PERFECTION OF CIRCUMLOCUTION

What do we make of a new release by a rock veteran? As stars drop from the sky with numbing regularity, do we celebrate the simple act of survival inherent in creating new music?

Perhaps triumph is tempered by a niggling disquiet. What if, Bowie-like, this is a last hurrah; a pre-planned final chapter for an artist knowing with ultimate finality they are soon to be either stardust or worm-food (depending on beliefs). How does that affect the listening?

Some are hard-nosed about half-century careers. Starting from a conviction that no new music could possibly compare to heyday highlights, there is an arms crossed, raised eyebrow suspicion that doubts any new offering will be worth hearing at all, let alone sustain comparison with peak releases. Sadly, there is plenty of evidence to support this position.

Does it all, in fact, boil down to the impact of nostalgia (and loyalty) on the brain. I want to love it, ergo it is wonderful. It can’t be any good, therefore disappointment is inevitable.

Such were the musings of Vinyl Connection as we ordered the new album by the voice of Yes, Jon Anderson.

The album arrived a couple of weeks ago and I must confess to a thrill of pleasure as I removed the record from its mailer and gazed at the striking, intricate art work and hefted this satisfyingly solid slab of double-vinyl. There was also a teensy tremble of trepidation.

Anderson Stolt Invention of Knowledge

Invention of Knowledge teams Anderson’s ageless tenor with guitarist/composer Roine Stolt of Swedish band The Flower Kings for just over an hour of grandiloquent symphonic prog. For fans of progressive music it is probably one of the most anticipated releases of the year.

Anderson/Stolt are not a duo; they are not the only musicians on this sprawling album. A selection of top-notch guests make contributions of varying intensity (and audibility) but consistently high quality. One key contributor is keyboardist Tom Breslin, who Yes fans might know from his playing on the rather brilliant Symphonic Live DVD/album featured not long ago here at Vinyl Connection. Another is inventive bass player Jonas Reingold, a Flower Kings alumnus as well as some-time member of progressive bands Karmakanic and Tangent.

So what is this expansive opus like? First, the good news. Jon Anderson’s distinctive voice is in remarkably fine fettle. At almost 72, there is, perhaps, a slight quaver here and there, yet overall he sounds fabulous and hearing him warble his way across the album is a delight. Second item of good news is the deft and tasteful fret-work from Roine Stolt, a guitarist of variety and invention. The not-so-good news is that Invention of Knowledge has too much of the former and not enough of the latter.

Invention of Knowledge (back)

Words, words, words. Who reads them? Who really cares? Yes fans have been arguing about this since the early 70s, many lapping up Anderson’s cosmically-infused ‘we are love’ spirituality with crystal-vibrating gusto while others don’t give a toss about the reams of tosh Mr A. spouts as long as the music soars and roars and dances and dives. But there is no escaping the fact Invention of Knowledge is Jon Anderson’s baby. Listeners are bathed in his airy proselytising—“We are truth made in heaven we are glorious”—and showered in exhortations to “take it forward” (whatever “it” is). Not to mention the incomprehensible bits that are pure Jon. “Evolution of inventioning”. Huh? Sometimes it seems the album is one long unintelligible sermon from the prince of prolix. Breslin’s keyboards are beautifully layered—when given a window, he shines—some of the bass-lines bounce and leap in a superbly Chris Squire-ish way and Stolt is, as mentioned, fabulous. There’s just not enough of the instrumental business to sustain interest. And the drums being mixed so far back that they are almost inaudible doesn’t help the meandering feel produced by endless recitative.

Invention of Knowledge Inner sleeve

I know some ears will hear complexity here, but for me it sounds unstructured. Lush and layered production covering an absence of musical mapping. Remember how Rick Wakeman introduced greater form and structure into the longform music of Yes? It’s a shame that Roine Stolt couldn’t influence Jon in the same way here. There are many segments seeming to build towards some kind of climax, but then it powers down for more singing. Heavenly harmonies, but no hellacious hooks. Rapture without riffage.

