If this is progressive rock, how come Wakeman repeatedly falls back on his classical training, throwing in a baroque bit here and a synthesized trumpet flourish there? More nostalgic than innovative, Wakeman and Anderson pine for "a distant life/Covered in greens of a golden age," as they describe it in "Madrigal," a prissy little pastoral song set to the cloying strains of a harpsichord. Even an ostensibly prophetic number like "Future Times" peers back over its shoulder to a time when the mythical Dantalion will ride again. No doubt Yes' cloudy cosmology contains a rationale for such circularity: "Roundabout" is the band's signature tune, after all, and on the new LP, Anderson pipes, "We go round and round and round and round/Until we pick it up again." But such a perspective is not particularly forward-looking. Indeed, Tormato's jumble of fairy tales and flying saucers, so tritely typical of progressive rock in general, recalls the deliberately childlike vision of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which director Steven Spielberg has always wanted to end with "When You Wish upon a Star," the theme song from Walt Disney's television show. Tormato salutes the Spielberg classic (as well as Star Wars) with a bouncy track entitled "Arriving UFO." Progressive? Hardly. Call it regressive rock.
Still, the record has its charms. One of these, a pleasurable piece of cotton-candy reggae called "Circus of Heaven," is Yes' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." Yet there's something missing even here, as Anderson's young son Damion points out at song's end. After Dad has dithered on about "Seven solemn flying silvered regal horses" and the like, he turns and asks the boy, "Was that something beautiful, amazing, wonderful, extraordinary beautiful?" "Oh! it was OK!!" answers Damion the realist. "But there were no clowns, no tigers, lions or bears, candy-floss, toffee apples...." No matter how meaty instrumentally, Yes' music has always sounded somewhat insubstantial because Anderson's rarified words offer nothing palpable to sink your teeth into.
"And precious little rock & roll," Damion might have added. One cut on Tormato, "Release, Release," proclaims that "Rock is the medium of our generation," but the tune's tempo changes are too jittery to deliver the title's promised catharsis. What's more, there's a passage here during which an overdubbed audience whistles and cheers as drummer Alan White and then guitarist Steve Howe solo with such apparently deliberate simple-mindedness that they seem to be declaring their contempt for rock music and their own fans. Throughout Tormato, Anderson, whose cumbersome mouthfuls of verse frequently defy scansion as well as comprehension, trips up the rhythm with arbitrary accents or awkward extra syllables. It's as if he believed that oddness equaled art, or, in any event, that a joy as simple as fluent rock & roll could never aspire to so exalted a condition.
Whereas Jon Anderson appears always to be striving for the eccentric effect (and Rick Wakeman to be stooping to a hackneyed one), bassist Chris Squire is still emotionally as well as aurally affecting. It was Squire who originally founded Yes with Anderson, and now, ten years later, he alone makes the group worth listening to. His rangefrom a squat rumble to a high, mellow humis remarkable, and he summons up a different tone for every occasion. Often his entrances are so dramatic that everything that follows is anticlimactic. By far the most exciting stretch of Tormato is Squire's lengthy solo introducing "On the Silent Wings of Freedom." His sonorous harmonics and the crackling tension he whips up suggest not only that he's been listening to Weather Report's Jaco Pastorius, but also that he's in an entirely different league from that of his cohorts. If they had his imagination, Tormato wouldn't be rotten.
(Posted: Dec 28, 1978)
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