The Ultimate Yes - 35th Anniversary Collection


Rhino, 2004

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


First things first… the title has to be a joke, right?

Or at least, another clueless A&R guy's stab at immortality. Because there is no way on earth you can fit the "ultimate" collection of Yes music on a mere two discs. It was tried once before on 1992's Yesstory and the result was a disjointed train wreck that utterly fails to tell the story of this band's fascinating trajectory from psychedelic pop to progressive rock to mammoth, symphonic suites to '80s arena rock and back again. (Don't even get me started about 1993's you've-gotta-be-kidding-me single-disc collection, the so-called Very Best of Yes, which features exactly ZERO tracks from the band's very best album, Close To The Edge.)

Realistically, even the band's four- and five-disc collections (YesYears and In A Word, respectively) have holes in them. A two-disc collection is just about guaranteed to disappoint. Which is why this skeptic was, while not completely satisfied (has any Yes fan ever been, at least in the past 30 years?), reasonably impressed with this 35th anniversary collection. It's actually a decent stab at summarizing a huge and diverse catalog of music, albeit with some inevitable limitations. The main issue, as always, is track selection.

Past collections have either ignored the band's initial two proto-prog albums, or overcompensated for their relative obscurity by including more tracks than were really needed. Ultimate Yes plays fair by opening with the only song from these two albums that the band has continued to play over the years, the dated but pretty folk tune "Time And A Word."

From there, you get the meat of the three landmark albums that followed (The Yes Album, Fragile and Close To The Edge), with one notable omission. On a two-disc collection, there's just no room for the band's trademark long-form pieces, so "Close To The Edge" itself is missing. And that's the biggest issue not just with this collection, but with any attempt to create a my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Reader's Digest version of the Yes canon. The epics are a key part of Yes's musical story and their omission automatically makes any collection not a history of the band, but just a collection of songs.

Having said that, the rest of the song selections are, for the most part, excellent. The "right" tracks for a collection of this limited size get picked up pretty much all the way to the end, with three exceptions and one quibble.

Exception one: Yes's version of Simon & Garfunkel's "America," a non-album single in 1972, has gone in 12 years from being among the band's most under-exposed to among its most overexposed tracks, having been included on no less than three discs in that time, two collections and last year's remastered and expanded Close To The Edge. There's no reason to include it here again, especially in its truncated "single edit" form.

Exception two: a remix of "Big Generator," the title track from the band's 1987 disc, is inexplicably included here over many worthier tracks, including the hit single "Love Will Find A Way" from the same album. Huh?

Exception three: why no material from the very strong studio disc included in the 1997 set Keys To Ascension 2? The continuing neglect of this superb disc is one of the unexplained crimes of this band's recent history.

Quibble: it was obviously a major effort choosing tracks and trying to fit as much music as possible on these two discs. But it's nonetheless disappointing to get edited-for-radio versions of not just "America," but also "It Can Happen" and "Homeworld (The Ladder)." (Notice I didn't mention the radio edit of Talk's "The Calling"… the less we hear of that track, the better.)

The U.S. edition of this collection includes a third disc with five acoustic bonus tracks of varying quality and interest. The bounding prog-rock anthem "Roundabout" is remade in almost nightclub-jazz fashion, with Rick Wakeman's piano gone all tinkly and Chris Squire's once-prominent bass nearly inaudible. Vocalist Jon Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe sound great, but the track ends up as more of a curiosity than a triumph.

Three of the other four tracks are essentially solo pieces by Anderson, Howe and Squire, each tasteful and well-executed, but none terribly fresh or exciting. The best of the bonus quintet by far is an acoustic rendition of "South Side Of The Sky," featuring terrific piano work by Wakeman, Howe frolicking on acoustic slide, and drummer Alan White keeping time with tom-toms. Odd as that might appear on the page, it sounds terrific, proving once again why so many fans have pestered the band to play this song over the years.

The decision to test the acoustic waters has a logic to it; Yes has tried everything else in the last 35 years, from epic rock symphonies to tight pop singles, from dance remixes to recording with an orchestra. Why not try acoustic? One can be excused for wondering how much fuel is left in this band's tank after hearing them soft-shoe through a ripping rock number like "Roundabout" -- but the one undeniable reality of Yes is that, as a musical unit, it's always been about change and evolution.

The truth is, nobody can really predict what may come next for Yes. And that's part of the reason why, after 35 years, people still care.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 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 Rhino, and is used for informational purposes only.