesWest era: incredible backing vocals. Howe's voice has left much to be desired in the past, and White was rarely heard, but here, on the chorus of "Spirit of Survival," they both blend with Squire's tried-and-true vocals so strongly and seamlessly that they create the illusion of a single, heretofore-unheard voice in the Yes canon, much as some of the backing vocals on Big Generator took on a sound and personality all their own. But it gets even better: Howe's guitar breaks simply smoke, even if it does sound as if it still causes him great strain to coax each note out of his instrument. His last solo is especially energetic by middle-age-Howe standards, as it seems to (intentionally) skip and bounce along out of control while feeding off the centrifugal force of Squire and White's relentless backdrop. For a wonderful few moments, memories of Howe in his prime come into view, which is something not witnessed very often in the past two decades. 

We barely get a chance to rest after the aural assault of "Spirit of Survival," as a lone, wailing viola crossfades directly into the next track, the poppy "Don't Go." This is a lightweight and gently humorous piece, with some quite contemporary lyrics from Anderson, a compressed transistor-radio type of vocal effect in mid-song, and even a honking horn after Anderson cheerfully sings of a woman stealing her best friend's car, noting "that's what friends are for." Most of the music is minimalist in style, built around staccato quarter notes in a midtempo 4/4, and the lyrical message is simple enough -- don't take love for granted. It's a cute and harmless enough piece, but it almost seems as if it would have been more at home on the forgettable Open Your Eyes album, its simplistic poppiness nearly calling to mind that album's "Man in the Moon." 

Soon enough, though, we get back on track, as "Don't Go" moves without a break (yet again) into the second of the four big highlight pieces, "Give Love Each Day." Here we get our first full taste of Groupe's input, as the song opens with two minutes of a graceful, effortlessly flowing solo orchestral performance that encompasses moods as varied as the sugary strings of a Burt Bacharach composition on one hand, and a stately muted trumpet reminiscent of John Williams' Saving Private Ryan score on the other. Ominous droning basses briefly add their statement, as does a distant ringing gong. A crescendo climaxes with the crashing of cymbals, and after a few more moments of pensive string lines, the band enters gently, with some electronically treated guitar lines, then a tambourine, then Squire's trebly bass lines, and finally Anderson's powerfully emotive voice. Howe's guitar soon takes on a glassy sound in short, successive note values, recalling a bit of '80s King Crimson, as White's drums join this freely breathing composition of open, vast expanses of atmosphere. The backing vocals are again supreme, and Anderson absolutely soars in goosepimply beauty over the chorus and in his closing exhortation to "give love each day," seeming to have rediscovered his old knack for making even plain and simple words sound heavenly, including lines that would be mundane in the hands of a less-gifted vocalist: "You are the center of my day/You are my guide in every way/We were meant to be/All because our love has always been there." Howe's later guitar solo, again tastefully restrained, exudes a sense of regal simplicity and honest emotion, and finally, as the song rises to a gentle but resounding major-chord orchestral resolution, the listener is left to bask warmly in -- and maybe even feel a bit choked up over -- the beauty of one of Yes's strongest compositions in ages -- along with "Spirit of Survival" and the album's next two songs. 

This is a perfect spot for a rest, and quite appropriately, Yes gives us our first break in the music following "Give Love Each Day," thus effectively wrapping up the first part of the album. But now, get ready for a jolt in the second part. No, I'm not talking about the presence of a piano, which White plays to open "Can You Imagine," accounting for one of a very few actual keyboard presences on the entire album. No, the big surprise here is that Squire gets to sing lead on "Can You Imagine"! Yes! This piece dates back to Squire and White's days in the ill-fated XYZ project in the early '80s, which also included Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page. Yes had already recycled an old XYZ riff for their 1997 epic "Mind Drive," and now on Magnification, an entire song from those sessions is reworked into a Yes composition, with Squire still singing the song, as he did on the original. It's a real treat, sounding remarkably like a long-lost track from Squire's 1975 recording Fish Out of Water, one of the best Yes-member solo albums ever made (and there are lots of them out there). Over the years, as he has proven to a less-noticeable extent as Yes's bedrock backing vocalist, his husky tenor seems to have lost nothing with age, even going pitch-perfect on a few high notes during this brief but lovely piece about "seeing life from the other side" -- which in the context of Magnification makes a direct reference to the album artwork's IDR concept. Squire sings through the lyrics twice -- once with a sparse accompaniment of rhythmic piano, restrained steel-guitar licks, and occasional string glissandos; and then again with a heavier setting of guitars, bass, and drums taking center stage. Not surprisingly, Anderson proves he's every bit as good of a backing vocalist as a lead singer, accompanying Squire's voice just as well as Squire has done for Anderson over the years. 

