Here’s the latest stop on my continuing tour of ‘70s progressive rock. As I’ve mentioned before, I treated this music with disdain when it was current: I thought of it as a place where grooves went to die, an often empty display of technical brilliance by people with much more talent than artistic judgment. But I began to reconsider it six or seven years ago when I bought a copy of Yes’s Fragile for one of my children, with the idea that it might be less harmful than the dour late grunge she and her friends were listening to—at least its vague mysticism was a more positive thing. She didn’t especially like Fragile, but I did, at least more than I had when “Roundabout” and “Long Distance Runaround” were inescapable.
This one is actually the fourth Yes album that I’ve gotten acquainted with over the past few years. I haven’t approached them in chronological order, and the others all came out after it: Fragile, Close to the Edge, and Tales of Topographic Oceans. So far it looks to me as if Close to the Edge is their masterpiece. The Yes Album is apparently the one where the group’s very distinctive sound came together fully, and it has some great moments. “Seen All Good People” (which includes the section which most people know from the radio edit, “Your Move”) is irresistible—in fact the radio edit was one of the few prog-rock songs that I genuinely liked during the genre’s heyday. This track, and the other two which made up side two of the original LP, seem to me equal to the group’s best work. However, I haven’t been able to get enthusiastic about the first two long tracks, “Yours is No Disgrace” and “Starship Trooper,” which, along with a skillful but undistinctive and very out-of-place folk guitar piece, made up side one. There’s nothing wrong with them, but I just don’t find them very affecting or memorable. In other words, there’s a really fine half-album here.