The Ladder (Yes album)
|Studio album by|
|Released||20 September 1999|
(Kitsilano, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)
|Label||Eagle Records (UK)|
Beyond Music (US)
|Singles from The Ladder|
The Ladder is the eighteenth studio album by the English rock band Yes, released in September 1999 on Eagle Records. Their only studio album recorded with six full-time members in its line-up, work began at the end of their one-year world tour in support of their previous album Open Your Eyes (1997) and in celebration of the band's thirtieth anniversary. During the tour they agreed to work with Canadian producer Bruce Fairbairn and relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to record The Ladder at Armoury Studios. During the album's mixing stage, Fairbairn died unexpectedly and Yes dedicated it to him.
The Ladder received a warm reception from critics who saw the album as a return to creative form from the band. It reached a peak of No. 36 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 99 on the US Billboard 200. Three singles were released, "Homeworld (The Ladder)", "Lightning Strikes", and "If Only You Knew"; the former was used in the 1999 real-time strategy PC game Homeworld by Relic Entertainment. Yes supported the album with their 1999–2000 world tour, during which Khoroshev was let go by the band after backstage displays of violence and sexual harassment. Sherwood also departed from the band after the tour due to internal disagreements.
In October 1998, the Yes line-up of lead vocalist Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White, guitarist Billy Sherwood, and keyboardist Igor Khoroshev, brought in as a side musician for the tour, wrapped their 12-month world tour in support of their seventeenth studio album, Open Your Eyes (1997). For their next move the group felt the time was right to record a new studio album. In November 1998, Squire confirmed to the press that they agreed to work with Canadian producer and musician Bruce Fairbairn, who was recommended by their management The Left Bank Organization as they had worked with him on other projects. The band had produced Open Your Eyes themselves, but wished for an outside producer to give the music objective ears and aid in its direction. During their stop in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada during the Open Your Eyes tour in mid-1998, they visited Fairbairn; Howe said: "We all took to him amazingly well. We prayed that he would say 'yes' to the idea of working with us". Fairbairn, a fan of the band and aware of their musical talents and capabilities, agreed to work with them.
Later in November 1998, Yes returned to Vancouver to write, rehearse, and prepare demos of their new material in Sanctuary Studios, which lasted until February 1999. As they had performed the final gigs of the Open Your Eyes tour in Japan, they organised to have their equipment shipped to Vancouver to perform. By this time, Khoroshev became a full-time member. The Ladder saw Yes write an album collectively for the first time in a while; one of the conditions they agreed upon was that if a member contributed a song of theirs, the band would not use it. Sections of songs were then brought in and combined with another, particularly if they were not complete to allow them to be worked on further. Fairbairn attended the rehearsals for two weeks, something that Howe had never seen before as previous producers he had worked with could never be bothered. Having produced a demo of some songs, Fairbairn picked eight of the strongest tracks for the band to work on.
The Ladder was recorded from February–May 1999 at Armoury Studios in Kitsilano, a western neighbourhood of Vancouver. Fairbairn is credited as the producer and Mike Plotnikoff the engineer and mixer. The album's title was inspired by the Indica Gallery in London that housed an art exhibition in 1966 where John Lennon first met Yoko Ono, who had constructed her "Ceiling Painting" (or the "YES Painting") which required people to climb a ladder and look through a magnifying glass suspended from the ceiling, which allowed them to see the word "YES" in tiny letters on a framed piece of paper on the ceiling. During the recording, the band lived in different apartments within the same building and travelled to and from the studio together. White recalled that the band had not done such a thing since they recorded Going for the One (1977) in Switzerland and felt such a situation benefited the album's progression.
Fairbairn wished to capture a "live" feel for the album with minimal use of overdubbing. He gave Howe the nickname "Swami" for his tendency to bring elements of spirituality into the music. With two guitarists in the band at the time of recording, Howe played the lead guitars and Sherwood much of the rhythm parts and "a few of the breaks". Like Open Your Eyes, Khoroshev plays a Hammond B-3 organ but had to use an organ simulator as the sound of the real model sometimes bled into White's drum tracks. The simulator was fed through a Leslie speaker cabinet to obtain a more authentic sound. He intended to play a greater variety of keyboard instruments such as the harmonium and accordion, but did not get to use them. Fairbairn wanted Squire to play his Rickenbacker bass for the entire album, but the bassist would suggest playing parts on different models, which Fairbairn ended up liking the sound of better and kept them in the final takes. Squire played his Rickenbacker, his signature Chris Squire Mouradian, an 8-string Ranney, a Fender Jazz bass on "Face to Face", a Tobias with B-E-A-D tuning on "New Language", and an Electra Outlaw MPC bass with a flanger effect. Select percussion parts were completed by Sherwood as White was absent from the studio due to a minor illness. There were certain tracks where Sherwood nailed the overdub in one take.
