Magnification

Yes

Beyond Records, 2002

http://www.yesworld.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/19/2002

How likely is that a band that's been around for more than thirty years could produce an album that sounds fresh and new? About as likely as me taking yet another shot (just for the record, it would be my ninth) at encapsulating 30 years of said band's eventful history in 200 words or less. You want a history lesson, go to www.yesworld.com and start digging. It's all there.

Magnification is a unique product even for a band as far removed from the mainstream as Yes is these days, an album on which they've set aside the traditional progressive rock keyboard maestro slot in favor of guitar-bass-drums and a full orchestra. Yes, folks, be forewarned: here there be flugelhorns. And triangles, and flutes, and cascading violins.

It's a startling -- though hardly illogical -- combination of sounds, and I admit I found it hard to get into this album at first. It takes a few listens to grow accustomed to the way they have incorporated the orchestra into these songs. But incorporated it they have, enlisting Hollywood score composer Larry Groupe to develop orchestral arrangements in support of ten new tracks. Even for a band with Yes' history of experimentation, it's a gutsy move, and overall it works surprisingly well, generating moments of real musical intrigue and power.

The kickoff title tune has a number of strong moments, playing Steve Howe's melodic electric and slide guitar leads off of Chris Squire's fat, bouncy bass lines, with the orchestra playing counter-melodies and woodwind accents that actually rock. It's a worthy addition to the Yes history books, and raises hopes for what's to come.

In particular, Squire - who has been known to sink into obscurity for entire albums at a time - sounds revived yet again here, his playing as dynamic as it's been in years, and his harmonies ever the perfect complement to Anderson's airy lead vocals. He even takes on lead vocals for "Can You Imagine," a rhythmic tune that plays his big, keening voice effectively off the orchestra's string section.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

There are also some driving bass figures and exciting moments embedded in the somewhat harder-edged "Spirit of Survival." You just keep waiting for Anderson to step back and give Squire, Howe and drummer Alan White some room to really cut loose. But he never does, instead crowding the song with his urgent stream of consciousness lyrics.

"Dreamtime," "Give Love Each Day" and "We Agree" are also strong tracks, taking the time to explore interesting shifts in tone and tempo, with Howe and Squire ricocheting melodic ideas off one another and the orchestra almost like the days of old. "Dreamtime" in particular incorporates extended instrumental passages, strong "lead bass" from Squire, beautiful picking from Howe, and effective use of the orchestra's horns and strings. "In the Presence Of" also has some nice moments and transitions, but suffers again from a cloying basic melody and not enough room for the instrumentalists to stretch out.

Interestingly, it seems the more Anderson writes, the more his lyrics fold inward on themselves. The "giving all the love you have" refrain in "Magnification" is a direct lift from "Brother Of Mine" on the Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe album. "On the silent wings of gold" in "Dreamtime" references "On The Silent Wings Of Freedom" from Tormato. Other repetitions abound across this album's 60-odd minutes, not so much stitching together a theme as illustrating the band's stubborn insularity. And their attempt to write a hit single ("Don't Go") is cringe-worthy, demonstrating only how impossibly wide the chasm has grown between this band and the mainstream music scene.

The principal casualty in all this appears to be Howe, among the world's most respected guitarists, who sounds virtually strangled at times here. He rarely plays a lead for more than 30 seconds without Anderson jumping in or the orchestra swelling and drowning him out. Part of this is a result of his choice to stick mostly with steel and acoustic rather than his trusty Gibson or Fender, and the increasing restraint of his playing in recent years. But the rest sounds like the other three guys in the band winning the musical arguments.

At a stage in their careers when most bands are either retired or playing half-hearted greatest hits shows at state fairs, Yes remains an active musical force; an experiment on the scale of this disc proves it. The album has a number of enjoyable moments that grow on you with repeated listens, and the quality of the music does reflect well on their legacy. It's hard to know what's next for a band with such a narrow -- albeit devoted -- following, but regardless of what tomorrow may bring, Magnification is a worthy pickup for any Yes fan, or anyone at all with an interest in trying out a sound that's miles from anything you'll find on modern rock radio.

Rating: B-

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© 2002 Jason Warburg 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.