Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 17, 2004)
Personally, Iíve always loved the three-minute pop song. While all their periods were great, I still adore early Beatles the best; Iíd strongly argue that 1964ís A Hard Dayís Night album remains their peak. Donít get me wrong: I donít think we should limit the rock and pop genre to nothing more than verse-chorus-verse numbers, and plenty of great tracks run much longer than 180 seconds. Nonetheless, I prefer lean and tight to long and loose most days of the week.
Because of that, I canít call myself a fan of the progressive rock movement from the Seventies. I respect the genreís attempts to broaden the horizons of what was considered to be rock music, but think that the vast majority of these works failed pretty miserably. Even though I like Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins as solo artists, their Seventies material through Genesis seems over-the-top and somewhat pointless.
One of the first progressive bands, Yes remain one of the genreís most famous acts. Yesspeak follows the groupís 35-year career. Narrated by the Whoís Roger Daltrey, the program opens with a quick look at the bandís 35th anniversary tour in Europe. We then meet the musicians: singer Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White, and keyboardist Rick Wakeman. The program gives us individual band member interviews at their homes (or ďsacred groundsĒ, as the piece refers to the locations). They discuss some personal issues like family and their lives as well as touring.
From there we get an overview of the bandís history. We learn of the groupís origins, how they came up with the name, and different events across their career. Eventually we get ďspotlightĒ on each member, which provide us with various notes about their music and attitudes toward the band. We also see some bits about roadies and general glimpses of the future of Yes. The program alternates between interview clips and shots from concerts, with occasional behind the scenes shots tossed in for good measure.
As I mentioned a few paragraphs back, I never cared much for progressive rock. However, I admit I didnít have a lot of exposure to Yesís music, so I tried to remain open. Unfortunately, their noodlings and ramblings simply confirmed my thoughts that Yes donít produce songs; they just let a bunch of soloists blather on and on for too long and without much point.
Actually, Iím happy I donít care for the music of Yes, for even if I did like the band, Iíd probably loathe them after I watched this glorified promo reel. Yesspeak exists for one reason: to declare the majesty that is Yes. We learn what a magnificent legacy theyíve bestowed upon the world. Why, Wakeman even declares to us that they were 20 years ahead of their time! We also hear what a huge audience they continue to maintain, and how they arenít dinosaurs Ė skillions of youngsters adore them.
Bollocks. As I watched Yesspeak, I tried very hard to ignore my own feelings about the music and view it from a more objective perspective. Did I give me a good overview of the band, their career and their music? Did I learn much and feel entertained?
No, no, and no. We hear enough music to get a feel for the Yes style, but fans wonít find any full performances. To be fair, the DVD does include a complete audio-only concert, but we donít discover uninterrupted video versions of songs. The program tosses out smatterings of notes about the evolution of the bandís career, but it does this in such a haphazard way that it never feels like a good biography. Instead, it just hops from year to year without much coherence, so it lacks a sense of depth.
Yesspeak also fails to deliver much of a sense of reality. Clearly, given all of the bandmember comings and goings over the years, lots of juicy stories must exist. However, youíll hear few of them here. Wakeman seems like the only moderately frank musician, as he goes over some of the bandís problems in the Seventies, but thatís about it. (He also gives us many of the programís most self-congratulatory moments as well.)
Instead of a concrete and rich examination of the band, Yesspeak just pours on the happy talk and laudatory blather. Not only does this come from the bandmembers themselves, but also the narration seems insanely hyperbolic. I felt sad to hear Daltrey reduced to crowing about these boring hacks. Daltrey belonged to possibly the greatest example of a band in rock history, in that the four pieces of the Who locked together and synched in such a spectacular way. Compare that tightness to the ďfive solo artists all playing at the same timeĒ found in Yes, and I canít help but wonder why heís praising them; it really should be the other way around.
Lamentably, Daltrey gets stuck with lines that make Yes out to be bigger Ė and better Ė than the Beatles, the Stones, and Led Zep all combined. Even if you adore Yes, this fluffy tone and relentless barrage of praise will likely make your brain numb.
Unfortunately, thatís about all that Yesspeak offers. A promotional film disguised as a documentary, it prattles about its subject in an unrelentingly and absurdly chipper way that it intensifies any negative feelings one may have toward the subject. Perhaps the fans will be able to stand this puff piece, but I really disliked it.
Footnote: I think Yes are well suited to perform their own version of Lord of the Rings. This first occurred to me due to Steve Howeís spooky resemblance to Gollum. With his bony appearance, balding head and bad teeth, he seems like a perfect match for old Smeagol; heck, he even often refers to a beloved guitar as ďpreciousĒ! Given his high voice and diminutive stature, Jon Anderson would make a great hobbit. Except for perhaps Alan White Ė who looks more working class than the others Ė the rest of the band resembles Middle-earth dwellers as well.