Vocalist Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, and drummer Alan White had an inspiration during 1996.They reformed as the classic Yes line-up, recorded live tracks from a three-night stand in San Luis Obispo, California, added a few new studio songs, and released Keys To Ascension. It proved to be a commercial and critical success.
If at first you succeed, stay on the gravy train. They returned a year later with more live tracks from the San Luis Obispo concerts, and more new studio songs, and released another album appropriately called Keys To Ascension 2 (a two-disc set). Unfortunately, Rick Wakemen wanted to release the studio tracks as a stand-alone album with a live bonus disc but was outvoted. He promptly left the band for the fourth time, if you are keeping count.
The quality is very close to its predecessor, but I tend to like the studio tracks on disc two a little better than the live tracks on disc one. All in all, it comes out about the same and is one of the better modern Yes albums.
The live “I’ve Seen All The Good People,” “And You And I,” and the just under 20-minute long “Close To The Edge” are like having an old friend come to visit. They have all appeared on numerous releases, and while nothing really new is added here, you appreciate their presence nevertheless.
The shorter pieces fare a little better, as they are changed a bit. “Time And A Word” is built around some masterful piano work from Rick Wakemen. “Turn Of The Century” is a Steve Howe guitar clinic, as he brings his classical guitar expertise to the forefront.
The studio tracks are built upon the epic and intense 18-minute long “Mind Drive.” It is as good as any extended track Yes has ever produced. It has distinct parts that explore the overall melody before returning to the basic theme. Eighteen minutes can be a long time for one song, but this is one of those occasions where Yes makes the length work in its favor. The other outstanding studio track was “Foot Prints.” Chris Squire carries the early part of the song alone and then settles in for some of the better bass lines of his career.
Keys To Ascension 2 was another album that reassured the Yes fan base that everything was fine. It remains a nice live update for some of their better known songs and a good introduction to some new studio material.