Invention of Knowledge vinyl

One curious observation is how the four sides steadily decrease in length:

Side 1 — 23:00 — “Invention of Knowledge”

Side 2 — 17:54 — “Knowing”

Side 3 — 13:20 — “Everybody heals”

Side 4 — 11:10 — “Know…”

Does it mean anything? No idea. Similarly, in terms of the message, I have no idea what any of it is about. That is a familiar experience to Yes fans, of course; surrendering to Jon’s scrambled gospel is the price of entry. You can trust he’s on the side of the angels, but don’t look too closely or you might notice the wings are papier mâché. Of course the possibility I am simply a travel-weary old cynic has not escaped me, but read this lyric if you will:

The sun (the time) will always shine on your tomorrow

Or this one:

All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds

Tricked you. The first line is Anderson, the second is Voltaire. Candide, the innocent traveller whose naive optimism is apparently untouched by cascading calamities, holds fast to the dictum (taught by his philosopher/teacher Dr Pangloss) for most his adventures such that we want to slap him rather than cheer for him. The sun will not always shine tomorrow. Shit happens, all right? Learning to deal with it is part of growing up. And indeed, although Dr Pangloss is resolute in his belief, Candide does learn something by the end: that we each need to tend our own garden. For myself, I’m aligned more with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow [1807-1882]:

Into each life some rain must fall

Really, if it’s sunny all the time, wouldn’t the risk of skin cancer worry you?

Anderson Stolt vinyl label

Although there are sections of “Knowing” (Side 2, vinyl; track 4 on the CD) I enjoyed a lot, the final side works best for me. Perhaps the (relative) brevity, maybe a sense of tying it all together, possibly even relief at reaching the end. The wisps of Yes classic “And you and I” don’t hurt either. That’s not to say that any of the music is bad; this is neither a commercial sell-out nor a half-hearted retirement project. Conviction (if not choruses) infuses the work. There are numerous short melodies scattered through the rambling sermonising that are very pretty, if under-developed.

Invention of Knowledge deserves to be held in similar esteem to Jon Anderson’s first solo album, Olias of Sunhillow. Yet it is hard to see this becoming a favourite album of prog-heads. The group who will celebrate Invention of Knowledge are those who simply love Jon Anderson’s voice and cannot get enough of his particular muse. They’ll be uplifted and delighted and I wish them joy picnicking in these fragrant meadows. As for me, I think I’ll reach for something closer to the edge.

Anderson Stolt antique Instruments

27 comments

  1. Great review, Bruce. Voltaire, huh? 🙂 Like millions of others like-minded progheads, I can still remember sitting in our dorm room blaring Yes and laughing at Jon Anderson’s lyrics. But it didn’t matter– it was that VOICE! I’m so glad to hear he’s still sounding good at nearly 72. I can’t wait to hear this album. Thanks for letting us all know about it. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Marty. Wanted to try to get the right balance between adoration and examination – precisely for the reasons you name… all that history with Jon and Yes!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. aussiebyrdbrother · · Reply

    Interesting to see we came to much the same conclusion, my friend. A perfectly decent album with some frustrating shortcomings that are impossible to get past, even though it’s always so lavish and grand. I like the guy, but even I just wished Jon would shut his yap for even a single minute on that album. There’s several other outstanding musicians on the album that are completely pushed to the background behind his voice, who don’t get much of a chance to shine, and the album seems like something of a missed opportunity because of it. Still nice to have (and damn your LP set makes my CD version seem sad!), but I’ll admit I’ve taken it off my Ipod already, and I seriously don’t feel like returning to it any time soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read your Progarchives review when you penned it a while back, Michael. But tried to forget it enough to form my own ideas! As you say, not too dissimilar to your own conclusions.
      Try starting at Track 4, btw (side 2 on the vinyl) and see if it makes a difference. Oh, and did you hear echoes of ‘And you and I’ too?

      Like

  3. With Yes and Jon Anderson, I have always been more fussy sampler than connoisseur, content to load up on a few known bits while leaving much of the buffet unexplored. Your highly enjoyable review will probably keep me, er.. (re)laying close to the, um… fragile album edge as well.

    More broadly, given available disposable income (a big “given” I know), I am all for nostalgia and loyalty when it comes to jumping in blindly to new music from personal old faves. I can whip up plenty of excitement at the prospect of the wonderfulness without much of the trepidation over possible dashed expectations. Naïve maybe, but I am thrilled to see artists who regularly brought me joy in the past continuing to try to do so into their golden years. Sometimes their grandfatherly offerings attain a coveted place in the VotF regular rotation — (latest Robin Trower, Megadeth) — and sometimes they don’t — (latest Cheap Trick, Bowie (so far)) — but my Panglossian optimism going forward survives unaffected.

    Above is all very well, but really I am mainly happy to see you continuing to cultivate your garden, VC.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Enjoyed all those yes-isms in the first para. BTW, have I ever suggested you nibble on the Trevor Rabin era band? Crunchy guitar!

