Yes released its 19th studio album on December 4, 2004. Magnification was different from the 18 albums that had preceded it. Gone were guitarist Billy Sherwood and keyboardist Igor Khoroshev. Remaining members Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Alan White, and Steve Howe decided not to officially replace them, so Yes reverted to a four-person band for the first time in its existence.
Conductor Larry Groupe was invited to lead an orchestra, which substituted for the keyboards. It proved to be an inspired idea. While the concept may not have always worked, it made the album unique in relation to its other releases and was a welcomed change of pace for a band approaching the 40-year mark.
In many ways, the music feels like the soundtrack to a film. The classical/progressive rock fusion is similar to what The Moody Blues produced during its classic period, although it was a little lighter. Steve Howe plays more acoustic than electric guitar and the rhythm section of drummer Alan White and bassist Chris Squire fuse with the orchestra on most of the tracks. The result moves the group outside of its traditional progressive rock style.
The title song was the album’s first track and set the tone for what was to follow. At over seven minutes, the orchestra provides the connectors between the sections of the song, as classical orchestration meets progressive rock.
While not every track works, at least it is always interesting. “Spirit” Of Survival” is an up-tempo piece that reminds me of a James Bond theme. “Can You Imagine” contains Chris Squire’s first lead vocal for the band. “Soft As A Dove” uses a flute to compliment Steve Howe’s acoustic guitar work. “We Agree” is a peaceful song with more acoustic work by Howe, but tends to be just a little too close to easy listening for a classic Yes track. “Dreamtime” begins with some Spanish guitar before moving in a progressive rock direction.
Magnification is a nice stop in the career of Yes. It’s not a perfect album by any stretch of the imagination, but at least the group took some chances, which is a brave move for an established band.
Yes is currently in transition again. Jon Anderson left during 2008 and David Benoit was hired as the new vocalist. Its new album, Fly From Home, is due next month, but that’s a story for another day.