Evidently, Yes were still doing something right, and their subsequent assessments of Tormato (coloured by both their own experiences of making it, and its repercussions) have been somewhat harsh, True, the variegated eight-song opus released in September 1978 is stylistically less uniform than most of its predecessors, and the continued absence of engineer Eddie Offord put too many cooks over the broth. Yet there’s still much of worth to revel in. As Rick himself points out, “Tormato could’ve been tremendous,” and irrespective of its less polished comers, there are many passages of vintage grandeur and some breathtaking precursors of Yes’ musical future. Indeed, pioneering electro-popper Phil Oakey of The Human League recently reflected that “Yes gave me hints of what was coming”. So they were still visionary, whether they saw it or not. A product of its time in both macro and micro terms. Tormato was forged at a juncture when some one-time card-carrying Yes fans writing in the music press were becoming more furtive followers or outright spiky-haired skeptics. Steve Howe admits that when Yes regrouped In December 1977 to record another album, following an exhaustive world tour, they were “not so sure of ourselves.”
The ensuing sessions (which lasted off and on for seven months and were captured in the Yesyears film) also began under less than auspicious circumstances. Alan and Jon wanted to return to Switzerland, where Rick resided, to re-create the convivial atmosphere that produced the splendid Going For The One earlier in 1977. But Chris and Steve, drained by months on the road, wanted to stay in the U.K.
After a “heated debate” the band booked time at Advision and RAK Studios in London’s uppercrust St. John’s Wood, a somewhat less idyllic location than the sunkissed, Alpine-fresh Lake Geneva shoreline eulogised in Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water.” Still, once ensconced in the Big Smoke, Yes did agree to write more concise songs, in a bid to emulate the domestic Top 10 success of “Wonderous Stories.” Hence, Jon tempered some of his more expansive, flighty ideas and allowed free rein for everyone else’s.
Steve asserts that this openness backfired by producing “individual rather than collective goals,” resulting in a rather “tentative” set of songs, albeit still with “a rock element.” But Rick believes that the problem was not so much a surfeit of Ideas that were at odds with each other as a lack of space to accommodate and develop them all fully. Plus, there was no one producer, so there were always five sets of hands working the studio faders.
Because of lack of rehearsal, Rick and Steve (for the first time) failed to agree on the ideal arrangements between guitars and keyboards, Steve noting that Rick often “was playing one thing, and I was playing something else.” A case in point is the synth- and percussion-driven ascending powerhouse of “Arriving UFO.” As impressive as it is, Rick felt that it “could’ve been one of the great Yes stage features of all time,” adding that overdubbing and a remix would have made it truly awesome. As it stands, it is still a fractured work of genius.
Alan White ruefully continues that “we kind of got into some crazy stuff,” a shared interest in the preternatural coming to the fore, not least in both the album’s title and Aubrey Powell’s much-maligned pip-splattered sleeve design: an archetype of business-suited modem man divining his fortune with a pair of old-world dowsing rods. (Steve Howe had originally suggested calling the LP Yes-Tor, after a mystical hill in Devon’s Leyline country.) With UFOs also at the height of their New Age popularity, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind captured the Zeitgeist and inspired Yes to use its overture on their much-praised “In The Round” tour of August-October 1978. while Wakeman’s warm harpsichord and Spanish guitar “Madrigal” speaks of “celestial travellers [that] have always been here.” It is, as Steve says, “a beautiful moment.” Other contemporary currents apparently floating in the ether include the intricate syncopation of both the crescendo-filled “Arriving UFO” and the heady, raging “On The Silent Wings Of Freedom,” which occupy aural realms that would later be explored by an act that had recently become Wakeman’s A&M tablemates, The Police (viewed by Yes touring partner, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, not as new wavers but as the last great prog-rock act). Additionally, while Tormato failed to ulfill its mission statement of producing a killer single, its lofty and memorably catchy U.K. Top 40 tune “Don’t Kill The Whale” bore a timely, eco-friendly message. Likewise, the ebullient “Release, Release” (another minor British hit) combined a la mode new wave energy with a riff-heavy audience-tracked passage in stadium rack mould.
Of the remaining songs, the locomotive rhythm of “Future Times” is an exercise in rock accessibility, while the celestial, orchestral “Onward” and “Circus Of Heaven” (a cod-calypso lilt infused with Disney-esque a capella, as well as childlike innocence bordering on the sentimental) are endearing in their incongruity. All told, it’s hardly the oneness of vision or execution of past form, but an excitingly diverse canvas, nonetheless. Indeed, Tormato’s rich soundscape still wins plaudits from many Yes fans, especially in the U.S., where the album made #10 (while it went two better across the Pond).
By the spring of 1979, Yes’ focus had shifted once more to solo projects and another transatlantic tour before gathering again in Paris in November 79 to craft Tormato’s follow-up. By then, aftershocks from the creative process that had forged it had come to the fore in the shape of both the band’s fluid musical direction and internal dynamics (with Jon and Rick having settled in an opposing writing camp to their colleagues), putting Yes’ very future in doubt.
But while band members and many fans alike look through post-1979 eyes with anguish at Tormato’s tumultuous sights and sounds, any judgment should focus on its musical merits. While it might not demand the instant reverence bestowed upon Yes’ early masterworks, such as The Yes Album, Fragile, and Close To The Edge, to dismiss Tormato either as a proverbial might-have-been (neither Yes past nor future) or the beginning of the end of Yes as a unique musical force does it an injustice.
Tormato is not only an intriguing snapshot of the era and Yes’ place within it but also an overlooked rough diamond that boasts more than enough carats to nestle snuggly in the richly encrusted Yes song jewel box.
1. Future Times/Rejoice 6:46
(Wakeman, Anderson, Howe, Squire, White)
2. Don’t Kill the Whale 3:58
3. Madrigal 2:27
4. Release, Release 5:48
(Anderson, Squire, White)
5. Arriving UFO 6:08
(Wakeman, Anderson, Howe)
6. Circus of Heaven 4:32
7. Onward 4:05
8. On the Silent Wings of Freedom 7:52
9. Abilene [*] 4:02
10. Money [*] 3:14
(Wakeman, Howe, Squire, White, Anderson)
Demos Paris Sessions Dec. 1979:
11. Picasso [#][*] 2:12
12. Some Are Born [#][*] 5:42
13. You Can Be Saved [#][*] 4:20
14. High [#][*] 4:30
15. Days [#][*][Demo Version] 1:00
16. Countryside [#][*] 3:11
(Anderson, Howe, White, Squire)
17. Everybody’s Song [#][*] 6:48
(Anderson, Howe, White, Squire)
18 – Onward (Bonus Orchestral Version) 3:06