Monday, 21 July 2014

There's A Truth To Hear

Songs Of The Neptune

Whether its an extended piece or a miniature this project is all about songs and their inherent melody.

As I listen to the intriguing middle section of "Believe Again" I almost want them to cut it short and get back to the glorious central melody and chorus the opening song on the CD begins with.

"Believe Again" sets the instrumental tone a tight sound, out of which the guitar will emerge, sympathetic support from the rhythm section never distracting allowing the song to communicate its joyous central message but it is Geoff with his stabbing Leslie sounding keyboard which provides the big musical colour and atmosphere.  

Jon sings with the kind of charisma he displayed in the UK and RTB has ensured the voice has a warmth and deep timbre that enables him to soar in a completely musical way. Chris, like his singing live in the spring, sounds wonderful.

"I used to believe … the perfect way for a 45 year old band to start full of reminisence and journeys made but rekindled and reconnecting with themselves. Once more tonight indeed!

The melodies tumble out, the stately opening to "The Game" a great intro from Jon and a vocoder response before the band come in with a lovely looping beat. Alan plays the drums here like Ringo did with the Beatles, for the song rather than himself, and then Steve enters, beautifully lit, with small appropriate flourishes.  Geoff and Chris (with the association harmonies) offer the perfect support.

This is joyous uplifting music, more organic than a Horn production, and it is all about generating empathetic feelings from the listener rather than awe struck loyalty.

So where to now, the store has been set out and the risk taking starts. "Step Beyond" so appropriately named, begins with a playful light keyboard motif and  develops into a beautiful charming engaging sing along but with some Yessims thrown in before Steve states the melody and Jon croons the chorus. This is a far cry from the serious gods of yesteryear and shows deep into their career they are not afraid of having fun but in the most Yes way possible, bravo a real sign of maturity.

Up until now the arrangements have been entirely complimentary but with "Ascend" I am itching to hear the stripped down song with Jon on guitar which I believe is on the Japanese version, the band accompaniment is wall of sound and anonymous and sounds as if it does not quite click with the central performance of Jon.

Note October 2014

I have just stumbled across the Japanese version and stripped of the anonymous accompaniment, particularly the drums bass and piano, with Chris reinforcing some of the vocal lines with some nice unison singing it is far more communicative. It is shame the thinking on this wasn't reversed with the Japanese bonus being the "standard" version of the song and the global release the acoustic version.

If you are going for a project of songs you need stylistic bandwidth and after Ascend  "In A World Of Our Own"  a blues shuffle, fits well but again at its core is a strong melody and some charming counterpoint vocals from Chris. So whats this all about :-

"Whats right about a false evolution
Must be lonely playing God all the while
'bout time you hail a taxi for that ego
your in a world of your own

Methinks this is another moment about the band members view of each other.

The more I listen to the album the more it brings to mind latter day Beatles who from Pepper onwards, guided by Paul, were never afraid to embrace a wide range of styles offering the band as more than just a beat group. In the years since 1996 with Steve and Chris intact through out, Yes have become so much more than a stereo typical progressive rock band, some thing begun with JA and now continued by JD.

Thats not to say they lack musical ambition "Light of the Ages" is a sophisticated piece with a formal intro, refrains, stop offs and moody chord changes. But this is done with the confidence of 40 years of music making rather than out of the desire to show off with a lot of edgy playing. Curiously although written by Jon Davison it sounds like a piece which would have sat neatly into "Magnification" except it has a broader band sound scope and avoids the maudlin and dragging quality of some of that music.

Note June 2016 

On rereading my observations from two years ago whilst the logic of offering a variety of low key songs seems to make sense at the time, I have found going to the CD now that the four pieces beginning with Step Beyond really are too low key for a new line up trying to establish itself. As B sides or Bonus tracks maybe but the third piece on the CD, as it where the finish to Side A, should have been a big piece of music and Step Beyond/To Ascend/IAWOOO should have been left off. Light of The Ages is a nice construction and very musical but needs to be presented with a great deal more energy and personality. It is the sort of piece that an auteur producer like Trevor Horn would have made changes to so it was more dynamic and communicative and I am sure he would have strengthened  the main melody.

"It Was All We Knew" is a lovely summery miniature in the mould of "Hour Of Need" and sits nicely between two bigger numbers the final one being "Subway Walls".

My great fear for the band is they will be tripped up by their heritage and penchant for extended pieces of music. For me pieces like "New Language" on the Ladder are the result of contrived music making. However I have great confidence as Geoff co wrote this piece and it turns out to be one of the most successful extended pieces of the lasts 35 years.  The introduction sets up one of the key melodies and when Jon enters there is a nice example of jazz independence in the playing. Its playful, swings and features some exposed playing from CS and AW.  A lovely turn on the bass accompanied to clicked fingers and then Alan joins in the fun before a great timeless hammond solo from Geoffrey. No rolling arpeggios, it is more reminiscent of Graham Bond it leads down to a beautiful clean solo from Lord Howe. Just before it might wander off and go on and on the second melody returns, with Jon singing a couple of  verses  before the refrain which picks up on the intro melody and the piece finishes in a blaze of contrapuntal playing and singing well done Mr Buggle !!!

This is a Brave New World for Yes full of vitality, the songs are fresh and the band take risks broadening their approach but never falling off the edge. But even now the Beatles and The Association are with them.

Jon should be enormously proud of his song writing achievements and whilst he is a disciple of the singing Co Founder of the band he has opted for more direct imagery. There are echoes of "Down By The River" but there are no "Purple Wolfhounds" a wise move. What is clear however is this is music driven by a soul who has a spiritual dimension to their life and that I believe is why in the end this music, which is uplifting, positive and has a heart, has come from Yes central.