Sunday, July 19, 2015

Squire's (Not So) Silent Wings

In two of my previous posts, Yes, Squire and Yes Again, Squire, I wrote about the recent passing of bass guitarist Chris Squire and about the group he co-founded and played with for almost half a century, Yes. And I included two of their songs that especially showcased Squire's unique approach to turning the bass into a lead instrument, "Heart of the Sunrise" and "Starship Trooper," both of which are among their better known songs, from two of their most popular albums, Fragile and The Yes Album, respectively.

This time around, I want to share a lesser known song recorded several years after those two, and included on their 1978 album, Tormato. As the album cover makes clear, tormato is a variation on tomato, presumably as rendered through a British dialect. And while it suggests a bit of self-deprecating humor, it also reflects the fact that the band was less than satisfied with the album. And while it may not have been completely panned when it was released, Tormato did meet with a mixed reception. Simply put, it was not as good as their earlier stuff that you could listen to on The Yes Album (1971), Fragile (1971), and Close to the Edge (1972).

The band's line-up on Tormato was almost the same as on Fragile and Close to the Edge, with Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, Jon Anderson on vocals, and Rick Wakeman on keyboards. The only difference was the drummer, Alan White taking the place of Bill Bruford, Bruford having left the group after the release of Close to the Edge. White remained with the group ever since, substituting a solid rock beat in place of Bruford's more jazz-influenced drumming. For the most part, it was a difference that made significantly less of a difference for fans than the times when other musicians took the place of Anderson, Howe, or Wakeman. Bruford only returned briefly to play Yes music with the breakaway group, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe circa 1988-1990, and together with White for the Union album and tour, circa 1991-1992.

I can only imagine that it must be strange for White to be the longtime drummer for Yes, for approximately 45 years, and yet to somehow always be in the shadow of Bruford, who played with the group for only a few years, but appears on their best known and most popular albums.

But I digress.  The end of the 70s was the time when punk rock had hit the peak of its popularity, and the related genre of new wave was coming into its own, and they represented an approach to rock music that was almost diametrically opposed to that of progressive rock. Interest in concept albums, complex compositions, and fusions of classical, jazz, and rock was at an all time low, which was bad news for Yes. Progressive rock still had its enthusiasts, and Yes their die-hard fans, but Tormato was, in its time, a disappointing album, and stands as the end of the group's classic era, as Anderson and Wakeman left the band a year after the album's release. It was the end of an era. 

Only in retrospect could the album be said to be, not one of their best, but a respectable contribution to their discography. Or at least, I'll say it. Others may disagree. But I think most would agree that the album has at least one or two cuts worthy of note. Which brings me back to the point of all this, the lesser known song (as compared to "Heart of the Sunrise" and "Starship Trooper") that features Chris Squire's bass, and I should add that Squire also played an important role in providing backing vocals to Jon Anderson. The song I am referring to is "On the Silent Wings of Freedom," and it is credited to Jon Anderson (for the lyrics) and Chris Squire. Here's a quote about the song from its Wikipedia entry:

The song is the final and longest song on the album. On this particular track, as with most of the album, Squire sends his bass through his foot pedal controls to give it a more harmonized sound. Thus, the bassline had a different tonality to it from previous albums, yet was still able to retain his signature "growl". Most Yes fans favour this one song, as it is the closest track to other fan favourites like "Close to the Edge", "Heart of the Sunrise" and "Awaken". It also foreshadows the harder rock sound the band would move to on Drama.

Drama is the album the group released after Tormato, minus Anderson and Wakeman, and I'll leave that off for another day. I will reinforce the entry's point, that this song has the same sort of quality we find on their big three albums, The Yes Album, Fragile, and Close to the Edge, while it also incorporates more of a hard rock sensibility than their earlier work. The track also highlights Alan White's powerful drum playing, and there is some very nice interplay between Squire and White here, and also between Squire and Wakeman. Only Steve Howe's guitar playing moves a little bit into the background here, as compared to much of their other material, which opens up more room for Squire to shine.

As was the case in the previous two posts, this YouTube video, featuring the album cover art of Roger Dean, comes courtesy of vzqk50HD Productions. And here are Anderson's lyrics:

On the silent wings of freedom
Where I offer myself midst the balancing of the sun
On the winds of celestial seasons
That would carry me on, midst the balance of being one
On the dream of our love eternal
That will eventually bring our living once more with you

Where we are coming from
Or where we go
We only know we come with sound

Where we are coming from
Or where we go
We only know we go around and around

On the back of your forty-second screamdown
Do you choose to be lost midst the challenge of being one
On the flight of regardless feelings
As you hurtle to fear midst the challenge of everyone

On the darkest night so painful
Do you hunger for love midst the torture of being one
On the passing light of easing
Have you seen you inside midst the being of everyone
To the common goal of freedom
Where we offer ourselves midst the balancing of the sun

Where we are coming from
Or where we go
We only know we come with sound

Where we are coming from
Or where we go
We only know we go around and around

I very much like the line, "we only know we come with sound," which strikes me as quite media ecological in its insight.

And the song also strikes me as a fitting memorial, the silent wings of freedom as a metaphor for release from pain and sickness, and for passing on from this earthly plane.

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