Magnification

Yes

Beyond Records, 2002

http://www.yesworld.com

REVIEW BY: Herb Hill

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/19/2002

The artwork on the cover is dark and foreboding. There is the usual Roger Dean logo, yet the cover art is by Bob Cesca of Camp Chaos infamy. What, in the name of whatever you might want to believe in, is going on here?

It's all about context. Reviewing leads to comparing... the mind looks for contrasts, changes in color... texture attract the eye, give us something to judge against. Whether you are judging fudge, pizza or music; you bring your previous experience with you. It colors your thinking and whatever 'objective' thoughts you may have quickly melt into a slowly simmering stew of subjectivity.

With Magnification you have a real problem if you are a Yes fan of any type... There are some strong divisions in the Yes community; Troopers, Panthers, YesWholes... to name but a few. But belonging to any of the various subsets of the Yes faithful will not necessarily help you digest what amounts to a debut album based on a completely new idea from the concentrated remains of the huge soup pot that has contained, over the last 30 years, no less than 16 different members of the Yes family of musicians. As you listen to Magnification, subjectivity may have to take a back seat to wonderment. Gone are the keyboards, gone are the 70's style guitar solos, gone is any attempt to remain attached in any real sense to the Yes 'way' of making music; independent virtuoso instrumental solos, melded with textural vocals and mixed with tempo changes that could send you reeling off the end of a cliff if you are not paying attention. What we have here instead is Yes' debut as a truly collaborative effort. However, in true Yes style the new collaboration involves a full orchestra... no point in making anything too easy.

It's all about milkshakes. Chunky. Yes music, at least the 70's era style Yes music that reached it's pinnacle with "Close To The Edge," is chunky. Like a soup full of various chunks of meat and veggies it can be viewed as one entity but really is a combination of various ingredients which when viewed close up are far from homogenous. Nothing wrong with that. Yes makes great soup, but with Magnification what we have instead of soup is a velvety smooth chocolate milkshake. Look as closely as you can and it is almost impossible to pick out any chunks at all.

The biggest 'chunk' in normal Yes soup (barring the Yes-Lite version from the 80's) has always been Steve Howe's unmistakable jazz/country influenced guitar. Steve can play with the best of them... he is in many respects one the best guitarists to emerge from and survive beyond the crucible of the 60's/70's rock oven. The first thing you notice about Magnification is the total absence of any Steve Howe five-minute guitar solos. Which is not to say that he is not a large part of the sound. It is just that his diamond edged guitar melds so completely with the rest of the music that you tend to see the music as a whole, rather than constantly moving from player to player. Steve doesn't rip through the music here, he hides within it; shimmering here and there like a bright shiny fishing lure that sparkles and bedazzles your eyes when it catches the sun just right.

Chris Squire on bass also displays an remarkable amount of control. One of the first to live up to the term "Bass Soloist." Mr. Squire can take flight just as well as Mr. Howe and go off over rolling hills of virtuosity if the mood strikes him... and it frequently does... but not here. Again, a complete blending of talents seems to be the order of the day for this project. Chris' bass is omnipresent, yet it is an undercurrent. A steady pull on the line that lulls you into a false sense of security and tugs you out of your chair when you least expect it. Yet, it never quite pulls you into the water...

Alan White on percussion is quite capable of tearing off a piece of the Yes grandiose style, the percussion piece in the middle of Ritual comes to mind. But, as with Howe and Squire, White is really a team player on this one.

The subdued nature of the two guitarists and the drummer on this CD inevitably moves Jon Anderson to the forefront of this project and his choir boy counter-tenor voice is up to the task. Smooth, doesn't do justice to the possible descriptive illustrations regarding Mr. Anderson's vocals on Magnification. He is without a doubt at the height of his talent. Many Yes fans feel that he sings better now than he ever did. However, Anderson does not dominate to the point of overpowering the music. His voice mixes well with the orchestra and many times throughout the CD we are treated to classic Anderson-Squire harmonies; the likes of which haven't really been heard since "I've seen all good people..."

It's all about harmony. I am not going into a lengthy song by song descripiton of Magnification. Like any Yes album you could spend weeks peeling back the layers of musical talent and another month just trying to figure out what the lyrics mean. There are a few points that might be of interest though. The opening strains of the title track can fool you a bit. Ok, there's Steve and here comes Chris, and there's... uh, there's.. what is that! Woodwinds??! Jon pops up behind the woodwinds and is quickly followed up by a string section. It all seems to flow quite naturally and it becomes quite obvious that the music on this CD was intended from the beginning to include an orchestra. Blended and mixed with care and attention. I particularly like the woodwinds in the title track. Escpecially where they interplay with Steve's guitar work around the 6 minute mark. The music builds nicely towards the end but is intentionally collapsed into an harmonic degeneration that should abolish any thoughts of easy listening that may be entering the listener's mind.

In true Yes fashion, Magnification flows right into the second track ("Spirit Of Survival") with Jon's pure crystalline tenor emerging from the orchestral cacophony to announce, in no uncertain terms, that "In this world, the Gods have lost thier way." I've been trying to decipher Jon's lyrics for decades and this may be the most disturbing thing I've ever heard him utter. It is my most humble opinion that the Gods he refers to are not the dieties above or below us. No. Mr. Anderson is pointing straight at you and I. Lyrically, the song is a condemnation of societies greed; the triumph of power and expediency over balance. Musically, the song has a great bass line and works the orchestra in wonderfully, without getting overly symphonic.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Track 3, "Don't Go," was resoundingly ignored when played live during the Yessymponic tour this year. More because of its non-Yes nature than any problem with musicianship. Musically "poppy" in attitude it is lyrically a saber slice at the impermanance of relationships created within the context of the genX "too cool to care" attitude. You can download the video created for this song here. You might as well, cause you ain't never gonna see it on MTV.

