On an album boasting a number of wind-swept, very dark ruminations on life in this digital age, Billy Sherwood takes a second on “Living in the Now” to contemplate the answers — and he comes up with something as startlingly beautiful as it is forehead-smackingly simple: Let go.
Nothing new there, I suppose. Nor is it all that surprising to find Sherwood, an alum of progressive rock band Yes and a one-time contributor with Toto, playing every instrument on the newly released What Was the Question?, his fifth solo project. After all, Sherwood’s earliest standout moment in Yes can be found during 1991′s Union, where his one-man band demo “The More I Live” appeared nearly unedited — with just the addition of Jon Anderson’s vocal. Sherwood wouldn’t officially join Yes until 1997, but not before touring with the band and then engineering and producing the Keys to Ascension albums. His official tenure would last just three years, but the impact the band had on Sherwood was lasting.
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Billy Sherwood discusses his decade-long tenure with the legendary prog-rock band Yes, and how it all fell apart.]
You certainly sense that on “Living in the Now,” from the tidal changes in tempo and feel, to the limber bass lines and almost mathematical guitar asides, to the sweeping, inspirational lyrics. Yet, Sherwood remains more than the sum of his Yes years. Across the breadth of What Was The Question?, as on his denser concurrent efforts alongside fellow Yes alum Tony Kaye in the band Circa, Sherwood dabbles in the weird impressionism of early Genesis, and the crinkly nerve of Jeff Beck. There are layer upon layer of multi-tracked vocals, straight out of the sun-drenched school of Brian Wilson. And the offbeat yet catchy compositional verve of those unjustly forgotten prog-rockers UK — fitting, since Sherwood produced John Wetton’s 2011 solo project, and has Wetton as a guest on this album’s “Delta Sierra Juliet.” That’s not to mention the thundering improvisational references to Weather Report.
Still, for all of that musical and perhaps topical familiarity, Sherwood’s message on this track — arriving as it does, ever deeper into the era of troubling questions and even more troubling answers concerning privacy in an online world — somehow lands with a particular resonance. No, these technological marvels haven’t released us from worry, so much as given us more things to heedlessly involve ourselves with. Devices that were supposed to help us save time have become these ravenous consumers of our days. And every click, every “add to cart,” is now part of your permanent record in some computerized card catalog.
Yet, Sherwood remains unbowed, the voice of reason. “For all the worrying and losing sleep,” he insists, “we don’t have much to show.” The answer, Sherwood seems to be saying, is right in front of you — blinking like Gatsby’s beacon. Hit the power button. Turn it all off.
As “Living in the Now” abruptly ends, you can almost feel that quiet space as a computer powers down, when the fan dies out and the screen goes into black — that moment when you can finally hear your own heartbeat again.