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Entry updated 30 May 2022. Tagged: Music.

UK prog-rock band, comprising vocalist Jon Anderson, guitarist Steve Howe (1947-    ), keyboard player Rick Wakeman, bassist Chris Squire (1948-2015) and drummer Alan White (1949-2022). Yes's brand of prog has always veered towards the mystic-cosmic-astrological, and music therefore that, however technically well-made, is often dippy and rather wet. It is true that they started as a harder-edged band (their 1969 eponymous debut album is full of a fierce guitar-edged energy), and there are some interesting sf tracks amongst their 1970s releases. The ten-minute "Starship Trooper", on The Yes Album (1971), is not based on Robert A Heinlein's novel, although it does spin a Pulp-like genre yarn. But more typical of the band is "Astral Traveller" (on Time and a Word, 1970). Certainly the cosmic perspectives of the group, and particularly of Anderson, veer towards the spiritual more than they encompass the scientific. Their music is also strongly associated with the cover art that Roger Dean created for them on the album Fragile (1971) and most subsequent releases. These tend to be images of fantastical and Alien landscapes, precariously tapering escarpments, sinuous rivers, odd-looking foliage and the like, rendered with an almost fauvist coloration. A great deal of Yes's music, particularly the instrumental pieces, inevitably evokes these science-fictional worlds; music that presents itself in terms of landscapes to explore rather than traditionally constructed pop songs. The sheer length of many 1970s Yes tracks is an important part of this spacious, open-ended aesthetic: for example the title track of Close to the Edge (1972), an adaptation of Herman Hesse's Siddharta (1922), lasts eighteen minutes; whilst "The Gates of Delirium", a version of Tolstoy's War and Peace to be found on Relayer (1974), is over twenty minutes long. And longest of all is the double album Tales from Topographic Oceans (UK 1973, US 1974) – in effect one continuous song, 83 minutes in duration, broken into four sections only by the exigencies of vinyl record technology. This work can usefully be seen as the ne plus ultra of prog-rock excellence, or idiocy, depending upon one's perspective. It is certainly a text unembarrassed about its own pretentiousness – the track titles tell their own story: "The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)", "The Remembering (High the Memory)", "The Ancient (Giants Under the Sun)" and "Ritual (Nous Sommes Du Soleil)". The trajectory here aims at a cosmic grandeur in which a Sense of Wonder and galactic scale have their place; but it sags often into ill-disciplined nonsense, bombast and a kind of aural doodling. The group reacted to the sprawl and indulgence of this period by changing their style to encompass shorter, more chart-oriented music. Whilst this often reverts to sf topics – for instance Tormato (1978) is greatly interested in UFOs – it is less distinctive and has a much lower cultural profile. [AR]


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