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Music of Yes: Structure and Vision in Progressive Rock (Feedback: The Series in Contemporary Music, Vol. 1) Paperback – November 1, 1996
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"Long-winded" and "pompous" are derisions routinely leveled against Yes, the kings of "avant-rock," and they often apply to this examination of the band's music by social theorist Martin (philosophy, DePaul Univ.). The author fulfills the dream of any Yes-fanatic by waxing philosophic about the group's entire recorded output, focusing on their "main sequence" of albums from The Yes Album (1971) through Going for the One (1977). Martin goes to great pains to explain the importance of Yes's "vision" and argues his own interpretations of their music and lyrics in excruciating detail. Unfortunately, he offers little external evidence to support his musings; nor is the coverage broad enough to be a useful work on the progressive rock movement as a whole. Having little appeal to those not Yes-obsessed, this book is unnecessary for all but the largest popular music collections. General readers may be more tempted by Yesstories: Yes in Their Own Words (St. Martin's, 1996).?Lloyd Jansen, Stockton-San Joaquin Cty. P.L., Cal.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Yes fans (Yes-persons?) will flock to this paean to the world of 1960s "art rock." Yes always engendered extreme reactions: either devotion because of the group's lofty aesthetic standards or dismissal as a band of musically flatulent poseurs. Philosopher and semiotician Martin displays an affinity for Yes and tends to overanalyze pop-cultural minutiae but valuably assesses a time when capital-R Rock music was thought to matter deeply in the ultimate scheme of the universe. This makes for some tedium, but Martin's points about the artistic aspirations of '60s and '70s "progressive" music are thought-provoking. Perhaps Martin fails to adequately factor in that "what it was about Yes that allowed it to be such a force for the people who experienced the music" may have been simply the fact that its fans were teenagers when that music was new. After all, to some, the music of Little Richard ("A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom") is deeply moving and fraught with metaphysical portent. For serious rockers only. Mike Tribby
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So one could hope to understand the veritable desert that existed when Martin's book hit the scene. This would - I think - explain the rather puzzling praise "Music of Yes" has garnered in certain circles: finally, Yes fans had something - anything - to read about their favorite band. Fans somehow were able to forgive the obvious flaws of this book.
Those flaws are glaring, and have succeeded in making "Music of Yes" practically unreadable.
Let's start with the prose. Martin is a cloistered academic, vehemently pro-Marxist, and his writing style is more suited to the stuffy papers with which like-minded folks regale themselves in the name of "research". Unless one is familiar with this style of writing - pedantic, halting, self-indulgent - it is very difficult to figure out where Martin is heading in his work; even within the confines of a single paragraph! One comes away with the impression that Martin himself doesn't know his path, and often founders for something coherent to say.
Reading is therefore a chore: you have to force yourself through the book with a will. As you do so, you notice three things: 1. "Music of Yes" is entirely subjective and offers no new information about Yes - only Martin's opinion, 2. Martin has very little knowledge of music theory on which to pin his conclusions (he talks a great deal about counterpoint, but very little about anything else), and 3. His pro-Marxist leanings often get in the way and color his conclusions.
This book seems to be more a polemic about Marxism than about Yes. Martin takes every opportunity he can to not only trash capitalism, but to equate Yes' ideology with his dogma in the process (he desperately wants Yes to be about Marxism, but no matter how hard he tries to wedge them into that box, they just don't fit). Talking about the "jaded, cynical world of post-modern capitalism," he often digresses wildly from the topic at hand to deliver a whining broadside to western culture; a broadside that usually misses its mark.
He even manages to drag the Gulf War into the book! I had a difficult time figuring out what that had to do with Yes, but Martin never expostulates: his political ideals, which litter the book like cast-off socks, often hang without any visible means of support.
One comes away from this book with the impression that Martin is out of his depth in writing about music. It's too bad this attempt had to be made in the name of Yes.