Shouts on Goal
"To achieve success in life, you need to be careful, moderate, and balanced. An intelligent lifestyle and practical way of living will give you constant alertness and a taste of reality."
"To achieve success in life, you need to be careful, moderate, and balanced. An intelligent lifestyle and practical way of living will give you constant alertness and a taste of reality."
Welcome back music lovers. Thanks for stopping by for another installment of Normie Monday, my weekly blog posting that focuses on reviewing music, movies, television, books, or whatever may be capturing my attention at the time. After the last two weeks, where I looked at Steve Howe’s Beginnings (average) and Chris Squire’s Fish Out Of Water (exceptional), I thought I’d continue the series on the solo albums by Yes members with a review of an album that is pretty ungodly awful; drummer Alan White’s Ramshackled.
Alan White’s first gig of any importance was playing drums in the Alan Price Set at the tender age of 18. Alan Price was the former keyboardist of The Animals, and his new group would also feature Peter Kirtley (guitar) and Kenny Craddock (keyboards) who would go on to collaborate with Alan White on Ramshackled. It must have come as quite a shock to the young drummer when John Lennon called him out of the blue and offered him a gig drumming in his newly formed Plastic Ono Band. White was reportedly convinced that one of his friends was prank calling him and imitating Lennon’s voice, but after the confusion was cleared up (and the shouts of unbridled joy and amazement subsided, I’m sure), White flew to Toronto to play with Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band at the Toronto Rock And Roll Revival Festival. The band (which also featured Eric Clapton on lead guitar and Lennon’s old friend from Hamburg Klaus Voormann on bass) had little to no rehearsal time, but their live performance would end up being released as the Plastic Ono Band’s Live Peace In Toronto 1969 album.
After such a high profile gig, Alan White became a relatively in-demand session drummer, appearing on albums by artists such as Doris Troy, Billy Preston and Gary Wright. White also did some drumming on George Harrison’s classic All Things Must Pass album after Lennon recommended him to his former band mate. White would also continue to contribute to Lennon’s material, providing a powerful drum track for his Phil Spector-produced hit single “Instant Karma,” as well as providing the drums for over half of Lennon’s masterpiece Imagine album (including the iconic title track).
In 1972, White was on tour with Joe Cocker when he was contacted by Yes to be a replacement for their recently departed drummer Bill Bruford, who’d left to join rival prog rock group King Crimson. White accepted the invitation, and was on stage with Yes after only three days of rehearsals to work on Yes’s complex and lengthy material. White would make his debut on record with Yes via the live triple-album Yessongs, where his more straightforward rock drumming approach could easily be distinguished from Bruford’s more jazz-inflected touch. White would remain Yes’s main drummer for over four decades, where he remains to this day.
When Yes decided that they would take a year-long hiatus from mid-1975 to mid-1976, they also decided that each of the five band members would release a solo album. Alan White got in contact with his old friends from his Alan Price Set days, Peter Kirtley and Kenny Craddock, as possible collaborators. White, Kirtley and Craddock were joined by Colin Gibson on bass, who had played with the other three in a short-lived band called Griffin (not to be confused with the similarly pronounced Gryphon that had opened for Yes on their previous tour). Joining this main quartet are reedsmen Bud Beadle and Steve Gregory (both of whom had worked with White in some capacity during the 1960’s), trumpeter Henry Lowther and a trio of female backing vocalists; Madeline Bell, Vicki Brown and Joanne Williams. Orchestral sections were arranged and conducted by David Bedford, whose other credits include working with Mike Oldfield and Kevin Ayers (see Normie Monday ep. 21). Joining the proceedings for one song are fellow Yes members Jon Anderson and Steve Howe, who add vocals and guitar respectively.
Although an interesting musical moment occurs once in a while, overall Ramshackled is a hot steaming pile of failure. It is really only an Alan White album in name, as all of the songs were written by either Kirtley, Craddock, Gibson or some combination of the three. Really, it sounds like what you would expect an album to sound like that was written and recorded by a bunch of session musicians. The musicianship is adequate, but the songwriting is just horrid, almost embarrassingly bad. The singing (performed by a combination of White, Kirtley and Craddock, though I can’t tell who is where) is also another big problem of the album, and the only song with anything resembling good vocalizations is the song in which Jon Anderson is singing.
