|Yes - The Ladder|
Label: Beyond Music
Cat. No.: 63985--78046-2
Total Time: 58:57
Reviewed by: Stephanie Sollow, August 1999
When so many bands become tired and repetitive after only two albums or so, it makes listening to new Yes a refreshing experience. Even if there are stylistic similarities to past work ... well, you really can't avoid that; Anderson has such a distinctive voice, a distinctive way of writing; Steve Howe has a distinctive way of playing guitar (or whichever instrument he chooses)...etc. Because of that, yes there is that element that makes this decidedly Yes. And through all their trials and tribulations, they are still making lively and interesting music.
I may not have been totally impressed with Open Your Eyes, and the faults I found in that one I don't really find here. There is breathing room, a clarity to the instruments, and a good balance between the instruments and vocals. It is a sonic delight, at least from that perspective. I know that this was one of the last, if not the last things Bruce Fairburn produced, and if nothing else, he has left on a high note. This a beautifully produced album ... perhaps I'm over using that word ... spectacular?
As hinted at, there are echoes of earlier material here, without sounding like rehash. Stylistically, it's probably closest to the Big Generator days...there is similar guitar and bass sounds...down to maybe Howe and Squire using the same instruments as then*. At least that's true of "Finally" (track 8). This isn't a criticism, as I like that period of Yes.
If "Homeworld (The Ladder)" - the opening track - were the sum of the album, this would be some of the best Yes in a while...it has all those elements - great keys, great solos by Howe,...Anderson's vocals...beautiful piece.
Fortunately, we are given an additional 10 tracks..."It Will Be A Good Day (The River)" follows next...bright, clear, open and airy without being lightweight. I rarely swear, but My God! This is a beautiful track. That's two here.
"Lightning Strikes" will be the song that will probably get the most "press"... Yes plays Caribbean music. Get out your fruit drinks, those little drink umbrellas, floral print shirts, ... sounds more Hawaii than Caribbean, doesn't it? Oh, well, it's a party man. The weird thought I had listening to this was it made me think of an 80's tune by a band called...what we're they called? Well, the song was "Belly of The Whale" - remember that? This has that kind of groove, only with a twist of Yes. It is the most upbeat track here...Yes as a dance band!
"Face to Face" is a bubbly rocker...bubbly in that Squire's fat base lines made me think of...lava bubbling and boiling...his bass is the most dominate part of this track, aside from Anderson's vocals.
"If Only You Knew" is the ballad, pleasant,...not quite power pop...this could easily be a single...Yes on Top 40 radio along side...Backstreet Boys...Mariah Carey...oh dear, that isn't a good thought, is it?...Starship. That's what this reminds me of. If Anderson fronted Starship... but really, it's better than all that makes it seem.
The track that works the least for me is the short "Can I?"... maybe because it doesn't conform to the notions of...well, the rest of the album and so will take a bit longer to absorb...well, there's a strange mix of ethnicities in it...truly world music, as you can detect influences from many cultures - not surprising given Anderson.
The criticism I can imagine that will be levied is it's pop slant...Yes are a long way from "Close to the Edge," but then, we're a long way from the 70's. Okay, "New Language" starts out with a classic Yes feel, due to Squire's bass, the Khoroshev's keys, and Howe's guitar. John Gabbard, my cohort here, felt that Khoroshev's keys were reminiscent of Wakeman's (overall).
The more I play this, and I've been playing it a lot today, the more I like it. Yes are fully set to move into the next millennium...and this album will set them up for another thirty plus years. This comes highly recommended.
*3/25/00: After the fact postscript: Of course, Howe wasn't a member of Yes for BG, it was Rabin on guitar. So, never mind what I said. Squire sounds as if he's using the same instruments as then.
[see also John "Bo Bo" Bollenberg's review - ed]
More about The Ladder:
Track Listing: Homeworld (The Ladder) (9:33) / It Will Be A Good Day (The River) (4:53) / Lightning Strikes (4:34) / Can I? (1:32) / Face to Face (5:03) / If Only You Knew (5:42) / To Be Alive (Hep Yada) (5:07) / Finally (6:01) / The Messenger (5:13) / New Language (9:19) / Nine Voices (Longwalker) (3:20)
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