The practitioners of "progressive rock" have spent the past several years providing plenty of ammunition for the proponents of Good Old Rock & Roll. Most progressive rock has a drastically limited appeal, its initial glitter proving in the long run to be more technical bravado, and its lyrics some of the emptiest "poetry" ever. It can be nice tripping music, but it'll rarely get you high on its own. By and large, I'd be glad to sit around swigging beer, Ripple or whatever with anybody who's worn out 30 copies of "Louie Louie" in the last year... Read More
and we'd gouge the grooves out of every Moody Blues album we could get our hands on.
But count me out if Yes is the next "art" group to come under the blade. It's certainly true that there's no sweat in their music (as it appears on record at any rate; they move around pretty nicely onstage), that it's detached music, that it asks you to come in rather than assaulting your whole being like the best rock & roll.
As it happens, the negative implications of those qualities scarcely ever show up. Their music isn't at all sterile. Instead it shines with a freshness and crispness that doesn't seem likely to tarnish quickly. They're not a bit reticent in using synthesizer and studio, but Yes' technology is further removed from gimmickry than any similar band. They have a grasp of what it can do and how it can best be used, so that while their music couldn't exist without it, they never make the listener unduly aware of its presence. It's the sound, the effect, that ultimately strikes the senses and sensibilities.
The band firmly and beautifully manipulates the whole of its gargantuan sound, not only handling drastic dynamic contrasts with breath-taking ease, but also taking things from a taut, compressed, coiled-spring feel to spacious, expansive vistas. Every element is utilized to enhance or modify mood, and you never get the impression that a particular passage was included because Rick Wakeman just found a hot new sound on his Moog that they had to get in there.
But Yes' command of its resources rarely restricts, simply because they've got the feel. The bulk of the credit here must be given to Steve Howe, whose guitar usually takes the lead in establishing and developing the themes. His dexterous playing is a blend of studied musical ideas and an intuitive, flowing attack that belies the accusations of bland perfection that have been hurled at Yes from time to time. So even though singer Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, keyboardist Wakeman and drummer Bill Bruford (who has now moved over to the bizarre pastures of King Crimson) perform with more expertise than passion, the overall effect comes across with, if not a real looseness, the measure of freedom necessary to keep the control from becoming a constriction.
With Close to the Edge, their fifth album, Yes have formed a coherent musical language from the elements that have been kicked