Ramshackled opens with Peter Kirtley’s “Ooh Baby (Goin’ To Pieces),” which is pretty much as bad as its name would suggest. It starts innocently enough, with a quick shuffling drum beat and a series of odd squeaking noises, but then the band drops into a boring, vaguely Latin-sounding, soulless soul groove. The only redeeming aspect of this song is the surprising little synth figure that occasionally interrupts the proceedings. As with most of the album, the vocals are terrible in this song. They are delivered in a sleazy, Tom Jones inspired lounge style, and the lyrics are trite, pointless drivel in a, “I just need your loving, yes I do, yes I love you girl,” fashion.
Things don’t improve much for the second track, entitled “One Way Rag.” Written by Gibson and Craddock, it possesses a sluggish soul groove that isn’t helped much by White’s conga accents in the background. Sounding almost like an outtake from one of Hall & Oates mid-70’s albums, the vocals are certainly better than those on the previous track, but the addition of the three-part female harmonies only serve to highlight the slightly askew nature of the lead singer’s tonal center. The song is almost saved by some tasty solos, first on the guitar and then on the saxophone, but in the end it’s just not enough to keep this song from being totally forgettable. Surprisingly enough, for some reason this song was picked by Yes to be performed on a handful on dates for the band’s first tour following their hiatus in 1976.
Up next is the definite highlight of the album, and the only song that I actually kind of enjoy listening to, “Avakak.” Abandoning the lame blue-eyed soul of the first two tracks, this song goes in more of a proggy, jazz fusion direction. I’m sure that my approval of this song also has something to do with the fact that it’s entirely instrumental, not ruined by the horrible singing and lyrics that pervade much of the album. This song begins with a mellow piano figure that receives some minimalistic sax and organ accompaniment. The piano plucks out a melancholy chord progression and melody before the band joins in and turns the affair into a driving jazz rocker with a stinging horn section and ample unison riffing. The horn arrangement has a distinctly Zappa-esque quality and the piano driven riffing reminds me of Emerson, Lake And Palmer. After a few minutes of exploring this new driving section, the chord progression and melody from the intro are revisited in a full band setting, bringing things down a bit. As this section dissolves into a sea of tinkling cymbals and piano noodling, it is replaced by a din of free-jazz exploratory noise. White pounds out clattering noises on a variety of percussive instruments as the guitar creates swells of dissonant notes and the electric piano spins a web of atonal runs. Eventually, this is replaced by a quick unison melody on the guitar and saxophone, which heralds a nifty little solo from each. At the end of the song, the Zappa-inspired theme from earlier is revisited, and a final wail from one of the female singers signals the end of the song.
The last song on side one features the voice of Jon Anderson and the guitar of Steve Howe. The song, entitled “Spring – Song Of Innocence,” features a William Blake poem as its lyrics, and they are delivered admirably by Anderson in his clear, airy voice. Another of the more bearable songs on the album, it begins with a din of atmospheric piano, flute and guitar that give way to a soft, pastoral chord progression. The track has an almost new-age feel, and although it feels a bit cheesy at times, it has some pretty moments. Howe’s contribution consists of some twiddly little guitar melodies that weave in and out of the soft atmospheric textures. The piano is also of special note in this song, as the cascading piano arpeggios float the listeners along like leaves in the wind. This song was also performed by Yes occasionally throughout 1976, not surprising given the appearance of Anderson and Howe.
Side two gets off to a rough start with “Giddy,” which brings things back to the uninspired white-boy soul of the first two track on the album. A jumpy little piano figure (for some reason, it gets doubled by an electric piano) makes up the backbone of the song, which also features an annoying little harmonized guitar line and more faux Tom Jones crooning. Again, an instrumental section serves as the only saving grace in this slab of cheese, this time in the form of a spiraling synthesizer solo that occurs in the middle of the song. However, it gets interrupted by the annoying harmonized guitar line from earlier, which ruins any momentum that may have been possible.
As bad as things have been so far, it only gets worse with the next song. “Silly Woman” may just be (and I’m not saying this lightly) the worst song featured on any album that has been reviewed for Normie Monday so far. This laughably bad song features a misinformed island feel and a reggae groove that sounds about as authentic as Pat Boone trying to sing hip hop. The inflection of the singer is not only bad, but it might even be construed as borderline racist, and the lyrics are fairly misogynistic to top it all off. I’m not even going to go deeper into this song because I don’t want to spend too much time listening to it, but suffice it to say, I don’t like it and neither should you.
