Yes’ Magnification marked a turning point: ‘That was a bit of a nightmare’

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Yes had a Big Idea when it came to Magnification, a project that followed the latest departure by a keyboardist. They would return to a orchestral-based sonic feel that Yes had tried long before, on 1970’s Time and a Word, replacing synths with strings.

Big problems followed, as they often will with Big Ideas, leading to a grueling post-production process before Magnification finally arrived on September 11, 2001. It now stands as Yes’ final studio effort with co-founding vocalist Jon Anderson, and – more particularly – a reminder that sometimes less is more.

Magnification was a different kind of creature,” Steve Howe tells us, in an exclusive Something Else! Sitdown. “It was only completed through the relentless efforts of myself and a guy called Jordan who was with the management company, and I guess [Magnification co-producer] Tim Weidner — who I brought into Yes because he helped me on [the 1991 Howe solo album] Turbulence, and he was a very good engineer. He works with Trevor Horn a lot now. But, basically, that was a bit of a nightmare.”

An overstuffed soundscape made it difficult to pull out the album’s best moments, as Jon Anderson explored themes of war in “We Agree” and more personal themes on “Don’t Go.” Yes also returned to extended songcraft with the “Dreamtime” and the four-part “In the Presence Of,” both of which clocked in at more than 10 minutes. Maybe most interesting of all, Yes included “Can You Imagine,” a reworked track from a failed 1980s supergroup featuring Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Yes’ Chris Squire and Alan White. (They were to be called XYZ, as in eX-Yes/Zeppelin.)

With Yes on a break while Steve Howe and Geoff Downes were forming Asia, Squire had struck up a musical conversation with Page, who lived nearby. Soon, the new trio was at work on the beginnings of some new songs. “This was just after [Led Zeppelin drummer] John Bonham had died,” the late Chris Squire told us in 2012. “He had obviously been knocked back by that event, but he said he wanted to get back into playing. So we messed around with a few tracks. I don’t want to say it was therapeutic for Jimmy, but it really was. We just brought together some songs, and Jimmy was happy to be playing again.”

Unfortunately, the proposed group fell apart when Jimmy Page’s overture to have Robert Plant sing was rebuffed. Seems the former Led Zeppelin frontman wasn’t ready to start a new band just yet. Chris Squire subsequently joined a re-formulated Yes with Trevor Rabin, and the XYZ music laid dormant. That is, until this leftover tune (originally called “Can You See”) was reworked with a new Chris Squire vocal as “Can You Imagine.”

Even that historical oddity couldn’t push Magnification any higher than No. 71 on the UK charts, and a paltry No. 186 on the Billboard listings — a far cry from the Top 40 showings that Yes’ more recent Fly From Here and Heaven and Earth have made. Neither, of course, featured an orchestral underpinning, as Downes returned to the fold.

For Howe, Magnification remains a learning experience. “We did eventually get it right at the end,” he tells us. “There can be too much music, you know?”

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, 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 nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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