There seems to be a general consensus that Tormato marked the end of Yes‘ winning streak. There had been personal differences arising in the band since Tales from Topographic Oceans, and combined with their conflicts of artistic vision and a greater level of alcohol consumption than should normally be attributed to a progressive rock act, suffice to say there was a steady foundation for things to fall apart. Though it seems to have earned its own small cult of respect as the years have passed, Tormato sounds undeniably disjointed and unrefined when compared to its predecessors- it’s as if Yes were no longer interested in playing together, instead hopelessly entertaining a notion that inspiration and chemistry would suddenly start up again. In spite of the obvious lack of inspiration and synergy, Tormato still manages to be a fairly engaging and surprisingly underappreciated record, although the band’s better bouts continue to weigh heavily against it by comparison.
Like the album’s title, Tormato is itself an awkward portmanteau, pairing Yes‘ flashy progressive style with the then-nascent 80′s pop kitsch they would deliver in the decade that followed. Like Yes‘ first two albums, Tormato seems to have flown under the radar, even for many otherwise-hardcore Yes fans. While the collective amnesia towards Yes and Time and a Word struck me as being criminally unfair, it’s quite understandable why Tormato hasn’t received much attention in hindsight. After all- virtuoso musicians they may be- who wants to listen to musicians without inspiration or passion? Listening to Tormato, I get the mental image of a band of musicians playing with their backs turned to one another- there’s the general impression they’re working together towards the same goal, but there’s no collusion or chemistry between any pair of musicians here. “Future Times / Rejoice” is a finely written, atmospheric song, but it feels like the musicians have each fled to their own little worlds. Quite a few of the songs here are otherwise well written: “Onward” and “Madrigal” are two beautiful ballad-type tracks, and “Don’t Kill the Whale” features some great melodic writing- I understand it became a minor hit for the band. Whatever the case, it’s less the composition of Tormato, and more the respective execution that proves to be most problematic for the album.
While I appreciate the impact Rick Wakeman had on most of Yes‘ canon masterpieces, I’ve never been a fan of him outright; his attempts to reflect classical orchestrations seemed like an echo at best. However, by Tormato, my ambivalence has turned to disdain- there are parts here where it actually sounds like he’s trying to sabotage the album. His synth solos are abrupt and seemingly aimless, and the budget tones he’s chosen are becoming of a garage neo-prog act. The lack of chemistry may extend to Steve Howe and Chris Squire’s respective noodlings as well, but Wakeman’s carelessness is by far the most obvious.
By all means, Tormato is saved by Jon Anderson, who seems to have tried to compensate for the ambivalence of the others. So much of Tormato has his rose- tinted signature on it. “Future Times / Rejoice” and “Circus of Heaven” are each coloured with overt tinges of Anderon’s psychedelic Romanticism. The beautiful slower tracks (and album highlights) “Madrigal” and “Onward” showcase his angelic vocal qualities. In fact, it’s the more band-oriented tracks that fare less successfully here; “Release Release” is hyperactive and a little disorganized, “Arriving UFO” is rather boring, and “On the Silent Wings of Freedom” is a half-hearted attempt at an epic. It’s possible Tormato may have been better-received had it been labelled as a Jon Anderson solo record. Yes‘ signature vocalist would fly the coop after this album and make way for some Buggles replacement; had he not returned to front the reimagined pop Yes on 90125, this album would have made a fine swansong for him.
An audibly compressed production, lack of chemistry and awkward flow all serve to hold Tormato back from its potential. It’s a shame, really, because I’m convinced there was a great album lurking somewhere in its framework. Had the songs here been given the same attention to detail and drive as Yes had with Fragile or Close to the Edge, it would have been excellent. Of course, the same could be said about a great many albums we’ve collectively dismissed as mediocre. Tormato is scarred by its role as the beginning of the end for Yes, but there are a few gems here that are nonetheless worth the experience.
1. Future Times/Rejoice (6:45)
2. Don’t Kill The Whale (4:56)
3. Madrigal (2:23)
4. Release, Release (5:47)
5. Arriving UFO (6:03)
6. Circus of Heaven (4:30)
7. Onward (4:02)
8. On The Silent Wings of Freedom (7:47)
Total Time: 42:13
Bonus tracks on Elektra remaster (2004):
9. Abilene (4:02)
10. Money (3:14)
11. Picasso (2:12)
12. Some Are Born (5:42)
13. You Can Be Saved (4:20)
14. High (4:30)
15. Days (demo version) (1:00)
16. Countryside (3:11)
17. Everybody’s Song (6:48)
18. (untitled hidden track) (3:06)
* Jon Anderson – vocals, 10 string guitar
* Chris Squire – basses, bass pedals and vocals
* Rick Wakeman – keyboards, birotron
* Alan White – drums and percurssion
* Steve Howe – electric and acoustic guitars, mandolins, vocals