Following the atrocious nature of the previous song comes another mild highlight of the album, the short instrumental “Marching Into A Bottle.” Even though the song is written by keyboardist Kenny Craddock, it is mostly a solo classical guitar piece performed by Peter Kirtley. The guitar plucks out a happy little melody, which is accented by flutes and a simple orchestral arrangement. Alan White adds a variety of percussive instruments, including claves, sleigh bells and vibraphone. At only two minutes, it provides a short respite from the horribleness that preceded it.
Up next is another of the not-so-terrible songs on the album. “Everybody” begins with a mournful melody piano figure that is accented by a pair of interlocking guitar lines and a twinkling glockenspiel. The opening bit ends amidst the sound of a crashing wave as the meat of the song begins, and it’s a lopping rhythm with a busy bass line and staccato guitar chords. Eventually, a horn section is added and the song takes on a bit more of a traditional blues feel. The singer tries to take on a bluesy growl, and it’s slightly more bearable than some of the other vocals. Alan White gives us an unexpected steel pan solo in the middle of this song, which succeeds only in that it is just strange enough to work. The end also proves to be slightly noteworthy, with the band raging full steam and the guitars plucking out a jagged melody until the song abruptly cuts off and leaves us with only an atmospheric wind noise.
The last song on the album is also not too horrible, though it’s not especially interesting either. “Darkness, Pts. 1-3” doesn’t seem to really need the differentiation into three different parts, but I guess White thought it might appeal to Yes’s prog fans to have an “epic multi-part song” on the album. It begins with a moody electric guitar arpeggio that is soon joined by the band and more obnoxious singing. After the first verse comes a stomping new section that actually achieves something close to a good rocking groove, but this is only too brief before the band returns to the verse section from earlier. After the second verse, the band drops out as atmospheric strings take over the landscape and a piano ticks out a dramatic chord progression. To me, this part sounds very theatrical, almost sounding like it could have been in a Broadway musical (I don’t mean this to be a compliment). After some painfully delivered vocals, a trumpet takes a solo that gives the song almost a muzak feel (I DEFINITELY don’t mean this to be a compliment). This cheese-tastic trumpet solo persists until the end, which features a slight decrescendo and a held out trumpet note, ending the album in a fairly anti-climactic fashion.
Ramshackled was released in April of 1976 and (perhaps not surprisingly) was largely ignored. It was not well received by critics, and it’s chart placings were marginal at best. It managed to reach #41 in the UK Albums Chart, but didn’t even break the top 200 in the Billboard Pop Albums chart, stalling at a lowly #209. It would prove to be the only album that Alan White would release under his own name, and given the quality of the material, that is probably a good thing. White continues to record and tour with Yes, being one of the co-owners of the Yes name (along with bassist Chris Squire and guitarist Steve Howe).
In summary, I wouldn’t recommend this album to anyone but the most ardent Yes supporters, and even then I would approach with caution. While there are a couple of mildly pleasant passages, the prevalence of rotten singing combined with the soulless soul styling of many of the songs make for an album that is far from a fully realized work. While I don’t mean to disregard the drumming talents of Alan White (I mean, he played drums on John Lennon’s “Imagine,” one of the most timeless songs ever written for Christ’s sake), perhaps he should have stuck to drumming. I recommend that you give it a single listen, just out of curiosity, but I feel pretty certain that you won’t feel the need to return to it. However, I’ll let you be the judge. Give it a listen, see what you think.
If you have Spotify, you can listen to the entire album here: http://open.spotify.com/album/6928MZkl6iOXJhapecavaP
E: “I am grateful for family and friends, art and music.”
Todd: “I’m grateful for all the opportunities and the problems in life.”
Z: “I am grateful for happiness and music and dancing. Thank you world.”
Woody: “I’m grateful for being in a place on this planet where I can choose how to live, educate myself, and continuously learn from the people I meet and the places I see.”
Norm: “I’m grateful for music and all the people who create it, inspire it, appreciate it, and support it. Thank you.”
Phil: “I am very grateful for everyone who has supported us along the way. We would be nothing without you, and thank you for listening!”