Track 4, "Give Love Each Day." Well, it's a love song. A real, honest to goodness, Love Song. No doubt aimed directly at Jon's wife who, according to the lyrics, keeps Jon centered in a hectic world. A love song, with easy lyrics... on a Yes album! Will wonders never cease??! There are a few "Yes style" lyrical twists which reaffirm Jon's perennial contention that we are in control of, and responsible for, creating our own destiny and that change is not only inevitable but imperative. But, it's a love song alright. It has a beautiful symphonic entrance and wonderful harmonic convergence between Jon, Chris and the orchestra. Larry Groupe, who has won Emmys for his motion picture work, has made quite an impact as the conductor on this CD and it shows up quite distinctly on this track.

Track 5, "Can You Imagine." In an unexpected yet satisfying twist, Chris Squire takes lead vocal credit for this one. Rumor has it that this is a "leftover" from the Drama album of the early 80's. It's not a favorite of mine, but this song is remarkable. Chris Squire has a fantastic voice and with Jon to do backing vocals for Chris you end up with a sort of "reverse Yes" sound. It is a palate cleansing icy treat in the middle of a full course meal.

Track 6, "We Agree." Yes made this track freely downloadable from the YesWorld website after the September 11th tragedy for anyone who made a donation to the red cross. The lyrics try to remind us that it's a small planet that we live on; where we can't hide from the implications of our actions and the actions of others, "We agreed to turn our backs, We agreed to turn our face away.." Rush said something along the same lines a long time ago with their song "Free Will,", "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."

Track 7, "Soft As A Dove." Ok, it's all woodwinds and quiet fret work. And it sometimes sounds like Robin Hood and Maid Marion should be dancing through the greenwood in the background. But if you're a father and you have a daughter you'll get it.

Track 8, "Dreamtime." Despite being somewhat ripe, having now attained my 43rd ticket to ride around the sun, most of my friends are between 25 and 35. So far this is their favorite track. It starts off with a mix of Spanish influenced Howe guitar and Squire bass mixed with violins, stops for a minute to intro the lyrics, and then launches into an orchestral backed, rock/pseudo-Latin rhythm beat that every once in a while threatens to break out into a neo-Alan Parsons/I Robot 80's style techno undercurrent biased "tune"; throws in some more Spanish guitar and then exits with a quiet orchestral end piece. Bizarre! I love it!

Track 9, "In the Presence Of." Yes fans looking for another classic style masterpiece need look no further than this. While "Don't Go" was, politely received by audiences during this years tour, "In The Presence Of," was given the true Yes fan standing O. In keeping with the new collaborative paradigm at work on this CD it is Alan White on piano who starts us off here. This large piece is broken down into 4 "movements" in the Yes tradition. Following that tradition, the lyrics are sibylline enough to require some time to interpret if you are in the mood. Even though this track takes some of its genesis from the traditional elements of true Yes music it still adheres to the general "blending" paradigm of this CD. No one is allowed to go careening off on a tangent, everyone is tightly focused building towards the climactic release at the end of the final movement. It is, quite simply, a Yes masterwork. However, if there is a missed opportunity anywhere on this CD it is here at the end of "In The Presence Of" where they should have cut the duct tape off of Steve, scrapped the next track, which is a filler anyway, and let Steve rip for 3 or 4 minutes. Sometimes focus becomes obsession.... sometimes it's best to let go a bit.

Track 10, "Time is Time." Looks like they had some "Time to Fill" to me. The lyrics are interesting enough and the melody is nice enough but it's definitely an underdeveloped idea.

Maybe it's all about trees. After returning to their roots with the Masterworks tour of 2000 the Yes tree has clearly sprouted a new branch. But where on the tree does this fit? Is this a masterwork along the lines of Close To The Edge? No, clearly not. Is this a pop breakdown like 90125? Thank God, no. So, where do we put this? In terms of genre it reminds me of Tales From Topographic Oceans. Not that it sounds like Tales, but thats the point. Magnification doesn't sound like anything else, and niether did TFTO. I always considered TFTO a genre unto itself [place editors requisite disparaging remark here]. Magnification is a new Yes genre. Call it "Classical Rock." Call it "Symphonic Rock." Call it what you will. From an objective (as much as possible) viewpoint; musically this is the equivalent of Fragile. Solid work; a precursor to greatness; a B+ CD.

Who will listen to Magnification? Yes fans will. They already are. If you are a Yes fan then hop on over to www.yesfans.com and say hi. You are not alone. But you will never see Mag on a chart, or hear it on the air. There is no pre-fab context to place it in. Brought up on the insipid meanderings of Britney, or the goalless expletives of rage rock, the MTV herd hasn't got the background to digest it. And choice is not something that the corporate music mongers want the herd to ponder. It's easier to market to the lowest common denominator.

It's all about changes. We have had Yes the dreamers. We have had Yes the mystics. We' ve even had Yes the pop band. Now we have Yes the fathers role. Matured and loving... yet disgruntled with the way some of it is turning out.

They didn't know it at the time, or perhaps they did... but Yes wrote the chapter headings of their own continuing story decades ago: Perpetual change spurs us all on and so it is with Yes. So, get comfy and dream in that chair that really fits you, put down the pot and reach for the merlot. Let the summer change to winter; there is no disgrace in that. I like snow angels.

Rating: B+

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© 2002 Herb Hill and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Beyond Records, and is used for informational purposes only.