(All Album Reviews by Sean)
Ask a typical Yes fan what the most disappointing album in the Yes catalog is and often this one, Open Your Eyes comes up. OYE is an odd album for a number of reasons. It sort of looks forward and back at the same time, while wallowing in pop-prog cliches. It's almost as if the band is parodying it's self here.
What went wrong with this CD? I have a couple ideas. For starters, this CD came out at the wrong time, right when the superior Keys To Ascension 2 was released. Releasing too much Yes product at one time was a bad move and confusing for the fanbase. Also, the music on this CD is largely culled from what was going to be a solo album/collaboration for bassist Chris Squire and then superfluous Yes guitarist Billy Sherwood. So the tracks are not really Yes collaborations, but solo tunes that got the Yesish treatment.
That causes them to lack in my opinion. Steve Howe and Jon Anderson seem almost tacked on at the last minute. Add to that some of the most sugary vocal harmonies this side of the Ray Coniff singers and a mix of pop tunes that never reach epic proportions and you have the crux of OYE's problems. The lyrics border on trite and many revolve around nursery rhymes and other oddball themes.
What's right with this CD? Well not much but I do think Howe turns in a few really great solos. The title track and "Wonderlove" come to mind in particular. He was stated as saying he wasn't fond of the first half of the CD, but "from Wonderlove on I'm sold". It seems the best playing does lie on those tracks later on the CD. "The Solution" closes the CD with a guitar solo swapping fest between Howe and Sherwood. You decide if it succeeds.....
After that there's a hidden bonus track, which is fifteen minutes of ambient waterfall sounds. On top of that you get vocal tracks from the album played on top at various times. A sugary wall of harmonies a mile high comes ambling by every ten seconds or so. Totally unnecessary I think, but harmless.
On first listen this CD seemed like a return to a classic Yes sound, but after a few spins it comes off as really contrived. It seems too slickly produced with a lot of calculated moves that ring formulaic. This one is for Yes completists only or those of you with a musical sweet tooth!
Sure, it has a ton of history surrounding it. Egomaniacal pissing contests among the band members, players too far down in the mix, "superfluous" players too far forward, toes getting stepped on so much until some of them just didn't perform well, etc, etc. Well, who cares? We all know that these guys squable like children in the back seat on a long roadtrip on EVERY album.
I choose to ignore that aspect of this band (if I didn't I'd probably hate 'em). Throw out all this preconceived nonsense and take the music at face value. Yeah, OYE came out at the same time as the vastly superior "Keys 2" set. Well, that was five years ago. Now you can ignore that moronic management faux pas with the luxury of time.
The album opens with a couple of very solid "Yes West" sounding tracks. Bright, hooky and laced with lush harmony vocals. "Fortune Seller" rocks too. Squire's bass practically makes my fireplace crumble. I like that track's oddball loopy rhythms. That track is a great pop-Yes moment.
See, you need to get past your lofty expectations and realize that Yes will NEVER reach the creative and innovative heights of CTTE or even G4TO. They are making popular music for the masses in a progressive style, rather than the album-side conceptual art-pomp they did in the 70s. They succeeded in what they were trying to do, but I think that most fans wanted them to reach for something they are just incapable of reaching for. There is no "Awaken" or "You and I" here, but that's OK. An epic like that would feel totally out of place. That would have been obviously over-reaching for this band at this time.
The influence of the usually dismissed Sherwood is actually quite obvious and strong all over the disc. The guy is an unfortunate whipping boy for most Yes fans, much more so than even Rabin. A shame. Personally, I liked his solo album, The Big Peace quite a bit, much more than OYE in fact. Nice sound and density, yet still very accessible and not so cloyingly sweet as OYE can be.
You can't blame Sherwood for this album's perceived underacheivement by old-guard Yes heads. Was he the wrong guy at the wrong time? Perhaps, but time has shown that they still couldn't pull off the old classic style without him either. Seems to me like they wanted his pop sensability to somehow mirror Rabin's, yet not be the front guy so much.
Yeah, the album has some of Yes's lowest points. "Universal Garden" is really lame and almost a parody of Yes. I'd rather have a root canal than listen to the nauseatingly wimpy "From the Balcony" again. That song makes "Don't Kill the Whale" seem like Metallica. There are a handfull of cheesy pedestrian rock toons on here too, "Love Shine" sounds just like a "World Trade" (Sherwood's band before this) song. Very bland.
Then there's that inexplicably weird 15 minutes of bugs and water punctuated by overproduced reprises of some of the choruses throughout the album. By far, the biggest waste of time on any Yes album . . . ever. I like the first 5:25 of that song very much though. I dig it's bouncing calliope flavor. Big and lush and grandly Yessy, a perfect way to close the album. But hand me the remote by 5:30 or I'm gonna blow a gasket!
Those of you that have this disc, try this: Program in tracks 1, 2, 5, 7, 11. Sit back and enjoy 25 minutes of the most Trevor Rabinesque Yes that ol' Trev had nothing to do with. Just make sure you hit stop when the last song ends.
Those of you that don't have it, go and find yourself a used copy. There are zillions of them languishing in $2 bins all over America. Yeah, you can argue that your $ is better spent on other new bands doing much more vital and important music today, I won't even try and argue that. Still, it's worth the risk as a cut-out, especially for fans of the poppy Yes West band.