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Yes - Magnification CD (album) cover

MAGNIFICATION

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

3.75 | 1030 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'Magnification' - Yes (79/100)

In so many ways, Magnification rides on the precedent set by The Ladder. As was the case on The Ladder, the strong epic tracks may not be quite enough to excuse the inconsistent pop songwriting, but Yes truly sell their 17th album on account of the passion they've put into arranging and executing it. Even without the full orchestral treatment, I think Magnification could have held its own against anything the band had released in over twenty years.

Whereas so much of Yes' post-Drama material is cumulatively shat upon by their fans and critics, the short period beginning with their Keys to Ascension duology and ending with Magnification escaped the brunt of the storm. After how bad things got with Open Your Eyes (a next-to-worthless AOR album if ever I've heard one!) Yes seemed to get the message, and decided to turn their sound around for the better. The fresh studio material on both Keys to Ascension 1 + 2 was well-intentioned and proggy, but lacked soul and inspiration. In spite of a few weak tracks, The Ladder aptly demonstrated that Yes were still capable of releasing great prog in their fourth decade of existence. Magnification, then, is the next logical evolution in this short Yes renaissance. Not having employed a full-bodied orchestra since 1970 with Time and a Word, the fact alone that Yes were bringing symphonic prog full circle was pretty audacious, particularly for a band who, earlier on Union, didn't sound like they had a clue where they wanted to go.

Most of Yes' orchestral experiments have felt superficial to me- Time and a Word only used the symphony in spurts, and the Symphonic Live orchestral renditions of classic material rarely did more than shadow the guitar and bass lines. In any case, Larry Groupė orchestral arrangements here proved to be a wonderful surprise. Although the focus remains almost always on the band themselves, these songs were clearly written with enough 'fill in the blanks' room for Groupė to make the orchestral contribution relevant. These songs could have existed well enough on their own, but the symphonic arrangements make them come alive.

Using a symphony (even as background accompaniment) in rock music is always ambitious, but it doesn't often work. Even if the orchestra holds the potential for intensity and bombast that rock musicians often strive for, people have become too desensitized by the fanfare of action film soundtracks to make it so exciting when the symphony is made to sound as energetic as their rock counterparts. The Michael Kamen-conducted orchestral rendition of Metallica's S&M is an example of the hokey bombast Yes cleverly avoided here. There are times when Groupė's orchestral arrangement gets bold alongside the guitars, but the beauty of the arrangement lies in the fact the symphony transcends a merely supportive role. Although the rest of the song isn't particularly well written, the two minute orchestral to "Give Love Each Day" is as beautiful and tender as anything on the album. The fact that so much of the spotlight is given to the orchestra makes the symphonic experiment so much more than the ego trip it usually is for bands.

Although the symphony adds an expected sense of grandeur to the proceedings, Magnification may very well be the most laid-back album Yes have ever released (I'm not going to give Heaven and Earth the credit of mention here). The passion from The Ladder is here, but there's nothing here as wacky and caffeinated as "Homeworld" here. There is a confidence and sense of purpose on Magnification I don't think Yes had experienced since even before Tormato in 1978. While the soft epics ("Dreamtime", and "In the Presence Of" especially) still comprise the best the album has to offer, the quality of the regular songs has considerably increased over The Ladder. Despite its mid- tempo pacing and orchestral overlay, "Spirit of Survival" is one of the hardest rocking tunes Yes had done in ages. The title track has a pleasantly 'classic Yes' feel to it, and the beautifully pastoral moments on "We Agree" more than compensate for the cheesier AOR influences. "Soft as a Dove" is short, but it's a gorgeous showcase for Jon Anderson's voice, who sounds just as he did thirty years prior.

Sadly, not everything shines so brightly on Magnification. Other songs are less successful; "Don't Go" sounds like a pop tune you might hear on "Big Generator"- it's catchy and cheerful enough, but ultimately feels out of place on the album. While I've already mentioned how much I love the first two minutes of "Give Love Each Day", the rest of the song is dampened by a chorus that is far too do-goody to be saved by the confidence Yes performing it with. Also, while the rose-tinted lyrical imagery doesn't really detract from the album, given the fact that Jon Anderson was once writing lyrics about massive battles, Hindu vedic shastras and the exodus of alien peoples via mythic Moorglade, I might have hoped a Yes album this good would have been given some more fascinating narrative material.

Whatever Magnification's faults may be, they're far outclassed by the major strides Yes achieved here. It's a brief period of inspiration and clear-sightedness you wouldn't expect to see from a band that had been going for so long, much less a band that had spent the better part of the decade prior writing wallpaper rock. In some cruel twist of fate, the album on which Yes finally 'got it back' would be their last, at least until the Benoit David-fronted Drama-wannabe Fly From Here a decade later. Oh well. The important thing is that the post-Tormato era released at least one great Yes record. At the time, I think that was more than any of us were rightfully expecting.

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |

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