In the beginning is the future

All right, I think I’ve refined my YES post so that it’s no longer full of crazy ranting (eg. “Cans and Brahms” – why did you do it, Rick Wakeman? WHYYY?) and is now more pertinent to where music intersects with my writing process.

Because that’s really why we’re here, right? For the writing process goodness? Sure we are.

(OMG, this ended up long and nerdy ANYWAY, despite all my best efforts. Proceed only if you really think you can handle it.)

Over the years, I’ve noticed patterns in my listening habits while I write. I tend to be something of a Musical Vampire: I like to put a single song on endless repeat for hours until I suck all the life out of it. This works well when I’m trying to maintain a mood in a scene or string of scenes, or for providing me with some sort of musical caffeine for long stretches of revision fiddles. I can’t pretend there are never casualties, however. There are songs I’ve drained dry of all goodness and sense, that I really feel no need to listen to ever again (but those songs were weak! WEAK! The truly robust songs live forever!).

When I’m starting a project, however, I find myself more drawn to whole albums. My theory (I always have a theory) is that the momentum of moving from one song to the next helps me maintain my own momentum. The idea at this stage of things, after all, is to write and keep writing, churn those bad pages out and fix them later.

When I started writing the final version of Seraphina (not the final draft, you understand; this book went through multiple complete plot overhauls), I listened to Images and Words (Dream Theater, prog metal) and Fish Out of Water (Chris Squire, solo awesomeness). This time around, I’m listening to two YES albums: Talk and Time and a Word (I blame you for the latter, els). It’s Talk I want to talk about, really.

Despite my early love of symphonies, I’m not generally sold on album-oriented rock. It’s not that I don’t have the patience for long-form music (although sometimes that’s true), but that it’s kind of rare for me to feel the whole album as a unit, with each of the songs informing and commenting on the others in some way. Sometimes there’s just a glaring fly in the ointment (looking at YOU, Rick Wakeman’s “Cans and Brahms“!).

I grant,  however, that no one does AOR like YES. When they’re on, they’re on. Drama, yes. Time and a Word, for sure. Relayer (I always forget I love this one!).  Tales From Topographic Oceans, even, although I understand it’s a bit much for some people. Conversely, they have some albums that don’t hang together well at all – strictly in my ex cathedra opinion, of course – albums like Tormato. I ripped three songs off the CD for my iPod, and that was one more song than was actually good (I have a soft spot for “Don’t Kill the Whale“, as I may have mentioned before).

As far as I’m concerned, the two big, platinum-selling albums of the Rabin years – 90125, and Big Generator – fall into that latter camp. I know “Owner of a Lonely Heart” was a big hit, but most of the songs are just kind of embarrassing. Big Generator generated what I truly believe are the worst lyrics ever, excerpted here from the song “Love Will Find a Way”:

Here is my heart, waiting for you,
Here is my soul, I eat at Chez Nous.

Bad Trevor Rabin! Bad! No biscuit for you!

It is something rather astonishing that Talk, Trevor Rabin’s last hurrah, is one of my favourite albums. I don’t know what changed, whether he absorbed some awesome during Union – which I don’t consider a Rabin album, but rather a rare and precious jewel that manages to be good AOR and have good stand-alone songs, simultaneously – or whether he understood that his days were numbered and said to himself, Aw hell, forget platinum chart-topping hits, I’ll just do whatever I want.

I suspect it was both. I suspect what we see in Talk is the YESification of Trevor Rabin. And that he turned out not to be a soulless 80s-bot after all. There’s a human there.

And that’s interesting, right? Which is why it’s one of my favourites. Same with Drama – it’s like we’re seeing the Platonic ideal of YES (whatever that is, exactly) through a new interpretive lens, and the result is something improbably magical (as opposed to those other two Rabin albums, which feel like YES chained to a post and forced to play their best facsimile of 80s music. They really do TRY, bless their little hearts).

*Whew!* That was an extremely roundabout (haha) way of getting to my point, which is this: Talk is a great album for starting a project to. It’s a whole bunch of songs about love and play and tearing down walls, all sandwiched between two great songs: an invocation at the beginning, a joyous calling upon the whole world as you set off on your road, and then at the end… I don’t even know what to call it. They call it “Endless Dream“. It’s beautiful, reverent, furious, heartfelt. Good music, kids.

Awesome album.

3 thoughts on “In the beginning is the future

  1. On a back channel, my friend Josh has informed me that I wasn’t nearly nerdy enough here. He’s finding YES rough listening, and would have been interested in a more detailed analysis of what they’re actually doing.

    I suspect he may be alone in that, but he’s also made me THINK (always dangerous) and I have conceived a new post, analysing a single song and trying to tease out it’s essential YESness. I think that can be done, even by someone like me who tends to value subjective interpretation over empirical analysis. But I don’t have time to write it today, and I suspect everyone else is bored after three YES posts in a row. So give me a week or two, Josh, and I’ll sneak it in there for you.

    In the meantime, I leave him with this parting thought, which may or may not help in his listening: I think of YES’s music as being very much about timbre and texture, and fitting those together in interesting ways. It’s very like orchestral music that way, to my mind. I know “texture” isn’t normally something one listens for – and it’s a bit like saying, “Wow, that food had an interesting texture!” Is that a compliment? It is from me, but I have no sense of smell. But yes, back on track: you’ve got Jon Anderson’s flutey little voice, which would just about float off into the ether on its own, so they tether it down with Squire’s earthier backup singing, and these weighty bass lines. Then the guitar and keyboards weave intricate patterns around the whole thing and voila! Interesting texture.

  2. Darn it, now you’ve got “The Calling” in my head. And I just know it’s going to stay there all day, like…like…like a long-time friend who’s seen it darker than ebony. See? See what you’ve done?

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