On 17 May 1999, during the final recording and mixing sessions, Fairbairn died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 49. Known for his punctuality, concerns were raised when he failed to turn up to the studio on time. After two-and-a-half hours without an answer, Anderson and studio receptionist and manager Sheryl Preston drove to Fairbairn's apartment, broke in after they found an untouched tape on his doorstep, and discovered his body in his bed. His passing was a shock to everyone involved and ended tentative discussions to work with the band again on future projects. After Yes took a short break, they regrouped and completed the production and mixing duties with Plotnikoff. The Ladder was then mastered at Sterling Sound Studios in New York City in May 1999. At Fairbairn's funeral service held on 24 May, Anderson and Howe performed an acoustic version of "Nine Voices (Longwalker)", a song that Anderson recalled touched Fairbairn personally and was a favourite of his. Yes subsequently dedicated The Ladder to Fairbairn.
The album also features contributions from multi-instrumentalist Randy Raine-Reusch, who, along with Anderson, contributed much of the ethnic instrumentation present throughout the album. After returning from a conference in Cairo, Egypt, Raine-Reusch was asked to meet with White and Anderson to pick out some world instruments to flesh out certain tracks. The selected instruments were then brought over to the recording studio, which Raine-Reusch had to transport over by truck. He ended up playing a zheng on "To Be Alive", a didjeridoo on "Can I", a tamboura on "Nine Voices", and a finger cymbal known as a Ching, as well as other effects such as a bullroarer throughout the album.
"Homeworld (The Ladder)", originally titled "Climbing the Ladder", is the result of the band's discussions with video game developer Relic Entertainment and publisher Sierra Games, who expressed an interest for Yes to license a track for their 1999 real-time strategy PC game Homeworld. The group agreed to have the track featured in the game's ending credits, which features Anderson writing lyrics inspired by its themes of science-fiction, space, and the search for a new home. According to Anderson, the track was close to being taken off the album as the band had written a collection of arrangements but struggled to fit them together prior to working on them to fit into a song. "Lightning Strikes" borrows the opening flute solo from "Phenomenal Cat" by English rock band The Kinks. The flutes at the beginning were loops that Khoroshev played on a Mellotron that came from a CD of hundreds of different loops for the instrument. White had been experimenting with more unusual jazz and "African-type" rhythms when playing in his studio and played it to Anderson, who then adapted some chords and a melody he had written to fit it. "Face to Face" includes a 7/4 time signature. "Can I?" quotes Anderson's solo track "We Have Heaven" from Yes's fourth studio album, Fragile (1971). Howe said it sounds as if Anderson invented a new language for it and recorded the phrase "Ooh wop" as part of the backing vocals.
"If Only You Knew" is a love song that Anderson wrote for his wife Jane. During the writing phase, Fairbairn suggested that the band record a track about someone, which made Anderson think about one of his favourite musicians, Bob Marley. "Just when we finished that track I walked out of the studio and MTV were showing a classic Bob Marley concert. So I thought, 'Gosh, that's a sign!'" "New Language" includes a church organ solo performed on Yamaha keyboards. "Nine Voices (Longwalker)" features Howe playing a 12-string Portuguese guitar, which he also played on past Yes songs "I've Seen All Good People" and "Wonderous Stories". The track came about following the completion of "New Language" when Fairbairn asked what song they wished to record next, and suggested one about a real event. This led Anderson and Howe to produce a demo of "Nine Voices (Longwalker)" that they saw as an ideal closing track. The song is based on The Longest Walk, a spiritual-led walk across the United States in 1978 organised by the American Indian Movement to support tribal sovereignty. Anderson had befriended one of the participants named Long Walker, and wrote a song about nine tribe members and the song they sing to "bring forgiveness into the world".
Release and reception
|The Daily Vault||C+|
The Ladder was released on vinyl and CD in September 1999 by Eagle Records in the UK and by Beyond Music in the US. It was a greater commercial success than Open Your Eyes in both countries after it had failed to enter the UK Albums Chart. For its one-week presence on the UK chart, the album reached number 36 for the week of 2 October 1999. In the US, the album peaked at number 99 on the Billboard 200 chart during its two-week stay in the same month. The album included a digital preview of the game Homeworld which was also included when The Ladder was reissued for the Yes album compilation box set, Essentially Yes (2006).