Charlie Karls: “I am grateful for the support from my friends and family which encourages me to keep faith in my ability to seek the open doors of opportunity.”
"Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury - to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best for both the body and the mind."
"There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do, and mostly live."
Welcome back music lovers. Thanks for stopping by for another installment of Normie Monday, my weekly blog posting that focuses on reviewing music, movies, television, books, or whatever may be capturing my attention at the time. Last week, I started a series on solo albums that the members of Yes released during a year-long band hiatus from 1975-1976. This week, I’m going to look at the one that is almost unquestionably the best of the bunch; bassist Chris Squire’s Fish Out Of Water.
Chris Squire cut his teeth in the London club circuit with his two early bands The Selfs and The Syn, both of which featured keyboardist Andrew Jackman (who would wind up collaborating with Chris on Fish Out Of Water). Squire played his first gig with The Selfs in 1965, around the same time that he acquired his signature instrument, a 1964 Rickenbacker model RM1999 bass. Chris would continue to use this iconic instrument fairly exclusively for the remainder of his career, favoring it even to this day. After The Syn dissolved, Chris formed a new band called Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, which would eventually morph into Yes after Chris met vocalist Jon Anderson, who shared a common interest in combining melodic vocal harmonies with powerful rock riffing. The two formed Yes in 1968 with the addition of guitarist Peter Banks, keyboardist Tony Kaye and drummer Bill Bruford.
Yes would go on to release some of the most widely acclaimed and expertly composed albums of the progressive rock movement, such as The Yes Album (1971), Fragile and Close To The Edge (both released in 1972). Yes were fraught with personnel changes, however, and by 1973’s overly ambitious double album Tales From Topographic Oceans, Squire and Anderson were the only original members of the band. Banks had been replaced by guitar virtuoso Steve Howe in 1970, Kaye by keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman in 1971 and Bruford by session drummer Alan White in 1972. Wakeman subsequently quit after the tour in support of Tales From Topographic Oceans and was replaced by Swiss keyboardist Patrick Moraz for 1974’s edgy and brilliant Relayer (see Normie Monday ep. 50).
After the tour in support of Relayer, Yes decided that they would take a year long hiatus (from the middle of 1975 to the middle of 1976), during which all five members of the band would release solo albums. Chris Squire was the second to act, releasing his solo album Fish Out Of Water one week after Steve Howe released his Beginnings. The title of Squire’s album is a play on the bassist’s nickname Fish, which he had acquired for several reasons. Firstly, his astrological sign is Pisces, the fish. Also, he had once accidentally flooded a hotel room during an early Yes tour of Norway while showering. Additionally, according to Bill Bruford, Chris would spend lots of time in the bathroom while the two were sharing a house together. “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)” also became the name of Squire’s bass-featured composition on Yes’s Fragile album. Therefore, Fish Out Of Water can be seen as saying that the Fish (Chris) is out of his usual habitat, that being the band format of Yes.
Chris Squire recorded Fish Out Of Water sporadically throughout the first ¾ of 1975 at his home studio Surrey Sound Studios in Virginia Waters, Surrey (where Relayer had also been recorded). For the sessions, Chris brought in his old friend Andrew Jackman (from his days in The Selfs and The Syn) to play acoustic and electric pianos. Chris claimed that Jackman also helped write some of the material, but he refused to accept a co-writing credit. All of the drumming on the album was handled by Bill Bruford, a fact that I find interesting because (supposedly) the interpersonal friction between Squire and Bruford was reported by Bruford to be one of the main contributing factors to his decision to quit Yes and join King Crimson. The main trio of Squire, Jackman and Bruford is augmented by then-current Yes keyboardist Patrick Moraz (who provides an organ solo for one song), Jimmy Hastings of Caravan and Soft Machine fame (who plays flute on two songs) and former King Crimson saxophonist Mel Collins (who adds some tasty sax licks to two songs). Barry Rose, the house organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, played St. Paul’s pipe organ on one song as well, and the whole affair received an orchestral arrangement, which was arranged and conducted by Andrew Jackman.
