The ’90s found Yes slumped and bloodied against the ropes. Fashion had again rendered them surplus to cultural requirements. Their album “TALK” tanked. “Whisper” would have been a more appropriate title. Concerts, a dependable safety net in the leanest of times, were under attended. Trevor Rabin went from Messiah to Pariah in the span of 4 studio albums. The much-anticipated KEYS reunion with Rick Wakeman was derailed by illness. The brace of “KEYS TO ASCENSION” albums carried the faint echo of wagons being circled and barrels scraped. When Rick left due to illness, a rethink was obviously in order.
What’s a corporation to do when their ass is getting kicked in the market place of musical ideas and a senior partner is on extended leave of absence? Yes did what most corporations do, they streamlined and downsized scope of field operations (back to clubs and theaters, shorter tunes). They upgraded and diversified media presence (more and varied DVD releases, remasters, album remixes, less reliance on standard CD releases), and hire young sexy/hungry temp employees to fire the competitive juices of older, entrenched career employees, cut cost, and to broaden the demographic (enter Igor Khoroshev and Billy Sherwood).
The following describes activities during this crucial period:
“OPEN YOUR EYES” released in 1997 started life as a Squire/Sherwood side project. Yes factory accessories, (ie…Steve Howe’s guitar and Jon Anderson’s voice…) were bolted on in an apparent attempt to make commercial amends for the under-cooked KEYS volumes. All this taken into account, it is an attractive set of prog-pop quickies with two viable single candidates, “No Way We Can Lose” and “Man In The Moon”. “No Way We Can Lose” was a standout track with real soul courtesy of Chris Squire’s surprising harp playing. This is the record UNION could have been. Had it been released subsequent to “CLOSE TO THE EDGE”….(OK, I’ll spare you). The only hard knock on the album was the artwork which was striking only in its mediocrity. Collective writing credits served to blur who was driving the machine at this point. However, the album credits show American Billy Sherwood was not only a fully anointed member but engineer as well. DNA testing would likely reveal EYES to be Billy Sherwood’s baby. Keyboardist Igor Khoroshev was the hired gun who out-tinkled Billy Sherwood and Steve Porcaro and subsequently joined the band for the EYES tour.
“THE LADDER” was released in 1999. It stands as Yes’ finest album since “GOING FOR THE ONE” or “90125” (depending on your political affiliation). Igor’s mystical ability to nail the styles of Kaye, Wakeman, Moraz into a seamless whole earned him a placing as marquee band member and writing partner on “THE LADDER” . The album is loaded with bright energetic moments and sport two extended set pieces that sit well in the Yes canon.
“Homeworld” is a blinder that soars in a manner as only the best Yes music can. It simply must be added to future tours. The DVD “Yes At The House Of Blues” consolidated gains made by “THE LADDER”. The HOB tour was a rousing success; however, the up close and personal nature of these gigs revealed Steve Howe’s Zen working overtime to observe the protocols required by a “two-guitar” line-up. Indeed, Billy Sherwood was gone after the tour as the band returned to tried and true masterworks on their next tour. Howe was visibly re-energized and all keyboards parts regardless of authorship were pulled off to spooky perfection by Igor.
As the turn of the century dawned, exit Igor amid cloudy circumstance. Yes required a hired gun and an orchestra to replace him for the “MAGNIFICATION” album and tour. Ironically, magnification was required to track the album’s sales figures although it spawned material good enough to survive into the Classic Reunion Tour . The set piece,”In The Presence Of” showed Yes was still adept at long form composition. “MAGNIFICATION” and the companion DVD “Symphonic Yes” was enough of a departure from the previous releases to keep the faithful happy, spending, and wondering what Yes would pull out of their hat next. The orchestrations on “Symphonic…” also gave an extreme makeover to the sometimes exhausting “Gates Of Delirium”. These releases and the tour helped to slake Anderson’s “TIME AND A WORD” Jones once and for all and marked time until Rick’s return. Era closed.
So Yes survived a prog-hostile time in world history. Good on them. Let this era be memorialized by the contributions of Igor Khoroshev and Billy Sherwood in a time of need. Billy was Trevor enough for the ’80s fan base and Igor sparkled. If the bleak world economy precludes you from buying the entire catalog from this period, view the DVD’s “Yes At The House of Blues” and/or “Symphonic Yes”. It’s the next best thing to being there. The void in ‘The Hall’ remains.