      Although I probably wouldn’t have pegged you as an acolyte of Dr Pangloss, I admire a loyalty rooted in nostalgia – the more so when it involves reaching into the last saddlebag of one’s red sheep to fund the spin. And if some of those acquisitions earn an on-going place in the VOTF playlist then I guess that’s a true bonus. BTW, I probably identified with Martin most closely; a bit-part player who struggles to get beyond his sceptical grumpiness…

      Which, I can report, stood not a chance of survival in the face of your final sentence. Thank you. I am glad to be able to wave across the fence at a fellow gardener.

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  4. Regardless of the music, the artwork is incredible. This is the kind of thing CDs can’t replicate.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Too true. It’s a lovely object.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I also just love records with one song on a side. It makes me grin ear to ear.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Ha! Just played another recent vinyl acquisition today: Spock’s Beard ‘Day for Night’, which added a ‘bonus’ non-album track on side 4. Jolly nice. PS. As one of the heavier prog bands, are Spock’s a band you know/like, Mike?

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Absolutely. I had to, just because of their name alone, right?

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Invention of Knowledge – what a terrific title! Knowledge I think of as being something that one acquires, rather than creates, very interesting to think of it being invented in the first place. And I can picnic while listening too? Now we’re talking!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The experience will only be enhance by a full-blown picnic. (What experience wouldn’t?). Re the title, I wonder if Jon liked that rather excellent Ricky Gervais film, ‘The Invention of Lying’?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And although he didn’t invent product placement – surely that ten commandments scene where Ricky Gervais is reading from “Pizza Hut” boxes must be among the most flagrant examples of it!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. “Into each life some rain must fall” Hey, wasn’t that Led Zeppelin?? Thanks for this great review. Listening to an excerpt online now, sounds pretty good. As someone who ran out to a record store in early 1974, with money I had just received in a birthday card, to buy the totemic “Tales From Topographic Oceans” just the similarity of format and packaging in the vinyl edition is a nice throwback.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers, Rick.
      And yes, my meteorologist Uncle says you’re right. If too much rain falls, eventually the levee breaks.

      Like

  7. A great read, Bruce. As you know, I’ve yet to immerse myself fully in the world of Yes and Anderson, but I do like his lyrical forays into, well, bonkersness and, eh, discovery(??)

    I really love the artwork here. I guess it makes the missed opportunity a bit more frustrating? Or am I on my own in the frustration stakes when great album art / package is let down by an album a few missteps away from being the one the art deserves. If that all makes sense.

    As for albums from old favourites, I’m one that jumps in blind. I often haven’t heard much of an album before I decide I’m committing, and bowing, to its splendour. That being said, I have discussed frustrations about the quality and complacency of the likes of Pearl Jam (granted, these folks are nowhere near Anderson’s, eh, experience) and my misgivings about the late (great) Scott Weiland’s diminishing vocal.

    Anyhoo, thanks for throwing yet more music on my radar!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, J. The artwork – well, the best artwork anyway – creates an expectation and even some anticipation… or the reverse! It’s one of those topics that can be endlessly discussed, preferably with a glass of something pleasing to lubricate ideas.

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  8. You are much more balanced than I am. I’m missing my nostalgia gene in some areas, old favourites get no quarter. There are very few of my old heroes who are producing much worth a damn any more, which pushes me into buying back catalogue, or stuff from new bands.

    I really like the artwork though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good to have that perspective stated, Joe. I’m probably closer to your position than the ‘everything is awesome’ attitude one notices in the, er mature fan base of 60s/70s survivors. Having said that, there are a couple of bands (from later decades) who have continued to deliver enough quality that I’d spring for new product on ‘faith’.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Me too, I have an auto-buy list in my head for folks like Nick Cave and Mark Lanegan, but I can’t imagine the circumstances happening this side of Armageddon where I’d spring for a new Stones, or Who LP.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Beautifully written. Will you be checking out Jon’s upcoming live shows with Rabin and Wakeman? I hope to catch the London leg…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Matt. Not sure whether they are planning a trip to Aus. Might be tempted if they are!

      Like

  10. Listened to this yesterday and I like it a lot. I see what you mean, though, when you say it would be nice to have less of Jon’s voice and more of Roine’s guitar. I suppose they could have credited it to “Jon Anderson (ft. Roine Stolt)” but that would make it sound as if Stolt is some sort of rapper …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Imagining Jon rapping is enough to make you choke on your chai, for sure. Can you be a rap guitarist? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. […] in September we struggled to make sense of the collaboration between Jon Anderson & Roine Stolt and lavished praise on both Matthew Bourne’s solo synthesiser album and Comet Control’s […]

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  12. I would guess that Anderson would be putting out quality music. You have peaked my interest.

    Liked by 1 person

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