Yes – The Yes Album (1971): Review

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Produced by Eddie Offord and Yes
Label – Atlantic

Having released a severely underwhelming psych pop self titled debut in 1969, their sophomore record (“Time And A Word”) contained the rudimentary progressive elements that would pave the way to the fully formed, sprawling, monolithic sound of their future. “Time And A Word” was also the point where divisive creative issues led to the first of many personnel changes. Guitarist Peter Banks objected to vocalist Jon Anderson’s insistence on continued use of string instrumentation, probably fearing they would become a second rate Moody Blues. He left, and was replaced by ex-Tomorrow virtuoso Steve Howe who was given license to use his expertise for longer, more exploratory passages. In addition, Howe was soon to become an integral part of the composition process, adding musicality to Anderson’s whimsical passages, Chris Squires forceful bass, and Bill Bruford’s jazz inspired rhythms. “The Yes Album” was an album that genuinely confirmed the direction of its predecessor, a complicated mass of musical invention and imagery, largely housed around Anderson’ s harmonic tenor. With six songs, three clocking in at nine minutes or more, there is of course some repetition (particularly lyrically), but overall it’s a huge step forward that would mark the band’s move from bit part players to major recording artists on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Undoubtedly, there are two pieces from “The Yes Album” that would remain part of their live repertoire for years to come. “Yours Is No Disgrace” sees keyboardist Tony Kaye and Howe aggressively tousling for attention, with Howe’s solo venomously inspired by the ongoing problems in Vietnam. By contrast, but just as vital, “I’ve Seen All Good People” with West Coast harmonies, upbeat rhythms and instrumental arrangements of unusual gaiety forming a useful contrast to the serious musicianship of the rest of the record. If there is a reservation, it’s the inclusion of the live solo acoustic recording, “The Clap”. Whilst Howe’s dexterous skills can never be questioned, it feels like the song was thrown in both to meet side one’s timing requirements, and an arrogant method of justifying his addition to the band, and overall adds nothing to the cohesion of the remaining songs. That said, there’s enough here to understand the reason why Yes had catapulted themselves as the deliverers of a benchmark recording in a fast developing musical genre.

“The Yes Album” is the fulfillment of every promise made on its predecessor, and although not the fully fledged prog rock classic one expected, it’s still a mighty leap forward. With a golden caped Rick Wakeman waiting in the wings, who knew what potential they held?

7/10

Track Rating
1 – Yours Is No Disgrace (8)
2 – The Clap (6)
3 – Starship Trooper (7)
4 – I’ve Seen All Good People (8)
5 – A Venture (7)
6 – Perpetual Change (7)

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