In October 1999, Jason Warburg reviewed the album in for The Daily Vault, giving it a "C+" rating. He recognised the band were looking back at its 1970s output yet looking forward to create a "new definition of 'The Yes Sound'" which he welcomed, particularly with "Homeworld (The Ladder)", an example of how the group "can unquestionably still tackle the sprawling, multi-themed rock numbers that were once its bread and butter". However, Warburg thought Yes continues to struggle to "define itself" yet blended its progressive 1970s and pop-oriented 1980s sound better on The Ladder than Open Your Eyes, and Anderson's "New Age blather" and "airy optimism" in his lyrics hurts the music at times. In the following month Gene Stout, for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, wrote The Ladder "is a bright, optimistic album" with an unusual combination of orchestral rock and reggae textures and styles. In the Daily Herald in the Chicago area printed a positive review by Rick Baert. He gave the album four stars out of five, and also welcomed the band's return to elements of their musical roots which he said were missing from Talk (1994) and Open Your Eyes, noting the opening track as "traditional Yes". "It Will Be a Good Day" reminded Baert of "The Revealing Science of God" from Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973) and "The Messenger" of Fragile, and noted "If Only You Knew" as a rare "believable love song" by the band that comes off as authentic.
In a retrospective review for AllMusic, Bret Adams gave the album three stars out of five. He praised Fairbairn's choice of not overproducing the album which he felt Fairbairn had done on previous albums by Kiss and Aerosmith. Anderson, Howe, and Squire, Adams thought, had "fine moments" and noted White's drumming "consistent". He thought "Homeworld (The Ladder)" was a "tight performance" and noted the "supple vocals/acoustic guitar/piano coda" as its strongest section, but rated "Face to Face" as the album's strongest track and "New Language" the album's best long form song. Longtime supporter of the band and biographer Chris Welch praised Fairbairn's "sensitive, disciplined" production and Plotnikoff's engineering gave a "cohesion, clarity, structure and a strong live feel to the album". He thought each song had its own unique identity yet "seemed linked to a common cause", and pointed out that the band's sparing use of instrumental power enhanced the music. Welch highlighted "Face to Face", a track he felt "had some of the most joyful playing heard on a Yes album in many moons".
Yes supported the album with a world tour from September 1999 to March 2000.
|1.||"Homeworld (The Ladder)"||9:32|
|2.||"It Will Be a Good Day (The River)"||4:54|
|5.||"Face to Face"||5:02|
|6.||"If Only You Knew"||5:43|
|7.||"To Be Alive (Hep Yadda)"||5:07|
|11.||"Nine Voices (Longwalker)"||3:21|
|1999 Japanese release|
|12.||"I've Seen All Good People" (Live in Los Angeles 1997)|
|13.||"And You and I" (Live in Los Angeles 1997)|
|2000 Limited Tour Edition|
|14.||"All Good People"||3:33|
Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.
- Jon Anderson – lead vocals, world instruments
- Steve Howe – lead and acoustic and steel guitars, mandolin, backing vocals
- Billy Sherwood – guitars, backing vocals, tambourines and shakers
- Chris Squire – bass guitars, backing vocals
- Alan White – drums, percussion, backing vocals
- Igor Khoroshev – keyboards, backing vocals
- Randy Raine-Reusch – world instruments
- Rhys Fulber – dance loops
- The Marguerita Horns - horns on "Lightning Strikes"
- Bruce Fairbairn – producer
- Mike Plotnikoff – engineer, mixing
- Paul Silveira – second engineer
- George Marino – mastering at Sterling Sound Studios, New York in June 1999
- Steve Hennessy – guitars and keyboards technical support
- Chris Crippen – drums technical support
- Drew Arnott – keyboard technical support
- Chin Injeti – keyboard technical support
- Roger Dean – painting, logo and lettering
- Martyn Dean – design
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- Welch 2008, p. 264.
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- Welch 2008, p. 271.
- Welch 2008, p. 270.
- Welch 2008, p. 265, 270–271.
- The Ladder (Media notes). Yes. Eagle Records. 1999. EAGCD088.CS1 maint: others (link)
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- Welch 2008, p. 265.
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- Welch 2008, p. 266.
- "News flash: Producer Bruce Fairbairn dead at 49". MTV. 18 May 1999. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
- Welch 2008, p. 267.
- Welch 2008, p. 268.
- Welch 2008, p. 272.
- Adams, Bret. "The Ladder – Yes | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
- Warburg, Jason (13 October 1999). "The Daily Vault – Album Reviews – The Ladder: Yes". The Daily Vault. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
- Sollow, S. (2011). "PROGRESSIVEWORLD.NET: REVIEWS BY STEPHANIE SOLLOW". web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 30 January 2009. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
- "Official Charts – Artists – Yes: Albums". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 27 August 2017.
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- Baert, Rick (3 December 1999). "Yes successfully returns to magical, mystical roots with 'The Ladder'". The Daily Herald. Chicago, Illinois. p. 11 – via Newspapers.com.