By Alex Driessen:
I’ve always thought “Relayer”, Yes’s seventh studio album from 1974, was an underrated album. For me, on the other hand, it is firmly in my top 3 of best Yes albums of all time, along with successor “Going For The One” (GFTO) from 1977 and “Drama” from 1980. Not altogether coincidentally, a trio of successive albums from the mid to late 1970s.
Maybe it’s because at the time of release I was at that tender age when impressions make a lasting impact on you. Whether it was the girls, the booze, a first (and immediately last) smoke, or that coveted new album by my favorite band. It all started with that fantastic live triple album “Yessongs”, after which “The Yes Album”, “Fragile” and “Close To The Edge” (CTTE) were devoured retroactively. “Tales From Topographic Oceans” (TFTO) turned out to be a more difficult hurdle to overcome, but I managed to stick with it and never let go. But “Relayer” was and remained a favorite. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the jazz-rock influences and the playing of new keyboardist Patrick Moraz, which was much closer to this music movement. And finally after a few years my preference also lies with this particular type of music, in addition to my eternal love for progressive rock, of course.
The aforementioned Moraz replaced Rick Wakeman, who had left Yes for the first (and not the last) time after the release of disappointing “Tales From Topographic Oceans” (at least to him). It took some getting used to, the style of the Swiss was different from that of the Brit, but it soon became clear that he stood his ground behind the battery of keyboard instruments. Furthermore, the line-up was similar to that on TFTO. The album was recorded at Chris Squire’s home studio in Surrey and mixed at Advision Studios in London.
It already starts with Roger Dean’s (gatefold) cover, completely in style with previous iconic album covers. This time even with real people, the changing of the guard took place in the fantasy realm in the mountains. However, the rattlesnakes are lurking, ready to place their deadly bite.
The opening track, the twenty-two minutes long The Gates of Delirium, immediately sets the tone. The sound explosion with the contrarian rhythms and the dominant and impressive guitar playing of Steve Howe. Hectic music especially, with the melodic bass lines of Chris Squire, the virtuoso keyboard playing of the aforementioned Moraz and the heavy metal sound of drummer Alan White. Lead vocalist Jon Anderson had a hard time getting himself heard, so vocally his part in this opening track is relatively limited. No, it’s Howe’s swooping dives, especially the use of the pedal steel guitar, that is characteristic of this album. After fifteen minutes it’s time to take a breath, the iconic Soon is the oasis of peace that is necessary to keep the balance. Again this Fender steel and Anderson’s heavenly vocals, I was forever sold.
The album has the traditional CTTE format of a full record side filled by one song and two songs jointly sharing the flip side. The first of those two is the super intricate Sound Chaser. The rhythm is almost inimitable, Squire’s bass guitar follows the melody line of Howe’s lead guitar to the millimeter, White’s fanatical drums and the electronic sounds from Moraz’s keyboard arsenal complete this song. Which is so complex in nature that it makes the musicians of the current Yes line-up shit their pants at the thought of having to play this song live. Here we have also a break halfway, Anderson gets the floor for one of his more esoteric moments. Which is soon gone, succeeded by a piece of symphonic jazz-rock of the highest order. The chants at the end set the stage for a final sprint in which Moraz in particular excels.
Funnily enough, the last song, the melodic Howe penned To Be Over, has remained my favorite song to this day. Perhaps as a counterbalance to the hectic jazz-rock sympho of the other tracks. But don’t think that this only concerns the soft side of Yes, the song has a nice balance between ebb and flow, which is so typical of Yes’s classic songs. After a harmonious vocal start, Howe takes up the slide guitar once again, followed by a rousing solo on his Fender Telecaster. The next piece is symphonic rock in its purest form, thanks in part to Moraz’s keyboards.
When I listened to the album, this feeling of long forgotten times came over me again, the excitement about the music, the lyrics that I can (and would) sing along to, word for word. The teenager in me (tucked away far and deep) occasionally surfaced, a wonderful trip down memory lane.
This line-up would not last long, Moraz would already leave the field before the next album, “Going For The One” from 1977. To make way for… Rick Wakeman, back on the old nest. A series of extremely successful performances would follow in which these guys, at the height of their fame, would play major soccer stadiums in the US and the UK. A must in this regard is the performance at the Queens Park Rangers Loftus Road stadium in London in 1975. This show was recorded and later released as a DVD under the name “Yes: Live – 1975 at Q.P.R.” Soon would later make its appearance as a single, the DeLuxe edition from 2005 contains both this song and a ‘single edit’ from Sound Chaser plus an interesting so-called ‘studio run through’ from Gates. For the real fan.
Yes would not visit Holland during the aforementioned tour, so the songs have never been heard live in the Netherlands. Hopefully that will change in 2023. Hopefully, because the gig, originally scheduled for 2020, has already been rescheduled twice. Then I can finally enjoy an integral live version of my beloved “Relayer”, then 48 years old. About time.
After all your soul will still surrender
After all don’t doubt your part
Be ready to be loved
© Alex Driessen 2022