As this brief piece fades out, we move directly into "We Agree," the final big highlight of the album. After Howe's delicate acoustic guitar sets the piece in motion, a somber oboe spins the piece in a moodier direction for Anderson to begin his don't-turn-your-backs dissertation to follow. Here more than anywhere else on the album, we get to hear Howe's newfound willingness to work as a team player even when he is a featured performer, all the while maintaining his unique musical voice. He contributes a little bit of everything -- from some gorgeous steel work, to classy jazz noodling, to a guitar-through-Leslie-speaker effect, to an unusual warbly rhythm-guitar sound, to a brief, sad solo that culminates in a powerful trill reminiscent of the majesty of a similar moment back on the 1996 track "Be the One" -- without ever pushing anybody else aside, as he has had a tendency to do in recent years. Even his one brief and forceful electric-guitar cadenza is remarkably short before he returns to being an integrated part of the band once again. Beyond his thoughtful input, the orchestra serves up a few more hard-hitting start-stop crunches, and Anderson continues to sing with extraordinary beauty, pulling out a beautifully repeated line of "our lives" that invites fond comparisons to his impassioned repetition of "at all" way back on "Ritual," before the big instrumental section takes over. What's more, his lovingly sung and harmonized observation that "these are the days that we will talk about" sums up the sentiment this fan felt when hearing the beauty of Magnification in my first few listens. There is, however, one mark against this otherwise masterful song: its rather weak ending, with a dark, descending string statement dissolving rapidly into the next song and failing to give a full, thoughtful release to the many emotions of the music that preceded it. 

The next piece, "Soft as a Dove," is as much an Anderson solo spot as "Can You Imagine" was for Squire, and this is certainly Anderson in his most fanciful, impish vein. Indeed, the song is every bit as flowery as its title suggests -- but certainly not in a bad "Circus of Heaven" kind of way. It brings the intensity level of the album back down, offering another spot for listeners to catch their breath as Anderson's sole voice, sans harmonies, tiptoes through the lilting arrangement of quaint instrumentation and hummable lyrics. Flute and acoustic guitar waltz together with a few joyous orchestral strings to create a dreamy medieval flavor to the song, which ends up sounding quite a bit like a cross between the Anderson/Howe duet "From the Balcony," on Open Your Eyes, and Anderson's own "Clear Days," the voice-and-strings featurette from that other orchestral Yes album all those many years ago. 

Now we move in to what might be considered the third and final part of Magnification. This is where the two big epics unfold. "Dreamtime" and "In the Presence Of" both clock in at 10-plus minutes, and both seem to justify their running times, more or less, even if the latter does hit some serious lulls along the way. "Dreamtime" certainly is the more uptempo and ambitious of the two, as it winds through several stylistic moods along its way and once again flashes up fond memories of a few favorite Yes and related works here and there. Expansive, dramatic, and moody, this piece sounds a bit like "Give Love Each Day" but on a slightly grander scale and a little more intense. The colorful track unfolds in an impatient fashion, progressing through a brisk 6/8 opening featuring a sadly singing viola, followed by a few notable orchestral punches before Anderson enters with a line that sticks with the listener: "Words never spoken are the strongest resounding." It's poignant because it seems to embody a less-is-more K.I.S.S. Principle philosophy, which Yes has never observed much through its history -- although when it has, as is the case on much of this album, the results are usually quite memorable. Maybe this is a signal of Yes turning over a new leaf, but on the other hand, if could be just a harmless statement about reading between the lines, in which case it may be no more than a fanciful reworking of the "Close to the Edge" line that goes "The space between the notes relates the color to the scenes." As always, with Anderson's open-ended lyrics, it's hard to tell, but also as always, that's what makes his lyrics so much fun to explore. 

The rest of the high points on this track are musical. First up is a spacious and slightly menacing section featuring the orchestral strings ducking in and out around Howe's sparse rhythm-guitar line and White's insistent tomtom work. The mood here is not at all unlike the tribal-drumming feature in "Birthright," the 1989 song from Anderson's "alterna-Yes" band Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, and it's actually pleasantly surprising to hear such a setting show up so unexpectedly in a Yessong. (As noted before, this album is certainly anything but predictable.) The strings eventually add a bit of a Middle Eastern texture, and in the background is an incessant, low clanging sound -- it seems to be coming from something like a xylophone and then becomes doubled later on by Squire's clipped bass, creating a gamelan-like effect so that we simultaneously seem to be experiencing three cultures of music -- aboriginal, Middle Eastern, and Indonesian -- all in one remarkable section that somehow remains uncluttered and clear. Quite a feat. 

