(All Album Reviews by Sean)
Here is another 'underdog' Yes album, next to Tales From Topographic Oceans, Tormato is roundly panned by both the band and a large faction of their fanbase. I think it would be good for a lot of us to revisit Tormato and think about just why we like Yes music.
I admit this LP took a while to warm up to. I remember finding it in the $1.00 LP bin at K-Mart of all places, back around '85 or so... When I first put it on it didn’t sound like the Yes I knew from Close To The Edge or The Yes Album. So I put it away and didn’t return to it until a few years later. By then I was pretty tired of the obvious Yes albums and gave it a chance. Immediately I noticed how concise the arrangements were and realized that this was the first album since The Yes Album that was like that. Tormato was a return to that and at this point in my Yes fandom it didn’t sound so weird to my ears anymore.
There is great playing on every track and the short tunes are packed with unpredictable changes that took me by surprise. “Future Times” opens the album with a rousing marching snare leading the way and a Howe and Wakeman unison line (of which there are many on this LP- in fact they play more notes on this LP than any other). Wakeman exploits some new Moog sounds on this LP, which I think are really interesting. Also they are probably what threw my ear off this LP at first and made it seem different. Squire's bass features a chorus like quality throughout the album and subsequent tour. A fresh sound back in 1978 for sure. “Rejoice” caps off this tune with one of Squire's most melodic bass lines.
“Don't Kill The Whale” is next. A protest song long before it was fashionable for rock bands to champion a cause. A nice, admirable move by Yes. The song itself is one of the dullest tracks on the album though. It does have a few high points though, notable are Howe's lead lines that snake in and out through the song and the classically Yessish chant at the end of the tune.
“Madrigal”- A madrigal is short song of sorts that I believe was sung at dinner or thereafter. Here Yes write their own and it is true to that form. This drumless track has nice classical guitar from Howe and sweet harpsichord by Wakeman on a revered Thomas Goth harpsichord. A nice little tune as it was meant to be, nothing more.
“Release, Release”- Another high water mark for this lp and an almost forgotten Yes track that was only played few times live because the band claimed it was exhaustive (as if “Gates” or CTTE aren't...lol)! It starts with an angular minor riff and then breaks into an early rock and roll vibe momentarily, interspersed with melodic riffs that are far from the rock vibe just set forth.
All of this leads to a rousing drum solo with canned clapping to simulate a live setting (it's not, it's from a soccer match actually), because the band thought it needed something extra. Howe soon enters and plays some spindly licks for a few..and then...whooosh.. the groove reenters and your swept away once again. All of this in about 5 and a half minutes. Concise indeed and jam-packed with twists and turns.
“Arriving UFO”- A much maligned Yes track that is much better than many would lead you to believe. The topic came about one night when the band saw some lights in the sky. Next thing you know Anderson wrote the bands first overtly sci-fi themed lyrics. This song has a fantastic build up in the middle section featuring a crazy guitar tone that reminds me of a muted trumpet through a wah. This section climaxes in a huge crash. Then slowly, the melody creeps back up from dead silence up to a full roar again. This is a very unusual track musically, but as Yessish as any IMO.
“Circus of Heaven”- Here we are, this is the one that people mention first while panning this LP. The music is light and supposed to evoke a circus vibe. They achieve it very well. Anderson's lyrics are some of his most descriptive ever. Maybe the story is a little fluffy for many, but there is no question, it paints a vivid picture with words.
I wish Anderson would revisit this style of lyric writing. Howe's cascading delay drenched electric mandolin is really nice on this track as well, and worth checking out. There's lots of 'wet' (delayed or chorus effected) guitar sounds on this album, more than on any previous album. I think half the reason people may not favor this and UFO is the lyrics and what they evoke, it was different for Yes and people often are resistant to change.
“Onward”- If ever there was a wedding song in the Yes arsenal, this is the one. A short tune by Squire that's perfect at the altar I would imagine. “On The Silent Wings of Freedom”- The 'epic' on this album, only about eight minutes, short compared to the average Yes epic, but the longest track on this LP. This is a real tour de force for the band and the albums high point.
Unique, off beat drums set up this number, and chorused bass resonates. Howe soon enters with some echoey delay drenched lines that hark back to the flurry that closed “Long Distance Runaround” a few years earlier, only these ride through this whole tune. About 2 minutes into the tune a melody emerges from the guitar that builds and leads to the verse. There is quite a rave up at the end of tune with a wild mix of crawling, chromatic lines.
I find it hard to really describe all of this to you (despite being incredibly long winded), still I wanted to take a minute to urge all to reevaluate this album. I think every Yes album from the 70's is good and certainly worth enjoying and trying. Try a slice of Tormato for yourself. I am sure it was a shock to fans when it first came out, but years later I think it sits proudly along side the cerebral Going For The One and the much overlooked Drama, both of which are underrated gems as well. More about those soon....