A new 6-LP box of clas­sic Yes al­bums reimag­ined by prog-rock remixmeis­ter Steven Wil­son. Mike Met­tler digs in for a deep lis­ten.

Sound & Vision - - CONTENTS - MIKE MET­TLER

CAL­CU­LAT­ING HOW many times key en­tries in the Yes cat­a­log have been re­mas­tered, remixed, repack­aged, and reis­sued can some­times feel akin to tal­ly­ing how many of­fi­cial live al­bums The Grate­ful Dead have re­leased over the years—well, okay, maybe not quite that many, but still…. It can also be some­what ar­du­ous to keep up with all the on­go­ing Yes re­lease per­mu­ta­tions with­out a score­card, let alone de­cide which ones are worth pur­chas­ing. But once the ir­re­press­ible guru of pro­gres­sive re­ju­ve­na­tion Steven Wil­son was en­listed to weave his (re)mix­ing magic with five peak-pe­riod al­bums in the Yes oeu­vre, many of us au­dio­philes were all-in from the get-go.

Wil­son had orig­i­nally been com­mis­sioned by the cus­tom la­bel Pan­e­gyric to do “De­fin­i­tive Edi­tion” 24-bit/96khz sur­round- sound mixes on Blu-ray and DVD for 1971’s The Yes Al­bum, 1971’s Frag­ile, 1972’s Close to the Edge, 1973’s dou­ble al­bum Tales From To­po­graphic Oceans, and 1974’s Re­layer, with smash­ing re­sults across the board. (The fully en­velop­ing scope of Rick Wake­man’s “I Get Up I Get Down” se­quence from “Close to the Edge,” as per­formed on the church or­gan at St.-gileswith­out-crip­ple­gate in Lon­don and then floated into the fi­nal track from quar­ter-inch tape, re­mains a per­sonal high­light, and is one of my all-time fa­vorite 5.1 demo tracks.)

It was only a mat­ter of time be­fore the stereo ver­sions of the mixes Wil­son did be­tween 2013-16 for these al­bums found their round­about way onto high-grade 180-gram vinyl, and they have now done so in a six-lp box set from At­lantic/ Rhino rev­er­en­tially ti­tled The Steven Wil­son Remixes. Whether this deluxe box is worth your time and money will de­pend on just how much the rit­ual of Yes dis­cov­ery and/or re­dis­cov­ery means to you.

Know­ing the lac­quer-cut­ting had been done by the ev­er­stel­lar Chris Bell­man at Bernie Grund­man Mas­ter­ing for each poly-vinyl bagged 180g al­bum proper put my mind right at ease. I found ev­ery disc to be pris­tine upon ini­tial un­box­ing and un­bag­ging, with all cen­ter holes clean of de­bris and each LP flat­ter than a long-dis­tance runaround drive across the Mid­west. I en­coun­tered no pops, skips, or scratches on any of the 12 sides, which re­sulted in a num­ber of in­stantly plea­sur­able spin­ning ses­sions.

High­lights of said re­peat spins in­cluded the much punchier crescendo dur­ing the fi­nal “Würm” por­tion of The Yes Al­bum’s “Star­ship Trooper,” the fury of Bill Bru­ford’s drum­ming in­ter­locked with Chris Squire’s bass on Frag­ile’s “South Side of the Sky,” and the ab­ject dead-quiet lead-in and fade­out on the ti­tle track to Close to the Edge. Ditto with Steve Howe’s dex­ter­ous acous­tic gui­tar work in the “Leaves of Green” por­tion of the full-sided “The An­cient” on To­po­graphic, and the clar­ity of Jon Anderson’s im­pas­sioned vo­cals dur­ing the fi­nal “Soon” seg­ment of “The Gates of Delir­ium” on Re­layer.

When it comes to Yes, more than a few words must be de­voted to the art­work, given that the oth­er­worldly brush­strokes of the prog genre’s pre­ferred artiste Roger Dean have be­come in­te­gral to the Yes brand iden­tity. The Dean kickers for this box in­clude the to­tally new cover art (a slightly rem­i­nis­cent but fairly dis­tant cousin of the vibe he was go­ing for with the cover to the 1991 Yesyears box set), as well as his re­vis­it­ing of the cover art for all five al­bums, in­clud­ing full re-imag­in­ings of those for Edge and To­po­graphic (but only just slight mods to the oth­ers).

Purists are likely to bris­tle at those blue-hued changes, but they do add an­other di­men­sion to the over­all visual pre­sen­ta­tion.

Mean­while, the lack of any liner notes ex­plain­ing Wil­son’s process for each al­bum is an odd over­sight, es­pe­cially given the ex­pec­ta­tions for this box set of the band’s dis­cern­ing, au­rally in­clined au­di­ence. These could have eas­ily been culled and re­mas­tered, er, re-edited from the ex­ten­sive lin­ers about au­dio sources (which ones were flat stereo trans­fers or en­hanced mono record­ings, if there was any declick­ing de­ployed, etc.) Wil­son pro­vided and Yes his­to­rian Sid Smith penned for the five com­pa­ra­ble Pan­e­gyric BD/DVD re­leases. The other mis­step in­volves the de­ci­sion to forego the green-toned cal­lig­ra­phy-de­lin­eated lyrics sheet from the orig­i­nal Edge. Per­haps there was an as­sump­tion that the in­tended au­di­ence al­ready had ac­cess to and/or owns all this vi­tal in­for­ma­tion via pre­vi­ous re­leases— but as we all know given the po­ten­tial consequences, one should never as­sume.

Re­gard­less of these aes­thetic lapses, the bot­tom line is this: If you a) are a fan of the over­all sound phi­los­o­phy, b) fully un­der­stand go­ing into it that these mixes are most de­cid­edly not meant to be an up­grade to or re­pro­duc­tion of the orig­i­nal Of­ford-over­seen and ban­dap­proved mixes but rather a faith­ful yet mod­ern­ized re­cast­ing of them, and c) vinyl is your pre­ferred play­back medium, then, by all means— your choice to ac­quire this box is no dis­grace.

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