Keys To Ascension


CMC International Records, 1996

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


If progressive rock -- that unapologetically pompous subgenre of rock which worships innovation over form and indulgence over concision -- is, as a genre, a dinosaur, then the venerable wizards of Yes are surely its T-Rex. No progressive band -- not the eccentric King Crimson, nor the bombastic Emerson, Lake and Palmer, nor the (toward the end) nearly pathetic Genesis -- can match the Yes-men's 35-year saga for either its high points or its low ones.

Through three and a half decades of ever-changing lineups, producers, styles and levels of quality, the only constant in Yes (other than bass player/harmony vocalist/co-founder Chris Squire) has been the persistence of extremes. 1972's blistering triple-live set Yessongs -- featuring what still stand as some of the most remarkable live performances of the era -- was followed by the bloated my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Tales From the Topographic Oceans. Four years later, the return-to-form Going For the One was followed by its own dark half, the nearly wretched Tormato. In the early '80s, the expired-then-reincarnated band's energetic, if overly slick, 90125 was followed by 12 years of band-member infighting and musical mediocrity.

In 1996, though, something uniquely (and typically) Yes happened. After the more commerically oriented '80s group finally imploded under the weight of long-simmering tensions between arena-rock guitarist/maestro Trevor Rabin and the more traditionalist elements remaining in the band, a Yes lineup not featured since the band's 1978-79 world tour reunited to play a series of sold-out concerts in San Luis Obispo. And, defying the odds for this sort of "let's-get-the-old-gang-together-for-one-more-stab-at-glory-before-we-all-retire" gig, the guys -- Squire, Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman and Alan White -- have done well by their legacy.

Certainly, on this two-disc set you'll find the obligatory FM radio staple "Roundabout" and fan favorite "Starship Trooper," both the subject of multiple live recordings already. But both receive loving and dynamic treatments here from the old masters, and they are supplemented by some unexpected treats, including a rousing "Siberian Khatru" (from the landmark Close to the Edge album), the first-ever live recording of Tales' "The Revealing Science of God," a strong version of Paul Simon's "America" (an early Yes single), and an unexpectedly pretty re-working of "Onward," a nearly forgotten footnote from Tormato.

As an added bonus, Keys features two new songs from the studio -- one ("That, That Is") of epic 19-minute girth, the other ("Be The One") a tighter 10 minutes. Neither is quite up to the old Yes standards, feeling somewhat pieced-together rather than flowing, but both still stand head and shoulders above the majority of the band's output over the prior decade.

While falling short of old glories, Keys to Ascension was the first spark in the end-of-the-century rekindling of a band that's been counted out time and time again, and defied those expectations every time.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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