The problem with this album is that it is likeable almost immediately. And that's a problem because Yes records historically seemed almost designed to grow on you, and in the growing their quality and longevity was assured.
The first thing that strikes you about Magnification is the excellence of the production - yet it is not overproduced. There is a clarity to the recording which is quite astonishing; Howe's guitars sparkle, Anderson's vocals and multiple harmonies are smooth and seductive, White's drums and Squire's bass stake out their own proper place at the driving centre of the music. The orchestra is powerful without being overpowering, yet delicate and haunting when it needs to be. The band and Larry Groupe, who wrote and conducted the orchestral parts, obviously fed off each other extensively in the making of this album because the instruments are perfectly complementary at all times.
It is difficult to classify Magnification with respect to the existing Yes catalogue. It is quite unlike anything they or anyone else has produced before - the integration of an orchestra makes that read. If Yes are quoting themselves at all, it is from the Keys To Ascension studio tracks which themselves hark back to their seventies heyday. But whereas the Keys To Ascension tracks wandered around aspiring, yet failing, to be epics, the songs on Magnification almost make it on the first attempt. The seventies pedigree does not really show; all ten songs are fresh and challenging, taking Yes down another untrodden path in the prog rock mystical forest. Once again, the band is re-defining themselves and the very genre itself.
The highlights are undoubtedly the beautiful Give Love Each day, which creeps up on you through a 2-minute orchestral intro - Squire's striking "And you believe it" falsetto in Can You Imagine - the emotionally charged We Agree - the touchingly gentle Soft As A Dove, and the driving Dreamtime. Magnification is a sweeping, soaring record of complex mood changes and intricate musical interaction that will withstand many repeated listenings - which are the elements of a classic Yes record after all.
Highly recommended. Their best in many years.
This music though is by far their best in 20 years. The 'Magnification' album just has to be heard to be believed.
The production and depth of sound quality is the best that I have heard on any album ever. Mixed on ProTools at Trevor Horn's LA studio, the instrumentation and vocals stand out beautifully.
It's no accident that Tim Wiedner is a producer from the Trevor Horn management stable - his open and airy production style washes all over this recording and he enhances the Yes sound in a way that we have not heard since Trevor Horn produced '90125'. Well done Tim!
As for the music, I can't believe how listenable this album is. The orchestral work by Larry Groupe has been incorporated into the writing of the tracks from the word go and it sounds like it.
Thankfully there's no bad Rick Wakeman keyboard sounds on this album. In fact keyboards are kept to a minimum - just piano that is played by Alan White, the drummer, in a rather percussive style.
Vocal and instrumental harmonies are the best in years. Finally, Steve Howe's guitar work is restrained when he needs to be and yet he comes to the fore in a great way when required. There is some lovely and varied guitar work on this album from him.
Bassist Chris Squire has returned to form over the past few years and he has his wonderful bass style stomped all over this album.
He's excellently backed up by Alan White on drums - this rhythm duo really carries the album and Squire continues to prove that he is the real heart and soul of this band.
Tim Weidner really gets the best out of Anderson and Squire's vocals. Jon Anderson really sounds wonderful. It's great to see Chris Squire singing lead on one song - I love his voice - he and Anderson should share more of the lead vocals as Rabin and Anderson used to in the eighties.
There are some interesting influences that Larry Groupe, the orchestrator, brings to this album. I really liked his music in 'The Contender' and 'The Usual Suspects' and he brings something really special to this album. Bond stabs, soaring flutes, wide strings and on 'In the Presence of...' even a Burt Bacharach style orchestral sound (which sounds great).
All up a great treat and a huge relief. I feared that this album would be a huge bloated mess. it's turned out to be possibly their best album yet.
Buy it and you won't be disappointed. All I wish now is that a major label would pick this band back up and put some serious advertising behind them. This new and innovative music deserves to be heard by the widest possible audience.
Groupé has something of the feel of George Martin in his work. A Martin-esque crescendo ends the first track and we segue into the melancholic and then violent "Spirit of Survival". Up-tempo, driving bass, stabs from the horns and strings, Anderson's strident lyrics, Howe's solos... The flip side to "Magnification", they are both great tunes, both only slightly let down by simplistic choruses. Anderson's lyrics are that strange and unique mix of the prosaic and spiritual.
"Don't Go" is the most 'pop' affair on the album and the least orchestral. For all its similarities to ELO, I love its quirky nature. The lyrics suggest a complex story, yet hearing the whole album doesn't make the story much clearer. There are hints, recurring lyrical themes, but this isn't a coherent, single narrative and I think it works better for that.
"Give Love Each Day" is the centrepiece of the album for me. An extended orchestral opening section feels very modern with similarities to Oliver Knussen. There are similarities The Ladder, the band's last album, but I think Yes have upped their game. This is a piece of emotional contrast between maudlin verses and an aspirational verse. Again, a Martin-like use of horns in the coda: make no mistake, Groupé certainly has his own style, but I also hear influences from albums like Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour.
"Can You Imagine" was originally recorded by Squire, White and Jimmy Page in 1981. In this re-working, the orchestral backing adds to the piece. A short piece, but it works well in the context and flow of the album.
"We Agree" may be the first time that Howe is to the fore as a composer. His versatility of styles is very apparent on Magnification and it's interesting how he uses some country licks in this piece, not that it sounds anything like country. Anderson's lyrics speak of what the moral theologians call corporate sin: in a piece of apt timing, he sings of the problems of refugees in another song tinged with darkness, but which feels as though it is moving to the light, helped by a gut-wrenching Howe solo. "Soft as a Dove" may be the weakest track: the opening bars grate, save for an understated bass part. However, the piece develops in a more interesting way: notable is the use of flute and a mediaeval feel. "Dreamtime" is the longest track. A classical guitar introduction leads into an segment led by the orchestra, with the three Yes instrumentalists well integrated into the piece with, again, a very contemporary classical feel. Accelerating, bass, tuned percussion and strings produce another burst of Yes music that drags the listener along. Once more, this is emotionally ambiguous music, with Anderson's lyrics pulling against the darkness of some of the music. It's also a band and orchestra working together seamlessly. There's just all sorts going on: martial elements, Celtic ones, Howe pulls some fascinating timbres from his guitars. The end section, just the orchestra, is has echoes of Bernstein.
"In the Presence of" does not have some of the same jaw-dropping playing or soloing as elsewhere on the album, but it may have the most formally complex structure. The piece is heightened by its position in the album, both musically and lyrically.
"Time is Time" is a short coda to the album with an acoustic feel. Another review made a comparison to John Lennon - it's an interesting one, helped by the similarity in White's playing. Howe even sounds a bit like Harrison, while the final bars, played by the strings, belong to Groupé, again sounding Martin-influenced.
Magnification is a fantastic album. It's distinctively Yes, but it isn't a re-tread of a previous sound. It's a development from The Ladder and those turned off by recent Yes may not enjoy it, but I think most fans of Anderson, Squire, Howe and White will hear plenty to enjoy. Strong on dynamics, on contrasts, on emotion. You can dismiss any fears that the orchestra are misused: band and orchestra work together well, better than most past rock/orchestra projects I've heard. It sounds like the album the band wanted to make, rather than the album they thought would get them airplay. This is a very mature album. It's not an album that Yes could have made 30 years ago. You're in for a treat.
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