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Yes - The Ladder CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.27 | 907 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'The Ladder' - Yes (69/100)

I wasn't five minutes into The Ladder before I realized it was a different specimen from the anesthesiac crap Yes had been grown used to releasing throughout the 90s. Since the underwhelming mess Union at the start of the decade, the band had been suffering through a crisis of identity- it wasn't altogether clear where they could go now that the refined pop rock of 90125 and Big Generator had gone out of style. Things were made infinitely worse when Trevor Rabin left after Talk in 1994; anyone who begs to differ should listen to Open Your Eyes. If you can find any redemptive worth in that album beyond the title track, you're probably a Saint and have a blessed place waiting for you in AOR heaven.

The logical choice, of course, would be for Yes to fall back on their proud history with prog. In any case, their conscious fusion of pop and prog on Union resulted in their first truly bad record, and even the fully progressive studio material on Keys to Ascension felt far less exciting than new Yes epics rightly should have been. I don't think it was the style or prog-factor that was missing in their sound. It was inspiration and a sense of excitement in the music they were making that they had done without for so long. The marriage of proggy arrangements with largely pop songwriting had been attempted before, but on The Ladder it actually works.

One need only look at "Homeworld" to know Yes were enjoying greater chemistry than they'd had in years. It's practically bursting with joyous energy and a newfound confidence I had thought Yes had lost entirely. There is plenty of burstfire prog instrumentation to dive into (with special regards going to one-time Yes keyboardist Igor Khoroshev, who fills Wakeman's boots wonderfully), but "Homeworld" stands out because of the vitesse and conscious songwriting the great musicianship has clustered around. Keys to Ascension proved a technically skilled epic can still turn out iffy.

It's slightly disappointing that the rest of the album doesn't match the heights of "Homeworld." Even "New Language"- the other longer track here- doesn't feel as solid, due to its rather tepid beginnings. Most of the songs here are constructed as pop tunes; the progressive side manifests itself in the arrangements and sonic layerings. Although a few still miss the mark ("To Be Alive" and "Finally" still feel the dreaded AOR tug) The Ladder's songs feel alive and brimming with energy, though I suspect that has less to do with the quality of the songwriting than the lively way they've presented it. In truth, songs like "Face to Face" and "If Only You Knew" would have probably sounded lame had they been recorded during the Union sessions. "If Only You Knew" in particular is- save for a strange chord choice in its chorus- about as formulaic as you can get for a lovey rock ballad. It's all about the way Yes have played the material that makes it work; from Jon Anderson's lively vocals (who sounds better here than he had in years) to the bright guitar and synth flourishes.

The Ladder is far too inconsistent to compete with the best in Yes' oeuvre, and I'm left to question is it's really a well-written album besides "Homeworld". Still, can you think of many albums by bands who have been around for three decades that sound this stoked over what they're doing?

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |


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