Already veterans of the London psychedelic scene, their determination to be the best...
Chris Jones 2002
From the ashes of British psychedelic whimsy they came - five young men with serious intent and the musical chops to prove it. Were Yes bona fide pioneers, melding classical ambition and structures to pop dynamics, or merely pretentious lads with an over-developed sense of their own importance? The answer is, of course, both. But theirs is a career that's been too long attacked for its pompous excesses (in truth, nothing more than unwieldy stage sets and an inability to cut a song short after ten minutes). This fine collection comes at a time when - with bands as diverse as Air and Radiohead finally owning up to their debt to Prog - the critical smoke has cleared enough for us to attempt a more level-headed debate.
Five CDs is a huge bite of the prog apple to take, but when you've been around as long (and in as many guises) as Yes it's only fair. Chronological running order takes us from the days as Marquee favourites - with their combination of jazz timing, Beatles tunesmithery, Crosby, Stills and Nash harmonising and a strange love of Western theme tunes - to days of reunion and reconciliation. Already veterans of the London psychedelic scene, their determination to be the best was obvious. Despite the first two albums brimming with good things such as Bill Bruford's deadly paradiddles, Chris Squire's pin-sharp Rickenbacker bass and musical gems such as ''Astral Traveller'' and their version of the fab four's ''Every Little Thing'' it wasn't until the addition of ex-Tomorrow player Steve Howe that they achieved their first great effort - known helpfully as The Yes Album.
Following the addition of the caped keyboarder, Rick Wakeman and their own visual style courtesy of unofficial 6th member Roger Dean, the band had all the ammo it needed to blow detractors away, and tracks from Fragile, Close To The Edge, Relayer, Going For The One and even the much-maligned Tales From Topographic Oceans all point to a band that was at its absolute peak. Especially in terms of an ability to make the vaporous lyrics of Jon Anderson (what exactly is a ''seasoned witch''?) into a very corporeal slice of rock. From ''Roundabout'' to ''Gates Of Delirium'', even more line-up changes couldn't dim their fire.
Even with a compilation this size favourites are bound to be missed and it would be dishonest to say that CDs 4 and 5 hold the attention as well as the previous three. The sense of youthful striving becomes lost as the history becomes increasingly convoluted. However once through the questionable Buggles/Trevor Rabin periods it becomes obvious that they've returned with sense of purpose, reminiscent of past glories. Tracks from recent albums such as The Ladder and Magnification stand up well. Steve Howe's guitar can honestly be said to remain in a constant state of refinement and one can only applaud their refusal to be bowed down by contemporary trends in order to retain the very otherworldliness that their fans adore. Along with unreleased tracks the box comes lavishly packaged with a cover featuring the best artwork Dean has produced in an eon. In a word -marvellous.
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