Talk is a point of confusion for me in so many ways. Long before I ever got around to checking out Yes‘ fourteenth album, I’d heard reports that it was the so-called saving grace of the Trevor Rabin era. Some rose-tinted listeners went as far to say it ranked up there with the band’s classic material. This high regard was sharp contrast to the hideously sell-outish album art, which may very well be one of the least appealing covers I’ve ever seen. If anything, the cognitive dissonance going into Talk made the anticipation that much more compelling. I was excited to find out what I’d think of it- after all, it couldn’t be any worse than Union… Right?
It’s just my luck that there’s no definitive, one-size-fits-all answer with Yes‘ 1994 would-be comeback. The disastrous collaboration of the old and new band incarnations on Union was a severe misstep, but nothing on that album was as mind-numbing and lifeless as some of the songs here. I mean, it’s as if Yes suffered dementia for several songs’ length and dawdled into the bleak abyss of Adult Contemporary soft rock anaesthesia, precisely true to what the awful cover might have suggested. At the same time, Talk manages to be a fulfilling swansong to the Rabin era, thanks exclusively to the fifteen minute suite “Endless Dream”. You often hear people discussing progressive epics as the centrepiece or highlight of an album. In the case of Talk, “Endless Dream” is just the highlight; it’s the only goddamned worthy cut Yes managed to conjure this time around. But all every estimate, it just about makes this awful mess worthwhile.
While the double-casting on Union gave the album a bi-polar strain between their prog and pop sides, Talkdemonstrates conflicting halves to a far greater extent. The first five tracks, from the dreadful mid-tempo rocker “The Calling” to the pukey FM fodder “Walls” are a string of songs that showcase a lifeless, anaesthetized Yes, not even going through their own motions so much as taking part in the sterile AOR purgatory for rock stars who ‘lost it’ somewhere along the way. Say what you will about 90125 or Big Generator; they were far less sophisticated than what Yes was used to doing, but the songwriting was often fun and catchy. The aforementioned tracks are so queasy and saccharine that I can’t see the catch or quality from any angle. I’ve always thought of AOR as the most nullifying genre of music out there, but the first half of Talk is bad even by that standard. I’d suggest that these songs be nice listening for someone on a solitary road trip who found themselves too meek to reach past the middle-of-the-road rock ennui, but that recommendation would make me liable in court if this crap made the driver died asleep at the wheel. I suppose “Real Love” has a decent punch to it, but I’m not going to bother splitting hairs any further than that.
Of the shorter songs, “Where Will You Be” is the only redemption. It’s as if Yes wanted to offer a buffer zone between the comatose AOR and the suite; “Where Will You Be” isn’t particularly impressive, but it’s got a spacey Jon Anderson atmosphere that would have otherwise been missing from the album. I don’t even think “Where Will You Be” could prepare the listener for what was to come though! Even “Machine Messiah” didn’t impress me this much as the fifteen minute “Endless Dream” as Yes epics go. Even though they’re pulling an old card from their sleeves in making an epic, Yes have made the clever decision to make it in the image of their modern incarnation, rather than something made to sound like classic prog. The post-production chopping, anthemic melodies and punchy rhythms all scream of Trevor Rabin’s presence, and I’d say he earns the biggest credit as to the track’s strength. Even as early as his tenure on 90125, Rabin and the rest of Yes struggled to fuse the classic prog style in with the modern pop, and most often they would come up empty- only 90125‘s “Changes” begged to show the combo was possible. If Union dispelled all notions that the two eras could function together, “Endless Dream” surprises by actively demonstrating that the new era can potentially perform and compose as well as Yes‘ original vision.
“Endless Dream” opens with some twisted rhythmic work that quickly reminds of “Changes”, and showcases some instrumental fireworks rarely heard from the Rabin era. Keeping in tune with “Endless Dream”‘s characteristic as a distinctly modern progressive epic, the studio itself becomes an instrument. The most compelling part of the epic comes about five minutes in, where a recording is chopped and sampled, creating a playfully robotic atmosphere unlike anything heard from ‘real’ instruments. The epic goes on plenty of instrumental detours, including a particularly intense rhythmic burst around the ten minute mark. All of it is held together by a beautiful vocal hook that sounds even more compelling by the album’s end. This attempt to achieve the ‘best of both worlds’ from Yes‘ two styles is nothing new, but it’s only on “Endless Dream” that they finally achieved it. At long last, the Rabin era offers a righteous retort to any of the purists that declared Yes ended with Drama. As it so happens, Rabin wouldn’t be with the band past Talk, so even though they finally managed to achieve something big here with “Endless Dream”, we wouldn’t see this realized potential pursued any further. Instead, we were left with “Open Your Eyes”. Go figure. The world is cruel!
Every positive thing people have said about “Endless Dream” is well-deserved and true. It’s honestly one of the best tracks of both eras of Yes, and would find itself trailing not far behind “The Gates of Delirium” and “Awaken” if I made a list of their greatest tunes. The fact alone that it’s the best thing they had created in close to twenty years makes it worth the experience for any would-be Yes fan. Ending on a note like that, I’m left with a feeling of warmth that only good albums give. I wish the feeling stuck, because as soon as it comes time to play the album again, I’m filled with a sense of dread as I’m reminded there’s over half an hour of garbage to wade through before I get to the good stuff. I leave this album with two opinions. Sadly, the negative opinion covers a hell of a lot more of the album’s width than the other. There’s no single, all-encompassing way I can summarize my feelings towards Talk, maybe save for “What the hell were they thinking?” Check out “Endless Dream”, but throw the rest of this forsaken album away.
1. The Calling (Rabin – Anderson – Squire) (6:56)
2. I Am Waiting (Rabin – Anderson) (7:25)
3. Real Love (Squire – Rabin – Anderson) (8:49)
4. State Of Play (Rabin – Anderson) (5:00)
5. Walls (Rabin – Hodgson – Anderson) (4:57)
6. Where Will You Be (Rabin – Anderson) (6:09)
7. Endless Dream (Rabin – Anderson) (15:44):
a) Silent Spring (Instrumental) (1:56)
b) Talk (11:56)
c) Endless Dream (1:58)
* Jon Anderson – vocals
* Chris Squire – bass and vocals
* Tony Kaye – keyboards
* Alan White – drums
* Trevor Rabin – guitars, keyboards and vocals