Title: The River
Type: Studio Album
Released: September 20th, 1999
Recorded: February - May, 1999
Label: Eagle Records
Producer: Bruce Fairbairn (1949-1999)
The River was a Yes album released in 1999 by the long-standing Yes line-up of Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Steve Howe and Alan White, joined by Russian keyboardist Igor Khoroshev and the guitarist Billy Sherwood. Khoroshev had already participated in a number of live Yes concerts, and had contributed to some former albums as a session player. Sherwood had been heavily involved in Yes, having done keyboard for Open Your Eyes as well as being the mixer, and de-facto producer, of the studio work from Keys to Ascension. However, his contribution to The River was primarily as a second guitarist and although a number of riffs and guitar work on the album are his, Steve Howe later called his involvement "unnecessary". Sherwood participated in the world tour after The River, but this was the end of his involvement with Yes, as it was also for Khoroshev (although this was attributed to his alleged advances to a woman backstage, and not to any artistic conflicts).
Musically, The River is the only Yes album with a prominent Afro-Carribean influence, with many of the harmonies (such as in Can I and To Be Alive) having a distinct Afro-Carribean sound, in addition to the guitar work. The bold and virtuosic keyboard work by Khoroshev often comes to the fore, and acts as the perfect foil to Howe's guitar work, particularly in New Languages. Various world instruments are employed on tracks such as Homeworld, which was featured as the theme song to the Relic real-time strategy game of the same name. It Will Be a Good Day is a traditional Jon Anderson piece, in the tradition of Madrigal (a song of their 1978 album Tormato), but other songs, such as Finally, have a distinct rock-pop sound and could have become radio fixtures if the album had received more attention.
The River is the only Yes album by acclaimed producer Bruce Fairbairn, who had worked with bands such as the Cranberries and Red Hot Chilli Peppers. He was very interested in reawakening in Yes the musical acheivements that had made the famous in the 70s, and was very closely involved in the selection of material and arrangements. It was his idea for Yes to do a tribute to a musical hero (Anderson chose Bob Marley and called it The Messenger). He even gave Anderson suggestions to change various lyrics of some songs. However, Fairbairn also gave Yes a fair deal of free movement: although he initially rejected the early work on Homeworld, he allowed Yes to keep developing the song although it didn't make it on to the album.
The album featured a signature artwork cover by Roger Dean, with his "new" Yes square logo. Although the Homeworld computer game is unmentioned in the album, the lyrics relate distinctly to the plot of the game, and graphics from it featured in the DVD of the subsequent Yes tour (The House of Blues). Many Yes fans consider The River to be the worst album ever by Yes. It has a more of a disturbing sound than Talk and Open Your Eyes. Music reviewer Nick Alanis, named Talk to be the best Yes album of the 90's (although he did enjoy Keystudio better when it came out in 2001) and The River to be the worst.
Sadly, Fairbairn passed away of an apparent heart attack while the album was in post-production, and Yes played Nine Voices at his memorial service as it was one of Fairbairn's album favorites.. Although the album glanced into the Top 40, it was clear that with Fairbairn gone the label had no faith in the album's market potential. It received virtually no promotion and fell into obscurity soon after release; many songs from the album were never performed, and Yes kept no songs from the album on any of their subsequent tours.
P.S. As with most analyses of a Yes album, this article has said very little about the solid, virtuosic and energised bass work of Squire, and this is because his work is such a "given" on any Yes album that Yes fans rarely comment on it, when in truth it is fundamental not only to the Yes rhythm section, but to the entire Yes-sound, and this is just as true of The River as any other Yes album.
Track Listing Edit
- It Will Be A Good Day (The River) (4:54)
- Lightning Strikes (4:35)
- Can I? (1:31)
- Face To Face (5:00)
- If Only You Knew (5:46)
- To Be Alive (Hep Yadda) (5:07)
- Finally (6:00)
- The Messenger (5:10)
- New Language (9:22)
- Nine Voices (Longwalker) (3:15)