Fish Out Of Water
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/05/2010
After six phenomenally prolific years of recording and touring that produced both great work and multiple lineup changes, at the end of 1974, progressive rock quintet Yes decided to take a year’s break from recording that would allow all five members of the band to work on solo albums in between touring commitments.
Of the solo albums that were created that year, Chris Squire’s Fish Out Of Water is almost universally regarded as both the best and the one that sounds the most like Yes. And why wouldn’t it? Squire, whose distinctive bass playing and harmony vocals anchor the band’s sound, chose to make his debut solo album with founding Yes drummer Bill Bruford and then-current Yes keyboardist Patrick Moraz as the other principal players, along with childhood pal and fellow choir singer Andrew Jackman handling orchestrations and piano. Squire himself plays bass and occasional guitar and sings all of the lead and most of the harmony vocals.
Right off the bat you’re on familiar territory as “Hold Out Your Hand” powers into focus, a ringing rocker whose deft mixture of muscle and melody reminds of “Parallels” and other Squire compositions with Yes. In addition to its core propulsiveness, it features a strong chorus hook and wonderful church organ work from Squire’s childhood mentor Barry Rose, suborganist at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Squire’s infamous “lead bass” is also well in evidence, an unusual approach that’s uniquely suited to this sort of driving, airy number. Toward the end of the song, Jackman’s orchestral arrangements begin to fill out the already outsized sound, embellishing the piano-bass-drums foundation.
The sudden transition from “Hold Out Your Hand” to the softer, gentler “You By My Side” only accents the Beatlesque feel of the latter track. The rich, warm tones of “You By My Side” are also – as Squire reveals in the audio commentary of the 2007 deluxe CD/DVD edition of this album – strongly influenced by Graham Nash. This gentle tune also features the flute work of Jimmy Hasting and exceptional choral vocals, with the harmonies and background vocals layering and building the verses to the choruses. At the end the brass comes in and Squire begins conducting the orchestra with his bass guitar – something you can both hear clearly on the audio track and watch for yourself on the promo video included on the deluxe edition DVD.
“Silently Falling” again features woodwinds on the orchestral opening and Squire booming the bottom end with fuzz bass. Three and a half minutes in it falls into a proggy “beautiful chaos” section where everyone’s playing off each other like billiard balls. Eventually Moraz rips out a tremendous Hammond solo, driving the others on as piano, bass and drums explode into an almost psychedelic jam that builds and builds for several minutes until they’re absolutely wailing -- at which point they stop on a dime and reprise the quiet beginning, with Squire adding the only noticeable guitar work on the album, a couple of brief warning blasts followed by a steady, rather distorted fadeout solo with a Neil Young vibe. It’s a great eleven and a half minute mini-opus, and a fittingly grand close to what was side one on the vinyl original.
“Lucky Seven” starts out feeling like a Steely Dan song with Jackman playing a snappy Fender Rhodes melody, with bass and drums tight underneath and Mel Collins’ sax layering an elegant figure on top. As it progresses, Squire’s bass pushes out front more and more as he and Jackman bring in a variety of little twists and variations on the melody. There are also classic moments of “lead bass” in “Lucky Seven,” where everyone else is repeating hypnotic grooves while Squire is jumping around all over the place and taking most of the solos – at least, other than the brilliant Collins sax excursion just before the wind-down ending. Squire’s singing here is a little rawer and throatier than you might be used to; as a harmony vocalist in Yes he’s often la-la-ing in the background, but here he’s singing lead and letting a little grit into his vocals.
The closing fifth track “Safe (Canon Song)” is a multi-part fifteen-minute suite, with a rather cinematic opening, all piano and horns and choral vocals. Three minutes in, Squire solos a little riff that becomes the backbone for the remainder of the song. After one more vocal section, the song essentially transitions into a series of duets between Squire and the orchestra, where he plays off it in bits and pieces, one instrument or section at a time, lending the whole exercise an Alan Parsons feel. It’s unique and evocative, of course, hearing a bass guitar duet with an orchestra for ten minutes, and it does have a steady build with symphonic advances and fallbacks -- but realistically, it goes on several minutes longer than it actually remains interesting.
It’s widely acknowledged that Andrew Jackman was one of the driving forces behind this, Squire’s only completed solo album to date. Clearly the orchestrations play a huge role in the album’s impact, as the lack of guitar and emphasis on keyboards and choral vocals keep the music very airy throughout. As Squire notes on the bonus DVD accompanying the deluxe edition, “We discussed that we basically wanted to make a pretty orchestral, big-sounding album and Andrew was very keen on that…”
He was indeed, and the end result was an album full of unique and beautiful work, truly symphonic prog with heavy bass accents as only Squire could deliver them. Count me among the multitudes who regard Fish Out Of Water as the very best of the multitude of solo albums issued by various members of Yes over the years.