Purple Pyramid, 2000
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/23/2010
In 1991, when Yes issued first the Union album and then the YesYears box set, one of the questions that inevitably came up for slightly obsessive fans such as yours truly was, “who is this Billy Sherwood guy and why is Chris Squire writing songs with him?” Both “The More We Live -- Let Go” from Union and “Love Conquers All” from YesYears were co-credited to Yes’s founding bassist/harmony vocalist Squire and Sherwood, with the latter even featuring Sherwood singing and playing on the Yes-released version.
The answer was, Sherwood was the 20-years-younger lead vocalist, bassist, producer and songwriter behind LA-area group World Trade, which had caught Squire’s ear with its very 80s-Yes, arena-prog sound. As erstwhile Yes lead vocalist Jon Anderson ran off to form Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, and 80s Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin focused his energies on his 1989 solo disc Can’t Look Away, Squire considered the possibility of bringing Sherwood in to fill the lead vocal slot in Yes. Their collaboration developed quickly, but was derailed when Yes suddenly coalesced once again into the eight-man lineup that would issue Union and YesYears.
That left Sherwood on the outside again, but his friendship with Squire remained and the pair never stopped working together. After the Union tour, Squire formed a side project with Sherwood called the Chris Squire Experiment, featuring the pair sharing lead vocals, Squire on bass, Sherwood on guitar and Yes drummer Alan White backing them. The trio recorded from time to time and played various dates in the LA area, and by the time Yes’s 1994 album Talk came around, multi-instrumentalist Sherwood was invited to tour with the band as an additional guitarist/keyboardist/harmony vocalist. When the classic Yes lineup reformed in 1995-96, Sherwood was there again, mixing Keys To Ascension and producing Keys To Ascension 2.
When the latter album became caught up in a 1997 tug of war between band and label, and classic Yes keyboardist Wakeman exited yet again, Sherwood was finally invited to join Yes as part of a deal that moved Yes to a new label and redirected an entire album of songs that Squire and Sherwood had developed for a planned Chris Squire Experiment release to become the foundation for the Yes disc Open Your Eyes. Sherwood would record and tour both OYE and 1999’s The Ladder with Yes before exiting the band in 2000.
All of which forms the necessary preface for this album, the ten-years-later result of the long-running Squire-Sherwood partnership. Sidestepping the foregone OYE material entirely, the pair instead crafted a mostly new disc, augmented with their versions of “The More We Live – Let Go” and “Love Conquers All.”
In the end, though, the reality is that the history is probably more interesting than the music itself. Conspiracy is a solid but unspectacular document of the duo’s strengths – fabulous harmony vocals and very compatible melodic sensibilities – and weaknesses – bland lyrics and overly slick, indistinct arena-prog songs. In one respect this album offers a strong case for Squire’s identification of Sherwood as a potential new frontman for the 1989 version of Yes; it sounds like nothing quite so much as a sequel to Yes’s 1987 disc Big Generator.
Indeed, fans of the Rabin years will no doubt enjoy this disc, but for folks like me who both admire Sherwood’s work with Yes in 1997-2000 and detest most of Big Generator, it inspires decidedly mixed feelings. For all the talents of these two players, and their obvious enjoyment of playing together, there are only a few tracks of note here; the rest all blurs together in a continuous stream of sheeny, inorganic arena prog.
The best of the new cuts here – the airy “Days Of Wonder” and the driving “Violet Purple Rose” – find Sherwood and Squire’s voices intertwining beautifully over dramatic soundscapes. The latter track also features the strongest guitar work on the album courtesy of guest Steve Stevens (Bozzio Levin Stevens). Unfortunately, the worst moments on this disc sit side-by-side with these tracks, as Squire unsuccessfully tries out a rather Bryan Ferry-ish croon on “Light In My Life” and delivers a choppy, stilted reading of the appropriately titled “No Rhyme.”
The main points of interest for a Yes fan are the two rerecorded tracks. “The More We Live – Let Go” remains atmospheric and intriguing, though this version loses some of the swirling drama of the Union version in favor of a more AOR-oriented mix. And “Love Conquers All” remains a bald ploy for commercial airplay that’s both carefully crafted and utterly weightless. I would say about it what I’d say about this entire album – it’s solid enough if you care for that sort of thing. I don’t.
The most widely available reissue of this disc includes a couple of bonus tracks, the epic-length title track from Sherwood’s solo debut The Big Peace, and the recording of “Comfortably Numb” that Sherwood, Squire and White contributed to the Back Against The Wall Pink Floyd tribute album. They’re welcome additions filling out an album that ultimately feels like more of a historical footnote than anything else.