Fish Out Of Water showcases Squire’s strong ability to compose anthemic chord progressions with stirring melodies and powerful riffs, highlighting his unmistakable bass playing skills (which range from aggressive riffing to melodic soloing). In fact, the album features barely any guitar at all (Squire himself added some minimalistic rhythm guitar to two tracks), instead opting to utilize the bass as the main melody and lead instrument. As strange as this sounds, it works extremely well.
Fish Out Of Water opens with the bombastic “Hold Out Your Hand,” which begins with the heavenly organ playing of Barry Rose on St. Paul’s Cathedral’s pipe organ. The organ plays anthemic chords with fluttering melodies over the top, and Chris Squire adds some distorted bass leads into the mix. Eventually, Andrew Jackman and Bill Bruford come in with funky electric piano chords and a killer groove (respectively) with Jackman also adding staccato clavinet chords that bounce between the right and left speaker almost dizzyingly. Squire’s love for odd time signatures is quickly apparent, as the main groove consists of two measures of 4/4, followed by a measure of 7/4 and then a measure of 6/4. It always seems natural, though, and Bill Bruford (one of my favorite drummers ever) manages to give it a funky feel, all while dancing over the bar lines and filling in with polyrhythmic touches.
After vamping the groove for a bit, Chris’s lead vocal enters, and it’s surprisingly strong for someone who’d only sang backup vocals in Yes up to that point. Much more assured sounding than Steve Howe’s attempt at singing lead (see last week’s article), Chris’s voice has somewhat of a brassier quality than Jon Anderson’s airy alto/tenor (I’d compare Anderson’s voice to a flute). The lyrics are a bit of a non-event; they’re nothing special, but nothing too repugnant either. The verses consist of two fairly vague lines, but then the chorus enters with Squire singing, “All you’ve got to do is hold out your hand,” and with the final four words (the name of the song) the vocals erupt into a tightly harmonized choir. This particular song features Chris’s then-wife Nikki (they would get divorced in 1985 after 15 years of marriage) singing backup vocals with several of Chris’s overdubbed self-harmonies. During the chorus, Barry Rose’s pipe organ makes a dramatic return, interweaving quick organ arpeggios between the vocal lines that continue into the second verse and chorus. After the second chorus, Squire takes a ripping bass solo as the band accentuates the chord changes, which is followed by a tasty pipe organ solo from Rose. After the solos and a final chorus, the orchestra is formally introduced, adding cinematic fills as the band accents the chord changes (in a similar fashion to Chris’s bass solo from earlier). After the last band accents, the orchestra takes the chord progression into a climbing sequence of chords, spiraling up and up until an abrupt segue into the next song.
“You By My Side” is probably the most straightforward song on the album, featuring a 3/4 meter throughout and Jackman’s simple bouncing piano figure. The lyrics are a simple love song to Chris’s wife, sung first from him and then from him and his children (as he replaces “I” and “me” with “we” and “us”). Even the bass is relatively understated in this one (at least compared to Squire’s usual bass lunacy). The bouncy piano chords descend and then ascend in interesting cadences. Between the two verses, things are brought down significantly as Jimmy Hastings takes a melodic flute solo as the band slowly crescendos into the second verse with Chris adding a soothing choir of “Oohs” and “Aahs.” During the second verse, the orchestra returns, adding dramatic touches to the score as the band climaxes. After the last verse, the orchestra gets all big and emotional with tubular bells, soaring strings and cinematic trumpet lines. After the big climax, things cool down to a solemn resolution. On the first Yes tour following this album’s release, the band played a medley of the two previous songs as an infrequent part of the setlist.
Side one closes with the strongest song on the album (and possibly the highlight of any member of Yes’s solo output to date), “Silently Falling.” The strength of this song places it (in my mind, anyways) right alongside such timeless Yes epics as “Yours Is No Disgrace,” “Heart Of The Sunrise” and “Siberian Khatru.” It begins with some atmospheric orchestrations that highlight the flutes and oboes. At the conclusion of the orchestral intro, a lone flute (played by Jimmy Hastings) holds out a single powerful note and then starts a descending flutter as Jackman’s piano starts to play a tense chord progression on the piano and Squire’s bass starts playing one of the song’s main musical motifs. As Chris’s voice enters, singing vaguely poetic lyrics about the nature of life, the flute fills in the gaps between the vocal lines. The song starts to build as Chris sings, “Hopefully, hopefully” until Bill Bruford crashes in with a solid drum beat and the orchestra lays down a pad of atmospheric noise that swells up into the first proper verse. While I don’t really know exactly what the lyrics are about, there are some great lines in this one, such as, “Don’t believe in miracles, but I do believe in love,” and “All of the pieces fit, but the puzzle carries on.” During the verses, twiddley little melodies are added by the orchestra, and Chris adds a choir of “Oohs” to pad out the empty space. After the second verse, the band restates the opening tense chord progression and melody, at first alternating it with the verse chord progression until the tense chord progression becomes the main focus with a crash of intense energy from Bill Bruford.
