"Mind Drive"/"Foot Prints"

from Keys to Ascension 2

Buy Keys to Ascension 2

This is a review of a pre-release copy of the first two songs on the studio disc of Keys to Ascension 2 with subsequent notes added in italics.

Yes have never been a band to stick with the same personnel for long, but, for the first time, they have managed to change to a new line up before releasing an album by the old line up. [Not quite: Banks left some weeks before Time & a Word was released] The new band of Anderson, Squire, Howe, White and Sherwood have a new single, "Open Your Eyes", currently out to radio stations and their album, confusingly entitled Yes [at one stage, what became Open Your Eyes was to have been entitled Yes, as was announced in a press release; the name was later changed], should be released in November. However, before that is Keys to Ascension II [name later subtly changed to Keys to Ascension 2] by Anderson, Squire, Howe, White and Wakeman (with Sherwood in a production capacity), released 27 Oct in the UK [the UK release date was subsequently delayed by one week].

Last year's Keys to Ascension was a double CD, three quarters consisting of material from three performances at San Luis Obispo earlier in the year and one quarter being two new songs, "Be the One" and "That, That Is", recorded around the same time. Rick Wakeman had originally re-joined the band solely for that album, but stayed, excited by the new music. The line up from Tales from Topographic Oceans recorded several new songs, with long time associate Billy Sherwood playing an Eddie Offord role. Keys to Ascension II was announced as another double CD, one disc being the remainder of the SLO material and one disc the new songs. Then, the plan changed to releasing the new material on its own as Know after pressure from Howe and Wakeman: Know was to represent a new start. The band were to have toured this [i.e. 1997] summer, but Wakeman split just before the tour. After some months trying to get Wakeman return, the band promoted Sherwood to full band membership and announced Ivan [better known now as Igor, but originally introduced using this nickname] Khoroshev as the new keyboardist, albeit more as a session player than a new member. As the band worked on Yes '97 [the term being used to distinguish the release from the band's 1969 debut album], Know became Keys to Ascension II once more.

Promotion for Yes '97 has relegated KtA2 to a little mentioned side project, although the material from it may receive more prominence in the forthcoming fall tour. With Sherwood's promotion and the single suggesting a more commercial direction to Yes music again, KtA2 may now be a cul-de-sac rather than a new start, yet a more "progressive" style may mean it appeals more to the band's core fandom. Wakeman's descriptions of the music and how it was made in an interview while he was still in the band generated a lot of excitement.

The SLO material on KtA2 presumably matches what has already been released on the Keys to Ascension laserdisc/video, which was reviewed on alt.music.yes some months ago. Of the new tracks, I have heard "Mindrive" and "Footprints" [the songs were labelled as "Mindrive" and "Footprints", although the titles had become two words each on the actual release].

"Mindrive" seems to be the grand epic of the album. With the seemingly now obligatory Howe acoustic opening, the song moves into a reworking of one of the instrumentals from the XYZ (Squire/White/Page) demos between Drama and 90125. This recurring section is reminiscent of Drama, with Squire and White driving along, with Howe's guitar line somehow apart. Anderson's entry then brings more of an ABWH flavour for the other main recurring part. However, this is not simply a pot-pourri of old Yes.

The complaint of many listening to the first Keys to Ascension is that Yes were simply aping their classic sound ("That, That Is") or just mixing ABWH and YesWest ("Be the One"). Yet here, there is something more: "Mindrive" is very 'Yessy', but still distinctly new. If "That, That Is" was the beginnings of a new style, "Mindrive" sees it coming to fruition.

The band members are all playing well. Howe is very distinctly Howe. White's work is more strident and yet more subtle than for many years. Anderson adopts an exhortatory style for much of the song—I even hear echoes of Horn's performance on Drama!—which some may not like, but it works well for me. One minor criticism would be the under use of the backing vocals.

Even Wakeman comes off pretty well. His solos are nothing new: they could have been lifted from 1972, but rather that than from 1982 or 1992! His work elsewhere in the piece is good for he works with the music. The use, for example, of ambient washes backing Howe's guitar work is a welcome new approach for his work in Yes. That is also just one example of how all five band members are working together in a way perhaps absent from "Be the One" and "That, That Is".

However, as with "That, That Is", what may be lacking is an overall coherence to the piece. Perhaps I just need to be more familiar with it, but it still seems to develop somewhat haphazardly.

"Footprints" is... well, hard to describe, yet it is proving popular so far among those who have heard it. While "Mindrive" contained many links to an older Yes style, "Footprints" is a very novel creature. In some ways, it reminds me of Yes '69. This Yes line up had been erroneously promoting itself as the "original Yes": "Footprints" is perhaps what they would have been like if they really had been the original Yes back in 1968. There is a relaxed, pop style, mixed with interesting arrangements and instrumental work. The instruments trade parts rapidly in a manner vaguely like Time & a Word. The trademark Yes harmonies are to the fore in the backing vocals and we hear Anderson in more traditional voice. Squire comes through strongly with a quirky bassline. White's drumming is fresh, but complex. Wakeman displays some nice work with the rest of the band, although his leads become rather tedious. All sorts of things are going on in this relatively short piece. The a capella opening and the instrumental coda even suggest Dixieland to me!

I don't know yet that KtA2 is going to challenge Fragile or Close to the Edge, but the two songs I have heard certainly make me very excited for the album. "Be the One" and "That, That Is" pointed the way stylistically, but Wakeman is right to say it gets much better. This is Yes working together, progressing and still "progressive".

The new Yes and Yes '97 have a lot to prove to build on what I hear on "Mindrive" and "Footprints"—it would be a shame if KtA2 was but an appendix to Yes history. Roll on 27 Oct.

Henry Potts, 5 Oct 97 with notes added 30 Jan 98 and revised 9 Jun 98

Keys to Ascension 2 has also been covered in a Tentative Review.

Originally posted to alt.music.yes and rec.music.progressive.

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