YES 'Tormato' (Atlantic SC 19202)****½
I understand it has remained OK to like Genesis (which I don't) but it's not OK to like Yes (which I do, though no longer with the fine unfettered rapture they drew from me about five years ago). Attitudes have been struck, battle lines drawn and the situation has a regrettably fixed and immutable look to it. So may I suggest that 'Tormato' is a very good Yesalbum for Yesfans, and if any of you pass 'Go' on that roll of the dice, collect the next 700 words. The rest of you can go straight to the jail of prejudice.
Nine tracks. The 'Fragile' economy and self-control. All five Yespersons writing. Very much a unified band album for the first time since 'Close To The Edge'.
The title and cover are further clues to its character. The band shied tomatoes at the original arty picture presented for their consideration, and here it is, complete with vegetable decoration. An actual Yesjest. What's more, these qualities of joviality and exuberance spread themselves into the music. Particularly in a track called 'Arriving UFO' they are positively jocular, with Wakeman and Squire producing grandiose effex in clownish mockery of past pomp, and Anderson processing his voice into cosmic gobbledegook which makes him sound hilariously like Miquette Giraudi.
'Future Times/Rejoice are bracing openers. Stirring explorations on synthesiser and drums (Alan White's sound nicely splashy) lead into an Anderson vocal which inevitably includes the word 'universe' in the first line, but, irrespective of sense, rides the dazzling sound surf of Yesinform with bravura. Squire's playing is colossal, I noticed on my first spin. By the time I'd reached the end of the album, I'd realised that was true for every track, so take it as read from here on. Great girders of profundo twanging with hints of fuzz and wah-wah giving it more 'voice'.
Steve Howe surfaces on the next track, the single 'Don't Kill The Whale'. He saves it from potential heavy-going with some pungent guitar which harks back to George Harrison's muscly tone on 'Revolver'. No frantic virtuosity, he just plays it very hard and strong while Wakeman adds to the entertainment with some hurdy-gurdyish synthesising.
All this is pretty flamboyant stuff, and the following two minutes of 'Madrigal' are little more than a tranquil interlude of Wakeman medievalry and Anderson romantic optimism. A fragment. The side closes with 'Release, Release', one helluva track. It's the thoughts of Jon Anderson on the subject of rock, a sermon which might set eyelids drooping but for the thundering Yesboogie with which they illustrate his views. Heads-down physical it is, mindless it isn't.
Yes SF is the theme at the start of the second side, the band's response to the inspiring fantasy of 'Close Encounters', it would seem. 'Arriving UFO' bleeps out into 'Circus of Heaven', which is the one more or less dud track on 'Tormato'. It's the story of a celestial circus coming to a mid-western town on The Very Last Day. With no convincing tune and ha half-hearted hint of reggae, the tin lid of ungainly sentimentality clangs down on it when an infant voice complains that the circus was 'OK, but there were no clowns, no lions, no tigers...'
Swiftly, 'Onward': a Chris Squire love song, the calming balm on this side, but far more substantial than 'Madrigal'. Yes take it slowly and gracefully with Anderson down from the stratosphere for as warm and personal a vocal as he has ever recorded. Tenderness is not quite the Yesweknow, and this is no classic knee-melter, but it shows they can still extend their scope in appealing ways.
With the swashbuckling flourish which typifies 'Tormato', they close on the most vibrant track, perhaps one at last to rival 'Roundabout'. 'On The Silent Wings Of Freedom' has Squire stretching a bassline over a Thor's Hammer of a drumbeat from White and doing it with luxuriant relish until Wakeman and Howe come buzzing in with evident excitement and Anderson begins singing ecstatically at the top of his range. A challenge to Yeshaters. Listen to this one without smiling and leaping about inside your skin.
I think I've praised the musicians adequately in transition. Somehow they all reached a new peak in their playing as a band for this recording, supported by their own co-production. But you may have caught a few critical undertones on Jon Anderson. They refer solely to his lyrics, which are generally as opaque as ever. Despite his always friendly Lancashire accent, I can't take his didactic, finger-waving approach. He's too much the instructor to teach or share his experience verbally. The solution is simple though: don't make the effort necessary to hear the words, and the distinctive beauty of his voice makes all the meanings you need. The great leap forward in the Squire/White partnership seems to have refreshed him wonderfully.
As I said, way back when it was 2am, I've gone off this kind of music really. But Yes have transcended 'this kind of music'. In its own way, 'Tormato' is as pleasing and decorous a comeback as 'Some Girls' was for the Rolling Stones.
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