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Friday, November 25, 2011

Yes: Tormato

Yes' 1978 album Tormato is one of the most controversial from their classic years. Following Rick Wakeman's re-joining the band and the release in 1977 of their monumental Going for the One album, the release of Tormato the following year produced consternation among Yes fans. Gone was the trademark album-side-long composition and also missing was a certain grandeur which had characterized Yes albums since Fragile. This was obviously a band in transition, and fans were puzzled about where the band was heading. The band themselves may have been similarly puzzled--Did the smashed tomatoes on the album cover reveal the band's own opinion of the album? Were they wearing shades on the album cover because they wanted to go incognito to avoid being associated with the album? Presumably the answer to the foregoing questions is "No," but the fact that such questions circulated at the time is testament to the mixed reception which the album received.

Nevertheless, when I want to listen to Yes these days, I often turn to Tormato and its 1980 successor Drama. Tormato represents both a progression (!) from Yes' previous work and an indication of future possibilities for the band which were unfortunately not fulfilled, especially with the advent of Trevor Rabin in the 1980's. Tormato is as visionary as any of Yes' previous work. It is more of a mixed bag, perhaps because it is more of a group effort than their prior work. There is more of a "rock" sensibility to the album--a greater propulsiveness in many of the compositions--which sets it apart from the more comprehensive, larger-scaled visions of previous albums.

"Release Release" is as good a rock song as the band ever did. Its uplifting energy rivals "Roundabout," though Fragile-era Yes was more startlingly original for its time in sound textures, musicianship and composition. "Future Times/Rejoice" is another great Yes rock song. Jon Anderson is in prime form lyrically and vocally on these tracks.

Sure, in this relatively mixed bag, there are a couple of missteps. "Circus of Heaven" has been criticized for being a bit too saccharine, and with some justification. "Madrigal" has some lovely moments, but seems somewhat unfocused overall. "Don't Kill the Whale" is obviously designed to be a radio single in order to popularize its message, but it's still a well-written, well-played song, even if it is more direct than Yes fans were accustomed to at the time. All small misgivings, really.

But the best parts of the album are really good, and they're primarily two: First, "Arriving UFO." Rick Wakeman has opined that "Arriving UFO" should have become a live staple for Yes, and that he regrets that it was not given more attention at the time. One can imagine this song favorably having a more developed arrangement and presentation, but it's still unique as is. The use of "sci-fi" sound effects by Wakeman and Howe gives the arrangement an almost "new wave" edge which presages Drama, even before Downes and Horn arrived on the scene.

Secondly, "On the Silent Wings of Freedom." As in "Arriving UFO," Jon Anderson's lyrics are moving away from their former obscurity and toward a more direct expression, which is served well by the somewhat more straightforward rock arrangement. This song also manages to combine progressive rock elements with more forward-looking neo-new-wave propulsiveness which could have opened up future possibilities for the band. In the event, Squire and Howe did carry on in this direction when Yes reformed for Drama. But one wonders what the "classic" Yes lineup could have done if they had carried on in this vein . . . .

At any rate, they did produce a terrific album which does not deserve the maligning which it still receives even today.

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