Once White's drums enter without warning, he and Squire quickly take the piece into another new dimension, in which their chugging rhythm forms the foundation for Howe's repeated feature, which turns out to be no more than a muted, jazzy chord strummed over sparse strings and a series of variations on a single bending guitar note. (Cheers to Howe once again for his restraint here!) The pace of the music is rapid, but the instrumentation is sparse, relying on sustained notes and chords to provide the drama...and if "I'm Running" is starting to creep into your mind as a point of comparison, you're right on the money. 

But that's pretty much it for the piece. From there it bandies about between previously introduced themes, and it probably sticks with the "I'm Running"-like ambience a little too long, for no more development than there is to the section. Still, Squire gets in a tasty descending lick between orchestral smashes, and Howe delivers an energetic double-tracked solo near the end of the band's part of the song. The orchestra then plays on, again in a solo spot, after Squire comes back one last time with his descending solo, essentially growling the band to a forceful halt. For about two minutes, Groupe leads his orchestra on another excursion through widely varying moods, beginning with a bassoon that picks up where Squire left off and slithers upward into a section of Univers Zero-like creepiness that could easily have been taken from any horror-suspense flick. From there the orchestra effortlessly transitions into a playful and somewhat discordant cadence in which strings bandy back and forth with woodwinds, the brass pokes in and out loudly, and even some slapping sounds enter from the percussion section, sounding something like a cross between Stravinsky and Frank Zappa's symphonic work by the time it's all over. A classically tinged cello-violin duet then takes the spotlight, leading into a gentle wash of quiet, sustained strings that finally bring the piece to a tender, calm close. And there does seem to be a point to it all -- it seems as if Groupe's work here is intended to illustrate the characteristics of various common dream states, from nightmares to jumbled, disjointed dreams to calm, serene states of slumber. Given the title of the piece, it seems a wholly appropriate way to bring it to a close. 

"In the Presence Of," as mentioned, does plod quite a bit in places and suffers from a lack of significant thematic development. There's also a brief section near the end in which the sound of bongos pops in from nowhere and then back out again, just as quickly as it came. It sounds totally out of any context with the surrounding music. And there's also one of those unintentional Yes cringe moments when Anderson drops a line that goes "see what happens when I touch you there." Of course, the actual meaning is completely innocent, but anybody with a too-vivid imagination can just see this line going terribly wrong! 

Well, at least some other innovative lyrics make up for it, proving that it's not just Howe who's bringing new ideas to the table on this album. There are quite a few spiritual overtones to the words here, and while that's not anything new for Anderson, the inspiration for some of them certainly must be. First, the repeated declaration that "if we were flowers, we would worship the sun" is typically Andersonian -- no surprises there. But then he goes on to ruminate on such themes as "the death of ego" and notes that "all existence is a dream" -- both very specifically Buddhist proclamations. Although "Close to the Edge" was based around a book that included an encounter with the Buddha, and "Awaken" seems to carry some Buddhist overtones as well, Anderson has never before made such oblique references -- dare I say "direct pointing" -- to the philosophy of the Eastern spiritual practice. Makes one wonder whether Anderson has taken on a Zen master as his teacher recently! His most touching line in the song, however, is not a spiritual one but rather one that borders on nostalgia probably more than any other moment on this entire album, though it still manages to avoid the Ladder trap of blatant ripoff. To wit: "As the door was open wide/There inside was a diamond chair/Where I sat when I was young/I wrote down the words." You can just hear the sense of fond remembrance in his voice as he hearkens back to 1972's "Heart of the Sunrise," when he was indeed still a young man as he wrote the lines "Long last treatment of the telling that relates to all the words sung/Dreamer easy in the chair that really fits you." It seems, after all these years, that Anderson may be letting us know that the dreamer in the chair was -- surprise, surprise -- really him. 

The most notable musical contributions on "In the Presence Of" come from Howe, with some slow, haunting, pitch-bending, countryish electric-guitar lines, as well as some splendid mandolin rolls, a bit more banjo work, and a climactic steel flourish near the end of the piece. The orchestra adds some well-timed thump-thump-thumps for emphasis in another start-stop moment, and as with the rest of the album the backing vocals are again rich and well executed here. White's piano adds an appealingly gentle touch as well. In all, there are a lot of nice moments here on what is unfortunately a rather overlong, rambling, unfocused, and generally forgettable track. 

