Relayer (Steven Wilson Remix)


Atlantic, 2016

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Of all the divisive albums in the Yes catalogue—and they are several—1974’s Relayer seems like the one that’s always enjoyed the most decisive majority of favorable opinion. It’s unique in that it’s the only album the British progressive rock titans ever recorded with Swiss keyboard maestro Patrick Moraz (later of the Moody Blues). And it’s a transitional album that found the band reversing course from 1973’s bloated four-track double-LP Tales From Topographic Oceans, back toward more focused songs again.

As strong as the original Relayer album was musically, though, the sound—crafted by the band itself in collaboration with co-producer Eddie Offord—was duller, darker, and muddier than any of its predecessors, its tones at times seeming to parallel the many shades of grey found on Roger Dean’s album cover artwork. The combination of powerful performances and suboptimal sound made Relayer a prime candidate for prog connoisseur/savant Steven Wilson’s remix series, which has also encompassed The Yes Album, Fragile, Close To The Edge and Topographic Oceans.

For the sake of accentuating the contrast, I gave yet another listen to the original mix one afternoon, followed by the Wilson mix the next morning. Despite my deep familiarity with the music, the experiences were nearly as distinct as if I’d listened to two different albums. (Another significant personal note: for me, Relayer is all about “The Gates Of Delirium,” one of the band’s definitive epics; IMHO the two tracks that make up the remainder of the album are a step down in quality.)

Listening to the Wilson remix of “The Gates Of Delirium” for the first time approached musical ecstasy. Every single element of the performance feels like it’s been lovingly polished and brightened: Moraz’s chirpy synths, Howe’s aggro guitar, even Squire’s bone-rattling bass feels sharper and clearer. When Anderson’s vocals come in they too feel warmer and more immediate. As the song builds, Wilson pulls little synth filigrees up from the depths of the old mix, even as Squire’s mind-of-its-own bass leaps and bounds. Howe’s intense solos at 5:00 and 7:00 enjoy greater presence and separation, and the three-part harmonies in the choral section in between are more distinct.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The second section of the song is equally enhanced; whether you focus on Howe’s guitar or Squire’s bass or Moraz’s keys or White’s drums, the first “battle” jam from 9:00 to 10:25 has never sounded more alive and in your face. When the focus moves to Squire in the next section it’s epic “lead bass,” loud and proud; when Moraz steps up again at 12:53, reprising one of the main themes and soloing off of it, every instrument feels twice as crisp and present as before, tones and elements that had felt buried or indistinct now emerging with total clarity. Howe’s subsequent solo sends echoes up into the sky, and his reverbed chords going into the mid-song breakdown prior to the “Soon” segment of the track feel genuinely bold and ominous.

The keening slide notes as “Soon” begins are gorgeous as ever, but in this mix Wilson gradually brings the acoustic guitar and organ underneath up to meet them, and when Anderson comes in, he sounds like he’s singing from three feet away instead of from the far side of an arena. The gentle crescendo reached around 21:00, just before the final fade, feels as bright as the purest sunbeam.

The separation and clarity among instruments on the hyperactive opening to “Sound Chaser” is phenomenal, bringing it to life in a way I’ve never heard before. Wilson also teases formerly-buried synth elements up into the mix, the gang vocals feel crisper, and there’s tremendous clarity and sharpness on Howe’s two-and-a-half-minute mid-song solo. When Anderson comes back in singing solo, it again sounds like he’s three feet away, and the closing jam smokes with authority.

The album’s final, least interesting track “To Be Over” also benefits from tremendous clarity and separation among the guitars, synths and percussion featured in the opening section. The vocals in the languorous middle section are similarly refined. The song remains too twee for my tastes, but its beauty is certainly enhanced in this rendering, especially in the closing choral/guitar/synth section starting at 7:25, which achieves an otherworldly liftoff in Wilson’s mix.

While “The Gates Of Delirium” will always be Relayer’s highlight for me, Wilson does wonders for the entire album, pulling each performance out of the murk and into the bright light of day to shine as it deserves to. Of all of Wilson’s remixes of classic Yes albums, Relayer is the one that feels like it offers both the most significant change and the most substantial improvement over the original release.

Rating: A-

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