Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Yes Solo LPs

Following the tour that accompanied Relayer, the five current members of Yes '76 each released a solo LP (though the trend began before the departure of Rick Wakeman in 1974 with the aforementioned Six Wives of Henry VIII, the best of the Yes solo efforts. Wakeman would follow it up with the equally successful live LP, Journey to the Centre of the Earth.) Patrick Moraz was the first of the new line up to release a solo, The Story of I, in June 1976 (it was not his first solo release). The Story of I was a fusion of progressive rock and world music remarkably ahead of its time. 

Alan White's LP Ramshackled was released at about the same time. Though better than critics and fans alike gave it credit, the album sold poorly. The lack of a progressive slant and an odd mix of musical styles was poorly received. One song, though, with Jon Anderson in the vocal lead, is a beautiful and haunting track. The song, a William Blake poem called "Spring-Song of Innocence," was set to music by guitarist Peter Kirtley and could easily have fit Anderson's own solo effort Olias of Sunhillow.

We've learned over the years that a little Jon Anderson outside of Yes goes a loooong way, particularly if we're not on the same spiritual wavelength, but this album stands up after more than 40 years. The science-fiction fantasy, while quaint, is secondary to the layered vocal harmonies, swirling keyboard and acoustic-laden melodies. It makes for a heady, intoxicating listen, and a great example of what progressive means in the right hands. Olias of Sunhillow was a true example of a solo effort, with Anderson playing all the instruments. 

Squire's Fish Out of Water was another excellent entry into the prog canon and a unique opportunity to enjoy a true bass virtuoso. Squire's playing is impeccable on the 5 songs here, with able support from Patrick Moraz and Bill Bruford. Squire makes a courageous stab at the vocals, which somehow work, despite the questionable frontman stance. Real prog aficionados look to this as the best of the Yes solos. It is clearly the most accessible release excluding Wakeman's.

Finally, there's the guitarist's guitarist Steve Howe's effort (speaking of shaky vocals), Beginnings. The best thing about the first batch of Yes solo albums was that they allowed us to peer into the Yes compositional process. We could glimpse each of Yes' primary composers by themselves – as a prism separates light into colors. Howe's first album holds up over time with an energy and brashness that is rather stunning. One would have thought that here was the iconoclastic confounder of the Yes Stable, while instead, Howe proves a traditional songsmith. His voice, while appallingly bad, worthy of Yes backups and little more, is "forgivable" though one can imagine how exceptional the album would have been had Jon handled the vocals.

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