Now, at last, we wrap up this extravaganza with a short-and-sweet tune called "Time Is Time," accentuated by a light arrangement of breezy acoustic guitar, a lazy dobro (another Yes first!), and a small string section sounding a lot like a chamber orchestra that outlasts the band to create a formal but light and happy ending to the album. The cadence of Anderson's vocals here, coupled with a slightly monotonous tone, calls to mind one last pleasant musical memory -- this time, not a Yes memory, but rather hints once again of the Beatles, just as on the album's opening track. Here, one is reminded of "Julia" by John Lennon, that major influence on Yes over the years and former musical associate of White himself. It's a beautiful way to wrap up a phenomenally lovely Yes album. 

Sadly, though, there are some downsides to this mostly great collection. Most notably, "Don't Go" and "In the Presence Of" are largely lackluster compositions that do the most toward preventing this album from reaching "classic" status. Oddly enough, these were the two songs from the album that Yes played for most of the Magnification tour -- odd, because they are not at all representative of the incredible heights that this album reaches. The other major issue is that, no matter how beautifully the orchestra may have played on this album, fans are inevitably going to miss hearing the burbling of Hammond organs, the wash of atmospheric synthesizers, or the haunting strains of a wobbly Mellotron. No amounts of cello, flute, and brass can replace the vintage keyboard textures that are such a cornerstone of the Yes sound. That White plays some piano on the album, in fact, seems to prove that Yes simply can't dispose of keyboards completely -- not to mention that, even with an orchestra in tow, Yes still recruited a hired gun, former Meat Loaf associate Tom Brislin, to play keyboards on the Magnification tour! Now that Rick Wakeman rejoined the band (again!) in 2002, the lack of keys is, at least for the time being, no longer an issue. Wakeman has said he's back in the band for the long haul, but we fans have heard this before, so all we can do is wait and see. In the meantime, listeners can simply enjoy what the orchestrations on Magnification did to Yes's music, which was no less than to move it in a completely new direction. And who could have thought that was even possible, three-plus decades into the band's career? 

There were also a few dumb moves surrounding the release of the album in the United States. Namely, Americans had to wait for three months after Magnification had been released everywhere else in the world to acquire a copy domestically (many fans, myself included, simply bought a copy from overseas rather than wait), and when it finally did hit the stores in the States, a sleazy marketing ploy would force hardcore fans to purchase three copies of the CD, with three "bonus" tracks, recorded live on the "Masterworks" tour, being split up for sale among three different stores, one exclusive track per retailer. It certainly seemed to stink of a thinly veiled plot to boost sales at the expense of the core fan base. Had Beyond and Left Bank, Yes's management company, simply marketed the album better, they wouldn't have needed to resort to such tactics, and it's ironic that they did, since the official reason for delaying the U.S. release was to gear up for a big publicity campaign in the first place. The most that Beyond/Left Bank seemed to get out of the deal was a mention in a Best Buy circular, but a trip to the stores that carried the bonus tracks revealed little more than these "exclusive" copies of Magnification filed under the "Yes" (or "Y") card in the CD displays -- no endcaps, no "new release" placement, nothing of the sort. And the big, gray, ugly stickers on the shrinkwrap announcing the bonus tracks prevented any casual fan from even knowing this was a Yes album, let alone a new one, as the stickers completely concealed the Roger Dean "Yes" logo on the CD cover underneath. (Ironically, the much smaller shrinkwrap stickers that went to independent stores not carrying the "exclusive" CDs clearly showed the Yes logo.) Following this fiasco was an excuse that the Christmas shopping season was busy (which leaves one to wonder why Beyond chose to release the album in December in the first place) and that the big push for the album would come after the Christmas season. This didn't happen, and in the end, the bungling by Beyond and Left Bank resulted in Magnification peaking for one week in the Billboard album chart at #186 and then falling off. Of all the Yes albums that have at least charted in the states, this ranks as the lowest ever. And it's a crime, because it means this beautiful music may forever go unheard by anybody outside Yes's hardcore fan base. Beyond now seems to have gone out of business, and it's little wonder why. 

But it is vital to remember that these complaints have nothing to do with the quality of the album itself. Magnification may have stripped Yes down to the four men who have been its nucleus since Howe rejoined the band in 1996, but it brilliantly reveals that it was among this nucleus that the best recent Yes ideas have been born. Shedding the extra musicians (yes, including Wakeman) may even have helped the remaining members to focus and turn their creative juices up a notch. Whatever the case, the astonishing results are here for all to hear. Magnification is in many ways the long-awaited payoff -- the album that fans knew the guys still had left in them and have been patiently awaiting for many years. Best of all, it resurrects that unique dynamic that made Yes unmatched and untouchable in the glory years of the 1970s without being merely a retread of those old ideas. Yes has certainly had its great moments in the intervening years, but few are as consistently satisfying as Magnification. Hats off to Yes! 

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