Jon Anderson – Survival and Other Stories (2011)

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Too often, it was like Jon Anderson didn’t want to make a solo record that sounded too much like Yes. As interesting as these sideroads no doubt were, they gave few clues to how his own voice fit into the wider topography of the band. And they often were so idiosyncratic that only the deepest, more committed fans had the will to follow along.

That is, until his forthcoming solo release Survival and Other Stories, a rousing return to form that finds Anderson coming to terms with his own storied history, even as he transcends it.

That starts with the opening track. “New New World,” in many ways, has all of the DNA markers of Yes’ music — whimsical lyrics about dancing truths, layer upon layer of soaring vocals — but with a newly uncluttered approach. Like much of Survival and Other Stories, an 11-song cycle to be issued today by Gonzo Multimedia, “New New World” is informed by what came before and yet untethered from it. Anderson, right from the first, simultaneously sounds more like Yes than he ever has as a solo artist and yet somehow different.

“Understanding Truth” aspires both to the honest improvisational beauty of his work with Vangelis even as it reanimates a childlike wonder originally associated with his early work as a co-founder of one of prog rock’s signature bands. Think “We Have Heaven” from Yes’ Fragile, but less mystical, more grounded. “Love of the Life” has a punchy bass figure that strongly recalls Chris Squire, but with a torrent of polyrhythms that couldn’t be further away from the pop-prog favored by modern-day Yes. The melancholic “Cloudz” sounds like the stripped-bare duo work of last year’s stirring collaboration with former bandmake Rick Wakeman. Running parallel to all of that are these ringing moments when Anderson moves well beyond those past associations, as on the devastatingly spare “Sharpening the Sword” — which connects on an emotional level with his diaphanous solo 1976 release Olias of Sunhillow.

“Unbroken Spirit” seems to speak most directly to the difficult times that ultimately led to his departure from Yes, and what it took to carry on. After a series of health scares for Anderson, the band decided to continue its muscular touring schedule with Benoit David, lead singer of a Montreal-based Yes tribute band called Close To The Edge. Perhaps unsurprisingly, you hear Anderson contemplating the broader meaning of endings. “Everything will pass,” he sings, quietly, “everything … every thing.” Yet, as the title suggests, there remains a lingering feeling associated with what came before, a shared love that is never completely vanquished. Later on “Incoming” and then even more particularly on “Love and Understanding,” Anderson writes with such naked hopefulness that it’s impossible not to feel a sense of closure here. “Never,” he sings, “has living been so alive.”

Anderson, it seems, has made peace with his time with Yes. More importantly, he’s finally ready to re-claim, completely and so very movingly, his own stake in that legacy. You hear a lot of his former band in Survival and Other Stories, and as welcome as that is, you hear just as much, maybe more, of Anderson himself.

That’s why it’s his very best solo record, simultaneously a brilliant valedictory for his time with Yes and a bold move away from his old band.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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