The middle section of this song is so sublimely intense that it gives me chills. Bruford falls into a quick shuffling feel in 4/4, while the bass and piano pound out the main chordal figure in 11/8 creating some amazing counter-rhythms. While the rhythm section plays off each other, then-Yes keyboardist Patrick Moraz makes an appearance, turning in a dizzying organ solo over the intense rhythmic interplay. Moraz’s solo is incredibly fierce, utilizing jazzy scales and ample dissonance as the rhythm section slowly builds in intensity. The gradual crescendo of energy during the organ solo is especially remarkable with Bruford’s playing creeping up in speed and intensity in such a fashion that it causes me to get a bit anxious (in a good way) and my heart to beat faster. I consider Bruford’s drumming here to be some of the finest of his career, and I don’t say this lightly as I’m a huge fan of his. Towards the end of the organ solo, Moraz begins playing dive-bombing swooping noises as Bruford crashes the cymbals manically and the bass rages in out of control fervor until everyone stops on a dime with a single crack of the snare. This middle section could be used to great effect in a movie where something climactic is about to happen, as the building of momentum is positively orgasmic.
For the last third of the song, we get a mellow restatement of the opening piano figure with Squire singing, “Silently circling around,” as the vocals are panned slowly around our heads. Eventually, a melancholy coda is introduced, featuring a sombre piano figure in 4/4 while Squire and Bruford accent beats in a 6/4 configuration. Squire sings “Silently falling, silently falling, falling down, down, down,” as the band once again brings the intensity up via soaring orchestrations, rocking drum fills and some atmospheric 12-string electric guitar from Chris. The song slowly fades out as the band crescendos and waves of sound and cymbal washes cascade through the mix. 35 years after this album was released, New Zealand hip-hop artist P-Money sampled this song for his track “Falling Down.”
Side two of the album opens with the funky jazz of “Lucky Seven,” named as such because the song is in 7/4. It begins with Jackman playing a moody figure on the electric piano, which is soon joined by Squire and Bruford accenting the 1 and the 5 beat. A quick floor tom roll, and the drums fully enter playing a funky beat, and once again Bill Bruford delivers a powerhouse performance for this one. Here, his drumming manages to walk a fine line between repetitive (though never boring) and flashy (though never detracting from the song). Also, his snare drum sounds utterly amazing in this song. Chris’s bass guitar stays relatively understated at first, but eventually starts playing some up-front lines. Eventually, Mel Collins is introduced, adding a catchy saxophone melody that becomes one of the reoccurring motifs of the song. The saxophone melody continues into the first verse, alternating with Squire’s lead vocal lines. I’m particularly fond of Chris’s singing in this song, as he’s able to put an interesting rhythmic phrasing into many of the lines, singing across the bar lines and giving the lyrics an emotional delivery (especially in the second verse). At the end of the first verse, Squire sings, “And I think you could be… Lucky… Tonight…,” holding out the last two words amidst a swell of vocal harmonies. Chris takes a bit of a bass solo before the second verse, which is structurally close to the first. After the second verse comes another bass solo, during which the symphony starts to swell up dramatically. After a quick build up and and fall back down of the rhythm section comes the third verse, again very similar to the first two. The last two minutes of the song is taken up by a magnificent sax solo from Mel Collins, whose playing I always seem to enjoy (see Normie Monday ep. 19 for my views of his playing on Richard Wright’s Wet Dream album). As with most of the rest of the album, it crescendos and decrescendos in a climactic way, reaching heights of ecstasy as Mel Collins blows sheets of notes through the powerful rhythm section, until the band brings things down for a mellow segue into the next song. “Lucky Seven” was released as a single in the US in an edited fashion that cuts the song to about half its length (sadly, removing most of Collins’ spirited sax solo).
