By the late Sixties, rock festivals had become explicit science fiction landscapes, and groups began to produce program music for drug-inspired futurist fantasies. But it wasn't until the current decade that rock bands began to institutionalize sci-fithe utopian idealism of such Sixties sci-fi masters as the Jefferson Airplane was replaced by the dispassionate technology of Led Zeppelin and Yes.
These bands saw themselves as component units of a record industry that had mutated its psychology and become a quasi-totalitarian science-fiction setting itself. Festivals were eliminated in favor of controlled indoor arena programs where virtuoso instrumental technique (Jimmy Page/Steve Howe, John Paul Jones/Rick Wakeman) and scifi-inspired fantasy lyrics (Robert Plant/Jon Anderson) became fundamentals.
Yes has always represented the lighter side of this process, its members trying to project themselves as organic, life-affirming good wizards as opposed to Zeppelin's demonism. This was especially true of their music, which was programmatic in its tonal airiness (especially Anderson's voice and Howe's guitars) and in the intricacy of its often classically inspired arrangements. They didn't nail this image down until Fragile, the first album to use illustrator Roger Dean's visual images of their cosmic programs. The group's style changed at the same time, when keyboardist Tony Kaye was replaced by Rick Wakeman and his overbearing flash.
Yes had solved its programming goals, but like all closed systems it was subject to entropy. As the band continued to run through the possible program readouts, less and less creative energy became available and Yes sank into cosmic torpor.
Going for the One reverses this process in a fascinating move that ties the band even more closely to Zeppelin. The title track is the most vital piece of music Yes has recorded since The Yes Album, opening with Howe's fiercest guitar playing in years, a gutwrenching slide pattern pinned down by Alan White's straight-ahead rock drumming. Howe's tone is darker here than it's ever been, and the newly returned Wakeman refrains from throwing wholesale Bach clips into the arrangement, instead using his keyboards for tasteful fills and added texture. Even Anderson's normally squeaky voice is a lot less stylized than usualhe actually sounds like part of the band. He even includes a few self-critical lines:
Now the verses I've sang
Don't add much weight to the story in my head
So I'm thinking I should go and write a punch line
But they're so hard to find
In my cosmic mind
A sense of humor is the last thing I expected from this band. Anderson goes on to sing percussive, four-syllable couplets over Howe's wobbling electric guitar, a totally Zeppelin-like trick that works extremely well.
"Turn of the Century" is more typically Yes, a mostly acoustic cameo about a sculptor trying to preserve the memory of his lover in a piece of art. "Parallels" uses Wakeman's church organ to good effect and features another gritty guitar solo. "Wonderous Stories" and "Awaken" are more fantasy/sci-fi mythologizing, with Wakeman playing nicely layered Polymoog backing on the former and Howe adding Page-like guitar (while White slugs out John Bonham-like garbage-can drums behind) on the latter.
By letting the Chris Squire-Alan White rhythm section construct a bottom for Howe's guitar, and by using Wakeman's unquestionable keyboard talent intelligently, Going for the One takes the right step toward downplaying Anderson's conceptual stranglehold on the band. Entropy can work to your advantage. You just have to be selective about where the energy is taken from.
(Posted: Sep 8, 1977)
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