|1. Home World (The Ladder) [9:33]|
|2. It'll Be a Good Day [4:53]|
|3. Lightning Strikes [4:34]|
|4. Can I [1:32]|
|5. Face to Face [5:03]|
|6. If Only You Knew [5:42]|
|7. To Feel Alive (Hep Yeda) [5:07]|
|8. Finally [6:01]|
|9. The Messenger [5:13]|
|10. New Language [9:19]|
|11. Nine Voices [3:20]|
Music by Anderson/Howe/Sherwood/Squire/White/Khoroshev
Lyrics by Anderson
Jon Anderson: lead vocals
Steve Howe: lead and acoustic guitars, steel, mandolin and vocals
Billy Sherwood: guitars and vocals
Chris Squire: bass guitars and vocals
Alan White: drums, percussion and vocals
Igor Khoroshev: keyboards and vocals
Horn section on (3) by The Marguerita Horns
Tom Keenlyside: piccolo and tenor sax
Derry Burns: trumpet
Rod Murray: trombone
Tom Colclough: alto sax
Neil Nicholson: tuba
Produced by Bruce Fairbairn
Engineered and mixed by Mike Plotnikoff
Second engineer: Paul Silveira
Recorded and mixed Feb-May 1999
Mastered by George Marino June 1999
Probably the last new album from a big name prog act before 2000 will be Yes's The Ladder, due late September, and Yes have brought us a great way to round up the '90s. Yes, I've heard it, but, no, sorry, I can't do a tape for anyone.
The Ladder comes from a mature, confident and happy band. Without the scrabbling around for radio play or attempts to relive the seventies, Yes have managed to square the circle, to bring us something both new and 'Yessish'... and they play their flipping socks off. There may be a couple of false steps along the way, but I think this is a great album and many of you are going to agree... and many of you probably aren't. This isn't a safe album when it comes to pleasing the fans.
I listened to some of this album for the first time with someone new to Yes, although they knew of my obsession with the band all too well! She commented: "This isn't what I expected from Yes." I replied, "This isn't what I expected from Yes." This is an album with world music influences and an album that has learnt from new boys Sherwood and Khoroshev. There are still links to older Yes: I can hear Time and a Word, The Yes Album, ABWH and Keys to Ascension 2 in the mix, but I can also hear Anderson's Animation, Sherwood's The Big Peace, some reggae, some funk...
The Ladder is an album full of energy and creativity in the arrangements and playing. If there is a downside, it's that a few of the underlying songs are perhaps rather too genial and predictable, but I still constantly found myself captivated by the music. And this album is going to sound fantastic live: there are solo spots and band interplay galore; quieter moments and anthems; catchy choruses and encore fodder.
All the band are playing great, but it's perhaps the newer members where interest will focus. Contrary to early reports, Sherwood's vocal role is limited to a few backing vocals—and the album as a whole is rather sparse on backing vocals. There are some guitar parts that sound like Sherwood, although he is only rarely to the fore. If he is not performing all that much though, I still hear his influence strongly in some of the writing and arrangements.
As for the keyboards... Rick who? Khoroshev is resplendent: he's clearly forged a strong working relationship with Anderson and he's all over this album with tremendous playing. He often sounds rather like Wakeman, but more tasteful ;)
To go through song by song...
1. Home World (The Ladder)
The clip at YesWorld comes from the beginning and a few minutes into this track I think. Perhaps structurally the most complex piece on the album with contrasting but interrelated sections, it also comes across as having the most complete fusion of different writing input. In comparison, much of the album, group credited in the liner notes, appears to have a clearer main songwriter, usually Anderson, albeit then thoroughly pushed through the infamous Yes cheesegrater.
Squire has a riff that sounds like pure glam at one point, while I hear Marc Almond/Broadway show influences in a later vocal section—this will give you totally the wrong idea(!), but there are all sorts of things going on in this piece.
2. It'll Be a Good Day
One of three Anderson pop songs, but still with imaginative arrangements and some fantastic playing—for example there's a wonderful little guitar motif very low in the mix in the left channel about halfway through the piece. I would be overjoyed to hear this on Anderson's next solo album, even if it is not what I expected from Yes. Vaguely reminiscent of Rush's "Tai Shan" in its use of Chinese sounds contrasted with rockier parts.
3. Lightning Strikes
4. Can I
5. Face to Face
These three pieces from a small suite, although it appears that an earlier plan to explicitly describe them as such in the liner notes has gone.
"Lightning Strikes" is going to surprise everyone. You just gotta love its faux Disney/bossa nova piccolo opening (sadly omitted from the Web version), before the song moves into a sort of "Teakbois Part II" style. Tremendous playing.
"Can I" is a transitional piece between "Lightning Strikes" and "Face to Face". If "Lightning Strikes" is "Teakbois Part II", this is "Birthright Part II", complete with what sounds like a didgeridoo, perhaps played by Alan White after his recent work on one in a session for MerKaBa's second album? "Face to Face" rounds up the trilogy, continuing the hi-energy feel. Listen out for Anderson's "Come on, Steve!" low in the mix before one solo!
6. If Only You Knew
My least favourite track with a rather bland Anderson melody and lyrics, yet the band still pull some wonderful arrangements out of the song. Listen out for Squire's bass double-tracking Anderson's vocals.
7. To Feel Alive (Hep Yeda)
Very much in the vein of early '80s solo Anderson, "To Feel Alive" manages to have an infectious enough chorus to get you through the many repetitions of it! It does suffer from following a string of very up-tempo pieces; it is a relief to have some more dynamic variation in the next two pieces...
Open Your Eyes done right, with a rocking first half sounding like it comes from Sherwood and a slower second half based around Howe and Khoroshev (compare "Sign Language" on Keys to Ascension 2).
9. The Messenger
Something of an oddity, the best reference point I can think of is "A Venture", with a more narrative lyric... and perhaps a Drama feel to it?
10. New Language
An old-style prog epic and the track most likely to appeal to traditionalist Trooper fans. Khoroshev gets in some dazzling solos, beginning with his I'm better than Rick Wakeman presentation and later moving on to his I'm better than Keith Emerson section!
11. Nine Voices
A '90s version of "Your Move", complete with musical back references to the original. World music references are again strong, with the piece almost daring to sound like Shakti in the middle.
Henry Potts, 29 Jul 99, revised 9 Aug 99
Originally posted to alt.music.yes, alt.rock-n-roll.asia and rec.music.progressive.
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