After the critical and commercial debacle of their 1997 album, Open Your Eyes, Yes regrouped. Vocalist Jon Anderson, drummer Alan White, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe were back, as was Billy Sherwood, who was retained as a second guitarist but no longer as the keyboardist. The group became a six-man band when keyboardist Igor Khoroshev was officially added to the group. The band also brought in outside producer Bruce Fairbairn, who unfortunately died just before the recording process was completed.
The Ladder returned Yes to their progressive rock roots and while it may not have been of the same caliber as their classic work, it was at least welcomed and ultimately very listenable. When taken on its own and not compared to their past work, it emerges as a fine modern Yes album.
There are two extended tracks, a few ballads, and overall the music has a nice hard edge to it. When you add in the usual level of competent musicianship and the tight production, you have an album that has withstood the test of time well.
“Homeworld (The Ladder)” is one of two tracks that clocks in at over nine minutes. It was the album’s first track and its classic progressive rock style sets the tone for what follows. “New Language” was the other longer song and used a jam from their previous album recording sessions to form the foundation for the song. The length of both songs gives the various band members room for solos.
“It Will Be A Good Day (the River)” and “Face To Face” may veer a little toward traditional rock, but both are catchy and melodic. Plus, they fit into the concept of the album well. “The Messenger” was a fine tribute to Bob Marley. “Nine Voices (Longwalker)” has some nice acoustic guitar work.
The Ladder may not explore any new ground, but at over three decades into their career at this point, I’ll accept the old. There may be better places to start when exploring the Yes catalogue, but at least there is nothing offensive, and in places there is some good music.