Time And A Word
Atlantic Records, 1970
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/18/2010
With their sophomore album, future progressive rock icons Yes pulled off a somewhat unique and perhaps dubious feat, managing to perform, on the same album, both addition by subtraction and subtraction by addition.
First, the subtraction by addition. The band – Jon Anderson (vocals), Chris Squire (bass/vocals), Bill Bruford (drums), Tony Kaye (keys) and Peter Banks (guitar) – took the at least somewhat logical leap of augmenting their already cinematic and orchestral approach to music with an actual orchestra. It was an innovation that numerous British contemporaries such as the Beatles, Deep Purple and the Moody Blues were testing out, and in many ways it seemed like it could be a good fit for the band.
Unfortunately, in this particular case, bravado seems to have gotten the better of the young band, as an idea that probably seemed like an exciting natural extension of their sound on paper delivered results that are messy at best, disjointed at worst, and fed dissension within their ranks.
“No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed” -- the Richie Havens tune, reimagined as an exercise in orchestral psychedelia – makes you think for a few minutes that the idea might have legs. Kaye opens the album with a searing Hammond riff which is then topped by assertive strings and horns, a sort of kick-off fanfare; then Squire and Bruford take over with a bounding bass line and skittering, hyperactive percussion. It’s a nice opening – but then the orchestra disappears completely for two minutes, and when they come back in, they’re playing a Western movie score (said to be from 1958’s The Big Country), and the pieces just don’t fit. The track ends up – much like the album – as an ambitious, chaotic mess.
“Then” is one of six songs here composed solely or mostly by Anderson, who dominates this disc with his airy renderings. The middle section has a nice proggy jam where the orchestra seems involved – however, unlike on later albums, the mid-song jam doesn’t feel seamless with the rest of the song; the vocal sections at the beginning and end feel like disconnected fragments sandwiching the middle section in haphazard fashion.
“Everydays” achieves the notable feat of transforming a Stephen Stills song into a lounge jazz number. There is a tight, driving jam section toward the middle, but it feels forced up until Banks’ guitar solo, which is quite adventurous and holds up well, at least until the orchestra returns, steps all over his playing, and dissolves the song into a cacophonous muddle. “Sweet Dreams” is an upbeat, slightly spacey, somewhat poppy tune with no orchestra; it sounds clean and complete and suggests that the band would have been better off sticking with their core lineup.
“The Prophet” opens what would have been side two on the album with some atmospheric organ work by Kaye that’s either augmented or interrupted – it’s hard to tell which – by strings, then breaking into a vibrant, proggy jam. The basic issue is that almost every time the orchestra appears, it feels spliced in, as if band and producer felt stuck with their own idea and simply tried to find the least awkward place to add strings and/or horns. The rock part of “The Prophet” features Squire playing strong lead bass and Anderson offering a sing-songy reading of the verses and then some rather Beatlesque slowed-down middle sections, but every time the strings come in they feel like intruders, and the horns are simply doubling what’s already a simple organ line.
“Clear Days” is one of Anderson’s airiest and most lightweight ballads, which is saying something. You get the feeling he’s trying to be Paul McCartney, grafting a breezy folk tune onto the back of “Lady Madonna,” but it just doesn’t work and it’s honestly surprising this one ever saw the light of day. “Astral Traveler” feels like a pre-write of “Starship Trooper,” with a terrific bass line and assertive if unsophisticated guitar and organ (though the distorted vocals are annoying). Closer “Time And A Word” was for decades the only song the band would play from their first two albums -- a characteristically sincere plea for understanding that has a nice melody, if little impact.
The dynamic moments encased within larger songs (see especially “Then” and “The Prophet”) ultimately can’t make up for this album’s lack of focus and the band’s failure to figure out how to incorporate an orchestra into these songs. Banks in particular feels disengaged from the rest of the group, sounding more like a session player brought in for texture than a full member.
The latter development points directly to the instance of addition by subtraction aspect of Time And A Word. After the album was completed, the group parted ways with Banks, who was never in favor of the orchestral experiment and fought with producer Tony Colton through much of the recording sessions. By the time Atlantic was readying the American edition of the album, Banks had been replaced by Steve Howe (pictured on said U.S. edition), who would go on to become regarded as the definitive guitarist for the group. It was the first of many lineup shifts that have marked the restless reign of a band that has never been comfortable standing still.