In A Word

Yes

Elektra/Rhino, 2002

http://www.yesworld.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/26/2004

Another decade, another box set for prog-rock giants Yes.

The obvious question for any Yes fan -- and I'm going to operate under the assumption here that anyone who isn't a Yes fan isn't going to bother reading a review of a five-disc, $50 box set -- is how this new set compares with the band's 1991 four-disc collection, YesYears. Is it worth owning both, or will one or the other do on its own? The answer, as with so many things connected with this famously hard-to-pin-down outfit, is less than clear.

An immediate point of interest, though, is the fact that the 1991 collection was issued with the participation of both the "Classic Yes" and the Trevor-Rabin-led YesWest factions, whereas this set was compiled under the auspices of the current Classic Yes lineup. In other words, if you're looking for more unreleased Rabin-era tracks, don't look here. What you will find is a number of variations from YesYears -- notably the absence of any of the bonus tracks from the earlier collection -- and a small sprinkling of additional unreleased material, all of it from one variation or another of the "classic" lineup.

As on YesYears, the band is generous in terms of material from their first two somewhat obscure albums, including eight songs and 42 minutes of music on disc one. It's interesting stuff, if kind of gawky in places, a musically adolescent band trying to grow into the prog-rock adult it would become. Still, it seems excessively generous when you come upon the harder choices ahead.

None of those hard choices are made when it comes to 1971's The Yes Album; five of its six tracks can be found here, including all three that previously appeared on YesYears, plus guitarist Steve Howe's solo piece "Clap." (Howe was apparently the most active participant from the band in the assembly of this set... draw your own conclusions.) Better choices are made when it comes to the band's breakthrough Fragile; this set trades in bassist Chris Squire's "The Fish" for the underappreciated gem "South Side Of The Sky." (But why include "America" again? This makes three different albums where this former non-album single release has been made available to fans, and guess what? It's not that great…!)

Close To The Edge always presents problems; it's a classic album whose three tracks all deserve to be here. YesYears featured only the title track; In A Word adds "Siberian Khatru." You want to say this is a game of "You can't win," though, when you consider the missing "And You And I" is almost universally loved among Yesfans and its studio version is missing from both collections. Sigh.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The choices from Tales From Topographic Oceans and Relayer are good ones, trading "Ritual" from YesYears for the next-best suite from TFTO, "The Revealing Science Of God," and this time including the full "Gates Of Delirium," one of the band's most dynamic long-form pieces. The choices from Going For The One are equally sensible -- you have to have the title track, "Wonderous Stories" was a minor hit, and "Turn Of The Century" deserves to be included on one of the two collections. It seems odd, though, to drop "Awaken" (another fan favorite, and singer Jon Anderson's self-professed favorite Yes track), and to exclude "Parallels," which the band used to open concerts with regularly in 1977-78, from both sets. Tough choices, indeed.

Tormato is where things get a bit weird. Sure, add "Release, Release" in place of YesYears' "On The Silent Wings of Freedom," that makes sense. But "Arriving UFO"? Who likes this song? And then there's the fan-bait, the previously unissued, quote-unquote bonus tracks. "Richard" is an outtake from Tormato. Think about it; this track wasn't strong enough to make it onto what's generally regarded as Yes's worst album of the '70s. Uh-huh.

Next up are three new! 1979 outtakes. "Tango" and "Never Done Before" hail from the band's aborted "Paris sessions," and make the argument that they didn't pull the plug a minute too soon. "Tango" is a ponderous, sing-songy waste of tape which sounds like it may have had Howe's guitar parts erased. As for "Never Done Before," if you've ever wanted to know what Yes might sound like as a second-rate lounge act, here's your chance. "Crossfire" follows, a previously unreleased instrumental featuring Howe, Squire and drummer Alan White in a directionless little jam.

And then we're back to the proceedings at hand. The logical tracks from the band's '80s incarnations show up here, with "Machine Messiah" replacing "Does It Really Happen?" from Drama, and "Leave It" assuming its rightful place here. The next innovation is the inclusion of tracks from 1989's Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe album; the band appears to have made peace with this fractured episode of its history.

The '90s tracks are a bit of a puzzle. Taking two tracks from the tepid Union album makes sense if you feel obligated to maintain balance between the two factions represented on that disc. But two tracks from Rabin's disastrous Talk -- including the woeful "I Am Waiting" -- and only one out of the album-and-a-half's worth of strong new Classic Yes material on the two Keys To Ascension packages? "Mind Drive" is the right choice, but this is still a disappointing oversight.

The selections from Open Your Eyes and The Ladder are predictable, yet frustrating; The Ladder's "The Messenger" may be about Bob Marley, but that doesn't make it a better song than "New Language." We close things up with "Last Train," a shuffling, pointless little outtake from the Magnification sessions, and that album's sugary mini-epic "In The Presence Of," a song the band for some reason favors over the title track and "Dreamtime," both of which are punchier and more dynamic.

On the bright side, the packaging for In A Word is excellent -- the "flipbook" binding of this set is very attractive, and longtime Yes cover artist Roger Dean's dreamy landscapes feel like old friends. The detailed liner notes are well done, even if raconteurs Chris Welch and Bill Martin do tend to go on a bit getting to the point in their dueling essays addressing (respectively) the history and larger significance of Yes.

As an overview of the band's work to date, In A Word functions well, even if some of the choices made are easy to second-guess. The reality is, this band still hasn't issued a truly definitive box set, and one begins to suspect at this point that doing so may not even be possible. There's simply too much music and too much band and label politics interfering with the decision-making process.

Rating: B+

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© 2004 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 Elektra/Rhino, and is used for informational purposes only.