July 7, 2023

Safe (Canon Song) closes the album and takes up a whole fifteen minutes of the second side … a slow-build-and-release epic, beautifully structured and leisurely in its development and payoff … It’s a tremendous piece which closes the album in absolutely superb style, and would be the highlight of most albums. Most albums, however, do not contain Silently Falling...

The year 1975 was notable for many things musically: Bohemian Rhapsody redefining what made a Number One single, Led Zeppelin putting out their epochal double album Physical Graffiti and playing their series of Earls Court shows, Pink Floyd following up the unfollowable with Wish You Were Here, and the Sex Pistols playing their first live concert. One of the things which would not be remembered quite so universally as the first three, yet was perhaps indicative of the arrival of the latter and their ilk, was the decision by Yes to release a series of five solo albums, one by each member of the band. This had already been undertaken by the Moody Blues a couple of years earlier, resulting in a couple of excellent releases and others which ranged from uninspired to requiring a Government Health Warning. This pattern was very much repeated when Yes took their own hiatus and indulged their collective whims, with the results appearing in 1975 and early 1976, as if akin to some ominous Harbinger Of Punk.

Many fans will have different opinions of these five releases, but a majority would surely agree that Alan White’s horrendous Ramshackled was the worst of the bunch, but Patrick Moraz’s Story Of i (in which the ‘i’ represents an unprintable symbol something like a planet hovering over a giant golf tee) has also not aged well to these ears, possessing an almost unintelligible concept and clumsy attempt at incorporating Latin and Brazilian music. Steve Howe’s Beginnings – the only one of the five to fall back on Roger Dean artwork – contained some good quality music, but sadly also contained Howe’s voice, which on tracks like Australia could induce ghastly flashbacks on the part of the unsuspecting listener. Jon Anderson’s Olias Of Sunhillow had and continues to have legions of admirers, although it remains divisive, with almost as many finding it ‘deep and meaningless’ style over substance as those who found it to be revelatory. Leaving aside Rick Wakeman’s work, as he had already left the band prior to Moraz’s arrival and had released several solo albums before his 1976 album No Earthly Connection, the pick of the unruly bunch to these ears remains Chris Squire’s 1975 Fish Out Of Water, which has continued to be revered by fans for the past almost-five decades, and for the most part with good reason.

The inner gatefold spread

Was it a perfect album, and a demonstration that one band member could outdo or at least match the best work of Yes as a band? Well, no, it wasn’t, but it would have been unrealistic to even expect that. It is, however, a fairly consistent listen with around two thirds of it being genuinely inspired. That two-thirds chunk actually consists of just two tracks of the five on offer here, as the album proves itself to be entirely unafraid of great, sprawling progressive epics in the true Yes mould – unlike any of the other four contenders. Those two tracks – Silently Falling and Safe (Canon Song) between them took up around 27 minutes of the album, which is a massive pac-man sized chunk of the running time of a vinyl album to say the least. It’s a similar duration to Emerson Lake And Palmer’s Karn Evil 9, which so defined the Brain Salad Surgery album that it would have been hailed a great work even if the rest was full of Greg Lake And His Ukelele Favourites (it wasn’t, I hasten to add). Let’s have a look at those other three tracks on Fish Out Of Water first, as though they are relatively minor, they do not a collective disaster make by any means…

The opening Hold Out Your Hand is a fine way to introduce the album, coming in on a reassuring wave of trademark Squire bass and some intricately arranged work from all concerned – including Bill Bruford and Patrick Moraz, but no other Yes alumni present. A strong song, with a nice blend of approachable melody and prog heft, it’s the best thing here outside of the two epics for sure. You By My Side, up next, is also a reasonable effort, this time a little more laid-back and melodic, with occasional nods to Crosby Stills And Nash and their classic Our House. At over six minutes, however, it does run out of steam a little before the end, but had it been pared back a little it would have been another undoubted winner. The only real mis-step on the album is the Side Two opener Lucky Seven, which does just about everything that I personally wouldn’t want it to do. Firstly, it sees Squire for the only time on the album really indulging his own bass playing in a twiddly and overdone way, but it also ploughs a twin furrow of funky basslines and jazzy accompaniment – two things not at the top of Squire’s own list of strengths. Add to this the lack of any particularly strong melody and a will-sapping six minute-plus length, and it’s the one cut which really could have been – well, cut. Many Squire fans will disagree, of course, but for me it simply doesn’t have The Right Stuff, as they say. Two out of three ain’t bad, however, as someone else once said, and those three are really the launchpad for the real rocket fuel of the record.

The poster…

Safe (Canon Song) closes the album and takes up almost fifteen minutes of the second side, banishing all memories of Lucky Seven in its wake. It’s a slow-build-and-release epic, beautifully structured and leisurely in its development and payoff, with a marvellous orchestral arrangement courtesy of Squire’s friend and collaborator Andrew Pryce Jackman. It’s a tremendous piece which closes the album in absolutely superb style, and would be the highlight of most albums. Most albums, however, do not contain Silently Falling. Closing the first side at twelve minutes or so, only slightly shorter than its Side Two counterpart, this is a track I would have no hesitation in describing as a true classic of 1970s prog rock, and the only one across all of the solo albums to comfortably reach the highest level of Yes classics, and would have sat easily on almost any Yes album of the decade. Lyrically. musically, compositionally, and even vocally (Squire sings reasonably well throughout, but puts in his best work here), it’s a track that any self-respecting Yes fan, or even prog lover in general, should have in his or her collection. If this record can be said to have at least one definite filler track, this piece, and also Safe to only marginally less extent, render that as an inconvenience at worst.

Esoteric have already reissued this album on CD some years ago, but this time it is the turn of the vinyl format, and this is an unashamedly joyous exercise in nostalgia for the days when album packaging was a delight to be savoured almost as much as the music. Everything here reproduces the original packaging. The gatefold sleeve is present and correct, with the credits on the reverse and the glorious inner gatefold spread complete with wide-angle photo of Squire atop the album lyrics. The inner sleeve is also here as it was originally, with even the inclusion of the somewhat random-seeming foldout poster of a stained glass window design which accompanied the original issue (Squire was, of course, a fervent admirer of that particular artistic medium, and the poster image was and is reproduced on the rear cover). Back in the day it was always a poster which would become a conversation piece with bemused guests if you had it on your wall, that’s for sure!

The audio here is the original 1975 mix, though remastered for more clarity. A new mix was produced previously for CD, but it has clearly been felt that the faithful recreation of this landmark release would be more appropriately served by the original sound mix, and who can argue with that? As noted earlier, this may not have been a perfect album, and a delivery of five Yes solo albums could be imagined to have helped push the spiky-haired hordes finally over the edge to rebellion – but as exciting and fresh (and even welcome) as the punk revolution may have been, if I had to put my money on what has retained its magic and timelessness better over the years, it would be on Silently Falling every day of the week. Beautiful stuff, which looks as good as it ever did.