April 4, 2021

Here endeth the decades-long wait for a decent CD version of Animation…

Artists often find themselves at a crossroads by their third release (there’s even an unofficial syndrome named for that very quandary), and when change is afoot, the fan base can quickly become disenchanted. But Jon Anderson was on a creative ascent at the time of his third album, embracing new technology and drawing enough influence from recent collaborations with Vangelis to infuse his music with kindred flavours. If cosmic debut Olias Of Sunhillow saw Anderson still thematically tethered to the Yes mothership, and Song Of Seven was his poppier but uneven sophomore breakaway, Animation found him fully arrived as a solo artist, delivering a solid and balanced batch of tracks imbued with rich melody and infectious energy. Often cited by fans as being near the top of the heap, the album is undoubtedly one of Anderson’s most loved – by those who’ve actually heard it, that is.

Although released worldwide in June 1982, Animation gradually grew elusive due to its lack of a second pressing or CD issue. Thusly shrouded in mystique for decades, it’s been the crate-digging vinyl junkies and those content with compressed digital versions online who are most familiar with it. Unlike its predecessors which were considerably easier to track down on CD as early as 1990, people certainly weren’t stumbling upon shiny new copies of Animation in most music shops. Finally in 2006 it was pressed to CD, and there was much rejoicing… until fans discovered it had been hastily foisted on them with an alarming disregard for quality; a horrendous-sounding ‘needle drop’ transfer with a equally execrable mastering job. Some have even suggested that it’s the worst CD reissue in history, and the scathing reviews of the day seem to attest to that. Hyperbole perhaps, but it’s safe to say it was indeed botched, and the album subsequently faded into the shadows.

But here endeth the decades-long wait for a decent CD version. Fresh off the presses is Esoteric’s latest restoration project, a splendid (and proper) issue of Animation, newly remastered from the original tapes by Paschal Byrne. Whether a replacement for old, crackling vinyl or the 2006 shaving mirror CD (or maybe a new discovery altogether), the album is finally getting the attention it deserves. After all, with inspired songwriting and guest musicians such as David Sancious, Simon Phillips, Jack Bruce, Clem Clempson, Blue Weaver – and my own personal choice for show-stealer, Stefano Cerri – this is hardly an album that should dwell in obscurity.

Straight away with catchy and likable opening track Olympia, it’s evident that all the right moves have been made here. Gone is the ear-splitting shrillness of the CD-that-shall-not-be-mentioned-further, now exchanged for a subtler, sensible sound that allows the energetic piece to shine. The nine minute title track, with its unorthodox arrangement and eccentric motifs, benefits greatly from the improved sonics – and I hesitate to even use the word improved, as it’s really just the way it always should have sounded. The piece remains one of Anderson’s finest, a lovely tribute to the birth of his daughter, and truthfully much more in line with the progressive stylings of his former band (that he was to rejoin only months later for their 90125 album).

How did Animation get so lost in the shuffle, when it’s this good?

The single b-side Spider is included as a bonus, as is the nearly twelve minute demo track The Spell. The latter is a unique piece in Anderson’s catalogue; a wordy and unconventional epic that was slated to be the conceptual foundation of the album before being dropped after the record company weren’t keen – but it’s thankfully available here. The accompanying booklet is loaded with artwork and archival photos from the period, as well as a newly-penned essay, lyrics, and an interview with Anderson.

A key strength of the album is its variety. Whether it’s the simplicity of the folky and tuneful Boundaries, the 80s Weather Report vibe of Pressure Point, or the skilled musicianship that lifts All In A Matter Of Time from routine to remarkable, it’s an impressive blend of styles from a creative peak in Anderson’s career. It also happens to contain two of the most underrated pieces of his catalogue in Unlearning and Much Better Reason; deep cuts both seasoned with healthy dollops of funky bass and grooving rhythms. And despite some dated technology, there’s a timeless charm exuding from the album’s strongest moments that begs the question: how did Animation get so lost in the shuffle, when it’s this good? It may not have the fantastical intrigue of Olias or the epic prog quality of Seven‘s title track, but it’s overall a well-rounded and cohesive effort propped up by the strength of the songwriting and playing.

Not to suggest that it’s perfect, mind you. Surrender and All Gods Children do stumble a bit; it’s arguably a good idea to keep Calypso and gospel music to a minimum on a rock or pop album like this one. But while the album may be docked a half-point for those missteps, it’s largely built from strong stuff, and if ever there was a candidate for refurbishing, it’s this one. Esoteric have simultaneously corrected the Great Sonic Blunder of 2006, provided us with one of their biggest improvements to date, and placed a mighty fine album back into circulation where it belongs. And following more than a year of collective fear, isolation and glumness, It’s fitting that this glittering new edition of such a joyous and uplifting work is arriving during spring, that most hopeful of seasons. Order without caution – this one is a must for all fans.

Animation (Remastered & Expanded edition) is available 30 April.

Olympia · Animation · Surrender · All In A Matter Of Time · Unlearning (The Dividing Line) · Boundaries · Pressure Point · Much Better Reason · All Gods Children · Spider · The Spell (demo)