Here we examine the audacity of Yes. Wherein Tom Bombadil swims upstream once more ... Newsvine's own eternal salmon!
Year Released: 1978
Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5
By 1976-1977, the whole Punk ethos had invaded rock and roll, causing music critics, fad-followers, and trendy types to swoon, extolling the praises of "rebellious" non-musicians and heaping scorn upon "boring old dinosaurs" such as Yes.
"Punk" was supposedly all about non-conformity, alternative thinking, swimming against the tide, and having a fiesty attitude. How ironic was it, then, that "Punk" quickly became the new trend, the new fashion, and all bands and fans who did not bow down to the Punk altar or kow tow to the new thought police (aka snotty rock critics) were considered stupid, irrelevant, and urged to euthanize themselves?
In the late 1970s, Yes was having none of that. They refused to conform to the dictates of ROLLING STONE Magazine or CRAWDADDY or dowdy Dave Marsh and held fast to their own, unique ethic. Their reward, from the "elite critics" and the "rock intelligentsia," was to receive scorn and derision; criticism that still lingers, to some degree, to this day. It is amazing how some critics seem to neglect to mention that the Sex Pistols were created, Monkee-like, by a savvy entrepreneural impressario...their own private Mr. Ruben Kinkaid. "Anarchy" indeed.
A truly independant, intelligent person, after observing all of this, might ask, "Who were the real 'Punk Rockers'? Who were the real non-conformists? Who was really producing 'Alternative Music' in the late 1970s?" In fact, after examining history, it would seem that Yes was incredibly brave and possesed a rare integrity by not selling out or folding their tents. Instead, they issued a nice 1-2 punch with 1976's GOING FOR THE ONE and 1978's TORMATO that flew right in the face of the prevailing trends of the day (punk, and lest we forget, disco).
While most Yes fans would agree with me about the brilliance of GOING FOR THE ONE, many might tend to simply follow the popular notion that TORMATO is a bad album. That would be a mistake.
Upon closer inspection, there is a lot to like about TORMATO. In fact, some of the tracks here are worthy of being included in "the best of Yes." Allow me to make my case, please.
"Future Times/Rejoice" is a captivating suite that is bouyant and magical...a great big raspberry in the face of punk rockers. Alan White's drumming - some snazzy snare work - with an innovative martial beat really propels the track along...paired with Chris Squire's booming bass, it immediately served notice that Yes still had the most skilled rhythm section in rock and roll. Steve Howe's skittering guitar and Rick Wakeman's ethereal keys dance together in stunning interplay, creating a colorful soundscape that is overlaid with Jon Anderson's celestial voice and visionary lyrics.
Musically, "Don't Kill the Whale" is quite adventurous, cramming a ton of power, passion, and inventiveness into a relatively short time span. (This album, more than any other since TIME AND A WORD, featured shorter songs...but without sacrificing the band's virtuoso playing and arranging.) Some have criticized the lyrics of "Don't Kill the Whale" as being too heavy-handed. I don't know if that is fair; actually, the words are simply straitforward...but poetically stated. Again, the band is playing like a hurricane here. You try to play some of this music and you will find out quickly that mere mortals just can't hack it. No wonder the punks hated it.
Next up is "Madrigal." Howe's Spanish guitar picking is utterly lovely, and you gotta love Wakeman's chuztpah in using a harpsichord! ("Take that, Johnny Rotten! Eat my shorts, Kurt Loder!") The vocals and harmonies are lovely; the lyrics, on the other hand, are...well, let's just call them dada-esque.
It's time to rock and roll with the raucous "Release, Release," and again, Alan White steps up with a flamboyantly anachronistic drum solo ("Up your nose with a rubber hose, Paul Cook!") (Who is Paul Cook you ask? Exactly my point.)(Oh, he was the "drummer" for Sex Pistols, if you must know.)(Sorry for all the brackets.) Steve Howe cranks up a blazing guitar solo, and the band is off to the races.
I always try to be honest in my reviews, so the next song is a bit painful for me to report on: "Arriving UFO" is just not that great. The lyrics are a bit trite and there is just little melody or groove to hang your hat on...except for the outstanding instrumental middle section, which swings and cooks mightily, thanks to Howe's fiercely whacked out guitar solo. Too bad the beginning and end couldn't just be edited out.
Another stumble, and it's a biggie, is "Circus of Heaven." It's a nice try, but it's just so thin and a little bit cute and twee for its own good. It sounds like an unfinished demo and the band doesn't seem to all be on the same page together. Sorry to say.
The album regains its footing, however, with the stellar, lovely "Onward," which benefits from it's no-nonsense, approach. It's a lovely love song, perhaps the best love song in the entire Yes catalog. Chris Squire is all over this track, and he sings and plays wonderfully. ("Kiss my grits, Sid Vicious!") The orchestration is a perfect touch; not something you hear on the average Richard Hell & the Voidoids record.
Perhaps the highlight of TORMATO, and a definite Yes Hall of Famer, is "On the Silent Wings of Freedom," which rests on the tornadic force of Squire and White, with some ferocious solos from Howe and Wakeman...Squire, Howe, and Anderson provide topnotch vocals, and the arrangement is a heady brew of jazz, rock, and avante garde wailing.
For the special re-mastered CD edition of TORMATO, Rhino/WEA pulled out all the stops, giving us supersonic sound and a ton of interesting and, at times, outstanding bonus tracks. Rick Wakeman's backing ultra-English "commentary" on "Money" is absolutely inspired and hilarious, and the track swings with a jaunty jazz vibe...it's like the "Andrews Sisters meets Monty Python."
One wishes that the band could have had their original idea for a cover and title for the album restored ("Yes Tor" with a map motif) for this edition rather than the atrocious Hipgnosis designed splattered tomato and dumb title; but, this edition does accurately represent what was officially released back in 1979 in all of its gory red glory.
I consider TORMATO to be an indespensable Yes album. While it seems that some of the band members were unhappy with it, and fans are divided about it, I find it to be a brave and often thrilling statement that fought against the tide of what was trendy at the moment. Now that's rock and roll! Never mind the Sex Pistols, baby!