May 30, 2024

The closing Hurry Home (Song From The Pleiades) …is a bizarrely anthemic, Celtic-influenced arena lighter-waver, with a genuinely uplifting chorus. It’s sort of like Big Country crossed with a whale-song recording, but somehow it works quite brilliantly. Don’t ask how, just enjoy it.

The year is 1988. Jon Anderson has just left Yes following the Big Generator album and is a year away from the Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe collaboration. He has cited his reasons for leaving this divisive and ‘prog-lite’ version of the band as feeling creatively sidelined and at odds with the direction of the material they were pursuing. At this juncture he heads for Ocean Way recording studios in Los Angeles to record a solo album. The question which many fans were wondering was whether his dissatisfaction with the somewhat streamlined and commercial sound of the Trevor Rabin-era Yes would push him to return to his roots, as it were, and embrace a fully old-school ‘prog’ sound on the resulting record.

No, is the short answer. He would certainly not do that. In fact, on the contrary, the In The City Of Angels album would turn out to be, for the most part, a complete U-turn from the road that so many Yes fans of ’70s vintage were wanting him to go down, and instead pursue a direction so rooted in soft pop-rock and smooth production values that it made Big Generator sound like Tales From Topographic Oceans by comparison. However, taking it from that viewpoint, is it a poor album? Well, to be entirely honest, for much of proceedings the answer would have to be ‘yes’, even with the benefit of 35 years’ hindsight. However, that’s not the whole story, as there are tracks here which do have undoubted merit to them, and should be heard by the Anderson fan-in-the-street, as it were.

To get the weak stuff out of the way, the opening Hold On To Love is a pop-disco effort so smooth that it would render cotton wool a safety hazard by comparison, while the following If It Wasn’t For Love is a close first cousin to Circus Of Heaven, for that minority of people who may consider that song a strong element of the Tormato album. In A Lifetime seems to take that long to traverse its four minutes, It’s On Fire couldn’t ignite if doused in petrol overnight, while Betcha is only marginally better than the title. That’s a half of the album which CD ‘skip’ buttons were invented for. But wait, because there are islands in this particular stream of Adult-Oriented Pop-Rock which make things worth investigating.

Sundancing (For The Hopi/Navajo Energy) is a typically Anderson-esque title for a track which is percussion-based and genuinely rhythmically interesting. It’s the high point of the poor first side, until the closing For You appears; a rather lovely ballad which carries its melody beautifully thanks to some of Jon’s most emotive singing, and is all the better for the restraint which keeps it to a concise sub-three minutes. The second side opens quite promisingly also, with the lively New Civilization, and following the diversion to I’m On Fire and Betcha, the best two tracks of the whole album are saved for the end. Top Of The World (The Glass Bead Game), referencing Hermann Hesse’s book, is given a whole new dimension thanks to some pleasingly distorted lead guitar lines from Steve Lukather snaking their way in and out throughout the track, and it is one of the few areas in which an actual prog influence could be said to be poking its head above the Californian parapets. This continues even stronger for the highlight to these ears, the closing Hurry Home (Song From The Pleiades). Now, what the Pleiades have to do with proceedings is unclear (but then again this is the man who invented the word Khatru, so I guess he’s entitled to be a bit vaguely airy-fairy if he wants to), but the motivational new-age philosophy of the lyric doesn’t really matter in the final analysis, as the music is a bizarrely anthemic, Celtic-influenced arena lighter-waver, with a genuinely uplifting chorus. It’s sort of like Big Country crossed with a whale-song recording, but somehow it works quite brilliantly. Don’t ask how, just enjoy it.

It’s a tricky album to evaluate in the final analysis. Expectations are not raised by two co-writes with Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier, and the presence of most of Toto throughout the album at times makes things like Africa and Rosanna come across like Napalm Death, but the quality of the better half of the record, and particularly those last two tracks does do much to make up for it. It’s hard to decide whether rear-loading the end of the album with the best material is wise or not, as it certainly makes you want to try it all again to see if the weaker moments grow on you, but by the same token many of the more rock-minded listeners might well have given up before that point. My advice though, is don’t. Plus, there’s the presence of Jon Anderson’s voice in splendid form, as I’m sure I’m not the only one who would give the phone book a fair listen if he was singing it.

To sum things up – is this the best Jon Anderson solo album? Not even close to it, naturally. Is it the worst Jon Anderson solo album? Well, that’s more realistic, though he has produced some stiff competition on occasions. And it is certainly not as bad as the cover art, though that is a low bar of considerable depth. But should an Anderson fan have this in his collection? If only for the trio of For You, Top Of The World and Hurry Home, absolutely yes. Jon Anderson has made some glaringly questionable musical decisions in his career, but even at their worst, there is always some stuff there to make you remember why you like the guy so much. And nowhere is that more true than on this album.