1.Beyond and Before, 2. I See You; 3. Yesterday and Today; 4. Looking Around; 5. Harold Land; 6. Every Little Thing; 7. Sweetness; 8. Survival
Best song: BEYOND AND BEFORE
Why, yes, I am reviewing Yes by Yes. Sorry, couldn't resist. Okay, fine, I probably could have resisted, but I didn't want to. Anyway, this is quite a nice debut album that both sounds exactly like what you'd expect early Yes to sound like and completely different from what they'd develop into. By that I mean that a lot of the group had a lot of the ideas that would turn them into the quintessential prog band, but they had yet to pull them all together. The real star on this album is bassist Chris Squire, whose bass is an important enough part of the sound that it can be considered a second guitar, but drummer Bill Bruford and guitarist Peter Banks' jazz leanings also come to the forefront. Bruford is simply one of the greatest drummers that's ever lived, and he's fantastic right off the back, and while Banks is no Steve Howe his work on this album is consistently enjoyable. Jon Anderson sounds just the same as he always will, with maybe a little more earthiness in his voice here (especially on "Sweetness"), but his lyrics hadn't developed their trademark style yet--there are no shiny flying purple wolfhounds or mountains coming out of the sky, but there are two honest-to-god love songs, "Sweetness" and "Yesterday and Today." I really enjoy both, actually, but they are better as anomalies in the Yes catalog rather than something they would do regularly. Unfortunately, there aren't a whole lot of nice things I can say about keyboardist Tony Kaye, who loves playing with his organ a little too much, if you get my drift. Hey, Tony, didn't your mother ever tell you that'll make you go blind? On the other hand, while none of his passages here make me sit up and take notice, he isn't actively annoying me on this one, so whatever. To me it's always sounded like he's trying to ape Deep Purple's Jon Lord, but doesn't quite have the composing talent to make his parts stand out, but again, he's mostly fine here.
The album gets off to a great start with "Beyond and Before," a song Squire had written with a member of his previous band, Mabel Greer's Toy Shop (fuckin' Brits), an excellent bass-driven jazz-rocker. Squire's bass is also the main feature of the closing "Survival," which definitely points the way to the future with its multiple sections. The segues between the rocking intro and the more subdued vocals sections are still a little choppy, but the song still works. The best lyrics on the album are on "Harold Land," about a guy who goes off to fight in a war. Great harmonies on that one, too (Squire and Banks both do a great job on backing vocals throughout, and Jon is Jon). It's a bit naïve, but it's still pretty moving, and it's the only song on the album where I'd consider Kaye's organ work to be anything close to inspired. Side one closer "Looking Around" isn't as immediately memorable to me as the others, but it's still an interesting groove, and I still ultimately like it--it's nice to find a debut album where there's nothing even remotely approaching a bad song! There's not really much more I can say about the aforementioned "Sweetness" and "Yesterday and Today," other than that they don't have the instrumental pyrotechnics of the other songs here, but don't really need them.
There are two covers here, too, of the Byrds' "I See You" and the Beatles' "Every Little Thing," both of which are completely transformed. "Every Little Thing" definitely belongs in the upper echelon of Beatles covers, and one of the few I can think of that I honestly enjoy as much as the original. I particularly love the extended intro, in which the band briefly riffs on "Day Tripper," and Jon does a great job on the vocals. I've never heard the original "I See You," to be fair, but it's hard to imagine that it's much like this! I kind of wish the band had kept doing covers later in their career, as they obviously had quite a knack for turning simple pop songs into long, artsy jams, although admittedly slightly derivative of early Deep Purple in their approach, although this may be because this is where Kaye's Lord-isms are most blatant to me (the fact that I'm the first person I know of to comment on this means that either I've stumbled onto something profound, or that I'm completely full of shit and you shouldn't listen to me. I'd like to think it's the former, but…).
Those who consider all prog and art rock, and Yes in particular, to be pretentious should really check this album out and see how wrong you are. You're wrong about it anyway, as later albums will bear out, but this is a good start to ease your way into the world of prog. It's not a stone-cold classic like several of the band's later albums, but it's certainly a worthy debut and well worth getting acquainted with, as four out of five members are already showing off their quite sizable talents, and Kaye doesn't really spoil my day either, plus the songwriting, even if it hadn't developed into the classic Yes style, is very strong. It probably won't be your first Yes purchase, but don't make the mistake I made and ignore it for a long time, either.