Tuesday, December 1, 2009



War. What is it good for? Absolutely nuthin’ (say it again). Or, in the case of Yes and Relayer, a good topic for their special brand of conceptual epic. Not to mention a relevant topic in 1974 (as the Vietnam war still raged, albeit with a dwindling U.S. presence) compared to, say, the ancient Indian spiritual scriptures Yes explored on their previous album, Tales from Topographic Oceans. On that particular outing, the boys suffered an all-out assault from critics who accused Yes of over-indulgent musical dithering. So, with new keyboardist Patrick Moraz recruited for his pyrotechnic, music-as-sound-effect technique, Yes threw subtlety right out the window and ratcheted up the intensity level. Think of it as Yes on steroids. Take the epic side-long track, “The Gates of Delirium.” It’s basically the soundtrack to the World War of your choice. Bombs exploding. Bullets flying. People dying. Fun stuff. Kicking off with a flittering, skittering instrumental section similar to the opening sequence of earlier Yes epic “Close to the Edge,” we’re soon inspired by lead vocalist Jon Anderson’s clarion call to service:

“Stand and fight, we do consider
Reminded of an inner pact between us
That’s seen as we go
And ride there
In motion
To fields in debts of honor defending”

With forces sufficiently marshalled by Anderson, Yes leads us into the horrors of battle – a nightmarish musical landscape of squealing, squawking, screaming, searing guitars and synthesizers feverishly strafing the eardrums. It amounts to a blitzkrieg of atonal sonic fury, all to drive home the point that war is a nasty business indeed. This section is not an easy listen, but it definitely gets your attention. When the fighting finally stops, the smoke gradually clears and peace prevails, the music slowly segues into a soft symphonic minor-key finale, as Anderson’s angel-from-on-high voice reappears amidst the carnage:

“Soon oh soon the light
Pass within and soothe this endless night
And wait here for you
Our reason to be here”

This sweet, sad, mellotron-drenched section ends on a lone ascending note, suggesting mankind must reach high for the light (which always seems just beyond reach). Things don’t exactly let up with the following track, “Sound Chaser.” If the critics didn’t like the slow, methodical tide of Topographic Oceans, then Yes would take a more in-your-face approach here – a chaotic explosion of keyboards, pumped up with intensive, speed-of-light riffing by guitarist Steve Howe and bassist Chris Squire, dripping with King Crimson-meets-Mahavishnu Orchestra influences. This jazzy/fusionistic workout (punctuated by Howe’s mad electric flamenco guitar interlude) is unlike anything Yes had done previously – or would ever do again. Relayer concludes with the kinder, gentler “To Be Over,” slowly fading in like gently cascading waves as Howe’s simple guitar lines evolve into layers of lush keyboards and choir-like vocals. It’s almost as if Yes is saying “Sorry we blew your brains out with those other two tracks, please allow us put your head back together with this tune…” It’s actually one of the more gorgeous and melodic pieces in the Yes canon. Housed in yet another fantasy art cover by Roger Dean, Relayer has assumed legendary status over the decades – considered by some as the final masterpiece of the classic ‘70s-era Yes. And, sadly, Relayer is still very relevant in 2009. After all, we’re still hearing a lot about war these days, aren’t we.

Essential Tracks: Best to hear Relayer as a complete musical statement.


  1. Gary, an excellent assessment as usual. Certainly one of my fav Yes albums. Thought the lyrics to To Be Over were poetry as the needle moved into this track on my cinderblock-supported-dorm-room-turntable. Love the KC Vishnu mash-up observation. Funny, I would either crank the crap out of this lp or put on the headphones. Either way, it rocked. Thanks for putting those songs back in my head. Time to fire up the remaster CD I have.

  2. Killer review Sarce as usual..man that was a different album..Moraz did make it intense. This one got Closer To The Edge.

  3. About as intense as Yes ever got! Moraz brought a unique flair to the keyboards on this one.

  4. If you're introducing Patrick Moraz to the blog, you've got to follow Rick Wakeman in his post-Yes years, right? Would love to see your reviews of his conceptual work - King Arthur & the Knights of the Roundtable, and Journey to the Centre of the Earth.