(All Album Reviews by Sean)
Next up for discussion/dissection the latest release from Yes, Magnification. This album is the band's second attempt at making a LP with an orchestra. The first was way back on their second album, Time And A Word. This time around things are different thanks to the passage of time and the way the orchestra has been integrated into the compositions. I’d say Magnification has more in common with bassist Chris Squire’s excellent solo LP (with orchestral touches) Fish Out Of Water than with Time And A Word. Yes has always had an orchestral sound so this isn’t too much of a stretch. In fact it’s interesting to hear them truly get that sound the natural way, it fits the music well this time around.
You may be wondering if this album is a direct follow up to 1999’s tepidly received album The Ladder. Good news is it’s a different beast. The key words here are 'sonic depth'. Magnification’s whole sound is different. By replacing the keyboardist with an orchestra (this album was done as a four piece band this time around) the band's timbre changes dramatically. All of a sudden the familiar ingredients in the Yes formula have a freshness due to the contrast the orchestra brings. Of course that alone would not be a formula for success. Good songwriting is a must as well. Overall I think Magnification delivers in that department fairly well, just don’t expect a rehash of classic Yes or prog rock inspired whiplash time changes. This is a little more mature than that, though there’s a bit of prog in the mix, sure.
Jon Anderson originally touted this album as a CD long song/album along the lines of Tales From Topographic Oceans. "Ambitious and sprawling". Magnification does not live up to that lofty goal, but is still a good Yes album nevertheless. While it is an hours worth of songs of various lengths, there is good continuity, especially if you skip track number three, the blatantly commercial song on the album, “Don’t Go”. It flows well from track to track. Musically it’s a fairly very rich mix. The best songs are the longer ones, the ones given some time to cover a variety of musical terrain.
Steve Howe turns in some beautiful acoustic work on Magnification. It seems it just gets better and better over the years. The blend of it with the orchestra is a very nice sound. These songs were written so that the orchestra fits into the arrangements rather than sounding tacked on after the fact like on so many band/orchestra releases including the elevator-esque Symphonic Music Of Yes. That’s a good thing, this whole idea wouldn’t fly otherwise.
One of the standout tracks is the title track "Magnification”. It opens things with some nice layered acoustic work from Howe. Next Anderson’s vocal enters and for a moment it seems like it could just be another standard Yes outing. Instead, the orchestra arrives a moment later with a loping kind of groove that recalls Jethro Tull more than Yes; a nice twist and a good way to get things off to an upbeat start.
Next up, probably the heaviest riff oriented tune on the album, “Spirit of Survival”. It conjures up a quasi-serious tone that is ominous and strangely similar to the theme to some spy movie. Howe plays some cool atonal licks here and there. The orchestra’s brass really adds to the heavy vibe here. There are some nice ethereal moments here that contrast sharply with the heavier moments.
Also noteworthy is the 10-minute track, “Dreamtime”. This is my favorite cut on the album. It’s the first really uptempo groove the band has penned in a long time and it sweeps the listener right along. The best bit is the instrumental section that kicks in around the four-minute mark. Lots of cool twists and turns. The other 10-minute number, “In The Presence Of” is also a good one and featured some of Howe’s classic slide work. This number builds in a way that reminds me a bit of “Starship Trooper”.
There are a few shorter tunes on Magnification as well. The best of the bunch is a little song called “Give Love Each Day”. It opens with a couple minutes of orchestral themes and then rises to an infectious chorus that would fit well on Going For The One or something from that era. Chris Squire finally gets to sing a lead vocal on this album as well, the short XYZ leftover “Can You Imagine”. “Imagine” is one of the best pop moments on the album. It’s always great to hear Squire’s voice. Close your eyes and tell yourself it’s a FOOW leftover. You just might believe it.
In closing. I would not compare this album to Yes’ classic albums from the 70’s. It’s more in line with the band's late 90’s output since Howe returned. Of those albums I’d say it’s one of the better ones. Probably the best along with the Keys to Ascension cds, though it’s different. The orchestra casts a fresh light on the album and gives the listener more to sink their teeth into.
If you are not a fan of 90’s Yes this album won’t change your mind. If you are a fan of all the sounds Yes make and love albums with great production, this will be right up your alley, the sounds are really clear and fat. If you don’t like Anderson’s new agey lyrics, keep moving- about a third of this CD's lyrics are of that ilk. But if you want to hear the Yes sound recast, give Magnification a try……
(All Album Reviews by polska)
I cast my mind back to a more innocent age. It's the mid-1970s and I'm at home, playing truant from school. But it's OK, I'm on an important mission. A holy mission, even. Education can wait. For I await an ominous visit.
The doorbell rings and two hirsute young men - also taking polite leave of absence from their dreary studies - enter the house with curt nods. The 'Yes Men', I call them. They both carry identical tan knapsacks with distinctive curled logos - in the shape of a word that simply means 'agreement', lovingly crafted in coloured pen - emblazoned on them. An official meeting of the Yes Club is in session.
Out of the knapsacks spill the complete works of Yes - up to Tales from Topographical Oceans, that is - and the solo albums to date of the members of that illustrious band. Needle hits vinyl and a long listening session ensues in reverential silence from the esteemed members of the club. After listening, analysis.
Something like this: the earliest Yes albums are sweet and earnest. The Yes Album prepared us. Fragile and Close to the Edge ... well, we're just not worthy. Tales ... not sure yet, working on it. Let's leave the 70s.
Through the years ... the beers ... the tears ... the club no more. Relayer, fancy stuff - but Patrick who? From where? Going For The One, that's more like it. Tormato, squash it ... and quickly. Then nothing.
The Ladder? Heard of it - not heard it, mate.
Yesterday I bought Magnification by Yes. On CD ... I know, I know. Played it. Twice. Had to. Liked it so much the first time, actually. Anderson, Howe, White (I'm a HUGE Bruford fan but Alan has become THE Yes drummer) and Squire. And on top form, too. No keyboards - instead orchestral arrangements. But forget any idea of some half-witted classical ensemble stodgily sawing it's way through some cut-price renditions. The orchestral touches are top-flight and add genuine value to strong performances from the band.
And, yes, there are a couple of 'poppy' songs. But they're good and remember that the first two Yes albums were pop, but good pop. But there are some longer-form tracks that put Yes back at the top of their game. "Dreamtime" is one. I rest my case.
If you're in doubt, if you feel Yes have let you down over recent years, if you think they're too old to hack it. Don't. Get Magnification. It's MAGnificent.