Yes are considered one of “the” progressive rock bands of all time, but their lineup changes, alterations, reincarnations and reunions could make the drama of Spinal Tap’s revolving drummers seem tame by comparison. But like many other groups, Yes isn’t exactly the first band some of its original members were in. Chris Squire was in a band for the proverbial cup of coffee months prior to the formation of Yes. And so it is now that The Syn, Squire’s pre-Yes band, is back with its first album in nearly 40 years. Along with original singer Stephen Nardelli and a strong supporting cast, The Syn recently toured the U.S. in support of this album. And let it be known that at over 50 minutes and with seven songs (actually six with a brief intro called “Breaking Down Walls”), the album is a series of longer, winding pieces of music.
The Syn, who are known to hardcore Yes fans—but who are know also as the answer to the trivia question “Who opened for Jimi Hendrix on his very fist British gig?”—kick things off with the brief “Breaking Down Walls”. This track could have been ripped from XTC during its last Apple Venus, Volume 1 session—a series of sweet harmonies that give way to a lengthy, majestic “Some Time, Some Way”. It’s not hard rock by any stretch of the imagination, but it has enough of the old-school progressive rock vibes to please most listeners. Up-tempo but revolving around Squire’s bass line as Nardelli sings about a phoenix rising and a midnight sky, the track seems suited to what the group have deemed themselves: “Prog Modernists”. From there it settles down into an almost “prog rock paint by numbers” format, with nothing really spectacular and a brief segue into an acoustic-driven arrangement.
The group’s core is rounded out by drummer Jeremy Stacey, guitarist (and brother) Paul Stacey and keyboardist Gerard Johnson. But they basically accentuate what Squire and Nardelli are doing, namely creating new material for classic rock stations everywhere. And from there, the band naturally goes for another three-plus minute outro entitled “Reach Outro”. The outro sounds like it’s been taken from Pink Floyd’s Meddle and jazzed up just a tad. It’s a somewhat trippy track with distant harmonies, some cheesy keyboards buried in the mix and a slow, plodding tempo. And it is definitely one minute too long, as if the “outro” has an “outro” of its own for some strange, unknown reason. “Cathedral of Love” begins like something The Moody Blues might have done in their earlier heyday, with what sounds like a flute but is actually a keyboard sprinkled throughout. Nardelli delivers a slightly Southern feeling as the ballad forges its deliberate prog-like path, like a distant cousin to the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson’s material on his first solo album. Halfway through, things pick up in a very strong, good way, in the vein of Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow.
The record’s homestretch (if three songs of roughly 31 minutes is a “homestretch”) kicks off with a run-of-the-mill pop song entitled “City Of Dreams”. There is nothing out of the ordinary or particularly amazing here, aside from drummer Stacey’s fills in the chorus. Things pick up somewhat after that, as Nardelli and Squire seem to again find the chemistry they had in the first place all those years ago. Throw in a melody halfway through that is as much Yes as it is Meat Loaf thanks to the piano, and The Syn finally hit pay dirt with this tune before returning to the arrangement found in the opening moments. Just as pleasing is the ensuing “Golden Age”, which has a certain punchy pop feeling to it. The mandolin sets the stage for the groovy, Southern-like riffs off in the distance.
Closing things up is the 13-minute “The Promise”, which starts promising but fades fast. The grandiose, anthem-like portion is a short reprise as Nardelli sings about breaking down walls for freedom. From there the group breaks things open into an odd orchestral-meets-psychedelic flavor that works only about half of the time. Perhaps too epic, but what you would expect for a group that wants to prove that their first go around wasn’t a fluke?
// Notes from the Road
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