The last song on the album is the one that I feel to be the least successful (and, unfortunately, it’s the longest as well). The track, entitled “Safe (Canon Song),” isn’t necessarily bad, but I feel that it meanders on a bit too long and isn’t as perfectly structured as the other epic on the album, the (in my mind) flawless “Silently Falling.” However, it does make some great use out of the orchestra and has some nice melodies in it (one even recalls a theme from Yes’s classic epic “Close To The Edge”). The beginning of the track heavily features the orchestra, acting almost as an overture before Squire’s mellow voice enters, accompanied only by a minimalistic piano and bass guitar figure. As the song progresses, the orchestra slowly swells back in until it erupts with the drumming. The lyrics of this song seem to be (once again) about Squire’s family (or maybe only his daughters), with him claiming that he will be able to keep them safe, “When your savior lets you down,” and “When you face the doors of doubt.”
All the lyrics are finished by the five minute mark, however, and the last ten minutes of the song are really, just one big exercise in theme and variation. A couple of motifs are stated, and restated, and restated by different instruments with different counter-melodies going on in the background, occasionally resulting in some interesting textures. The exceedingly drawn out ending has several up-and-down dynamics that never really seem to go anywhere. One of the best points occurs when the symphony is crescendoing with a wall of sound as the bass guitar plays a staccato pattern underneath it. Then, all of a sudden, the symphony drops out leaving only the bass. The symphony (as expected) then starts to rise again, teasing the previously stated melodies in new ways. The whole ending is very cinematic, reaching some impossibly high levels of climactic intensity, though it seems to go on for a bit too long and go through too many dynamic shifts to remain interesting and captivating.
I may be being overly harsh on this song, but to me it does seem to fall flat after the high standards set by the first four songs. I feel that it could have been much better if it’d been compressed a little bit. In my opinion, the best moment of the song comes in the last minute-and-a-half, where Chris is playing the bass neck of a double-neck guitar with only the pickups of the six-string neck activated, picking up only the sympathetic vibrations created on those strings. This creates a beautifully spectral atmosphere that ends the album on a serenely tranquil note.
Fish Out Of Water was released on November 7th of 1975 in the UK. Though the album received much better reviews than Steve Howe’s Beginnings (which had only come out one week before), it fared slightly worse in the charts. Whereas Beginnings had reached #22 and #63 in the UK charts and Billboard Pop Albums chart (respectively), Fish Out Of Water only managed to reach #25 and #69 in said charts. This may have been due to the lack of Roger Dean artwork (which had become a calling card of Yes albums by that point), or maybe some Yes fans didn’t want to buy two new albums so close together opting for the one that was released first. Whatever the case may be, it’s almost impossible to argue against Fish Out Of Water being the far superior album quality wise. It would prove to be the final album billed solely to Chris Squire until his 2007 collection of Christmas songs.
Over the years, Chris Squire has proven to be essentially the leader of Yes. He’s been the only member of the band to be included on every single album released under the Yes moniker (which may account for the scarcity of his solo offerings). Even singer Jon Anderson was absent for a brief period in the early 80’s and is currently once again out of the band (the Yes name is co-owned by Chris Squire, Steve Howe and Alan White). Although some former members of Yes have described Squire as being a bit of an egotistical control freak, the quality of the music on this solo album points to the fact that he may be the most qualified member of the band compositionally.
In summary, Fish Out Of Water is nearly as strong as some of Yes’s best works. If you’re a fan of Yes who hasn’t heard this album, I couldn’t recommend it any higher. I consider it to be essential listening for fans of the progressive rock and symphonic rock genres, but anyone that enjoys epically melodic rock with cinematic arrangements and emotive musical passages is encouraged to check it out. I feel that it is an often overlooked gem in the careers of not only Chris Squire, but also Bill Bruford, who turns in the performance of a lifetime. Give it a listen, see what you think.
If you have Spotify, you can listen to the entire album here: http://open.spotify.com/album/0soAOCLVac7XIKIBpAVwcu
We took some time to celebrate Z’s birthday while we were in Houston yesterday!
”..things are never as complicated as they seem. It is only our arrogance that prompts us to find unnecessarily complicated answers to simple problems.”
Today, Woody clarifies once and for all what is “The Best.”