Welcome to the latest installment of the Album Reclamation Project at Proglodytes! Again, we will revisit a maligned Album of the Past and discuss whether it’s really as bad as all that. As a reminder, we will be utilizing the soon to be copyrighted Official Proglodyte Dumpster Fire Scale. Many of the previous albums we have revisited were recorded in the wake of a significant lineup change, but this one reverses that trend and was recorded immediately before key members of the band left. Come, join us as we review Yes: Tormato. A reminder of our patented scale:
- Dumpster Inferno
- Dumpster Conflagration
- Dumpster 3 Alarm
- Dumpster Controlled Burn
- Dumpster Embers
Tormato is the ninth studio album by seminal proggers Yes. The album was released in 1978—a year after the generally well received Going for the One. Like One, the tracks on Tormato are shorter than had been Yes’s wont over the prior several albums. The biggest shift in band lineup for the album consisted of the departure of producer Eddie Offord mid-way through the recording process. For the second album in a row, the band eschewed Roger Dean’s artwork for the album, instead adopting a famously bad Hipgnosis design that consisted of a photograph of a water dowser with a tomato smashed across it. Legend has it that Rick Wakeman threw the fruit at a picture of the original album design, which was supposedly even worse than what they ended up with. The album was commercially successful, hitting no. 8 in the UK and no. 10 in the US charts.
Why People Hate It
Unlike many of the albums that we have revisited with the Reclamation Project, Tormato unambiguously sounds like the band who made it. The album lineup of Squire, White, Howe, Anderson and Wakeman is held in high regard by fans and despite shorter song lengths, Tormato does not make any obvious attempt to fit into then-popular trends (1978 being the year of Saturday Night Fever). So what then, went wrong?
When the album was released, many fans and critics noticed that the overall sound was muddy and poorly-produced. In addition, the album has been accused of lacking overall direction. Tensions that arose during Tormato’s recording led to the departure of both Wakeman and Anderson.
Let’s go track by track:
- “Future Times/Rejoice”: Opens with Rick Wakeman playing lots of notes. He is shortly joined by Steve Howe playing lots of notes. Then Jon Anderson sings this: “In the fountains of the universe (set time in accord) Sits the boychild Solomon (Ever turning round and round).” No, really. Okay, insipid lyrics are kind of a Yes trademark, but what stands out is that the melodic lines, both instrumental and vocal, seem to be struggling against one another, as if vying for dominance, instead of blending together to create a unified sound.
- “Don’t Kill the Whale”: The main single from the album is pop-length, at under four minutes, and has an admirable enough theme, I presume (one can’t ever be entirely sure with Anderson lyrics). It’s pleasant enough, but not remarkable.
- “Madrigal”: This song opens with Wakeman on harpsichord and Anderson singing a rather nice melody. The rest of the band is added in the form of classical guitar and backing vocals, but this song is really all about the harpsichord and lead vocal, even though Howe’s guitar lines are lovely in their own right. The band members who have commented on this album generally advance this song as an example of what went right. They are correct, although at times it seems like Howe and Wakeman are again competing with one another for prominence.
- “Release, Release”: Starts out well enough, but halfway through there is an odd instrumental break with recorded crowd sounds behind a semi drum solo. It doesn’t work, which is too bad, because it isn’t a bad track, although it is perhaps a little long for the musical ideas that it contains.
- “Arriving UFO”: This track feels after a short time like it’s just kind of wandering about as an excuse for incorporating strange synth sounds.
- “Circus of Heaven”: This song actually provides something of a relief and makes clear something important about the album—it’s too frenetic. Having Squire’s bassline form the basis of the song and using actual rests makes it clear that the album has been a breathless sequence of notes to this point. Unfortunately, the song isn’t allowed to breath for long as again Wakeman comes in with layers of various keyboard sounds. It builds to the point where it is almost too much, but then suddenly drops back down to a restful moment where the melody gets to stand on its own. Additionally, there is something rather poignant about the song as Anderson sees the magic and then asks his son about it and the boy only sees what is missing.
- “Onward”: This is a Chris Squire track and it does a lovely job of building off of a lovely melody. Unlike the first track, the instruments and voices here work together and it makes this the best song on the album. It’s one that stands up with some of their other great tracks.
- “On the Silent Wings of Freedom”: This longest song of the album is unlike most of the album, as the drums and bass are up front and leading the way. Like ‘Circus of Heaven’, this provides a welcome shift in tone from the rest of the album.
Is It as Bad as All That?
Not really. The album has weaknesses, but there is some good material and I can’t help but think that if the band had either kept Offord or hired another producer to replace him, the album would have been better received. For purposes of this review, we listened to a remastered version and it really did lift the various parts out of an audio muck that tended to make the various melodic lines lost and difficult to follow.
If the album has a weakness, it is that Rick Wakeman, whom we love, plays too many notes. The keyboards dominate the album and the passages seldom give the listener any breaks or changes in note duration. So dominant are the keyboard lines that at times it seems like the other musicians are musically battling to get to the front of the songs so they can be heard. It’s clearly not Yes’s best album, but it isn’t a complete stinker, either. In fact, if the songs were broken up and scattered about on other albums, fans of the band would probably enjoy them.
Proglodyte Dumpster Rating: Dumpster Controlled Burn