Driving through the Cambrian mountains the other day on the way to stay for a few nights with my brother, daughter and their respective partners, I got to listen to a whole album by The Chainsmokers, which Ayako happened to have on her phone. I've seldom taken so hard against a sound: it was song after song of thin techno-whining in which life's minor inconveniences and gripes were repetitively inflated into a bloated bouncy castle of self-pity - made worse somehow by slick production and redeemed only slightly by competent vocals.
I needed an antidote, and when we arrived in Borth I found myself downloading the Yes song 'Awaken
' - which I hadn't listened to in perhaps 40 years.
In many ways it's not
the opposite of The Chainsmokers. It's no less self-important, for example - this is prog rock, after all, at the height of its Rick-Wakeman-going-mad-on-a-church-organ flatulence. But boy, did I appreciate leaving the why-didn't-you-text-me-back navel gazing of The Chainsmokers' perpetually aggrieved songs for something that at least attempted to look to the horizon and beyond. Perhaps what had depressed me most about the former was its astounding lack of ambition, and the even more profound lack of imagination that underpinned it. Yes may be self-indulgent, but at least they have a self to indulge.
I used to listen to Going for the One
, the album from which 'Awaken' is taken, quite a lot as a teenager. Here are my thoughts on hearing it again after all these decades.
Jon Anderson's voice: I actually like this more now than I did then. The slightly affectless alto invites comparison with Keane's Tom Chaplin, but Anderson is less chorister-like and breathier, with strong Accrington notes. (I always was a sucker for a Lancashire accent.)
The musicianship is spot on, and the song complex but beautifully constructed. There's more musical imagination in two minutes of 'Awaken' than in a whole album by The Chainsmokers. In terms of the sound palate, though, the spirit of '70s synthesizers is strong here.
The lyrics mostly consist of mystical hooey (no song that begins 'High vibration go on...' can entirely inspire confidence), and I rather wish that Anderson could have taken the effort to have them make more sense, but his method of throwing words against a musical wall and seeing what sticks was the prog-rock industry standard, and in moments of high excitement evokes a kind of speaking-in-tongues ecstasy that's actually effective. And I could forgive a lot for the moving simplicity of the coda: "Like the time I ran away - / Turned around and you were standing close to me."
Mostly, though, what this song does is recall the feeling it inspired in young me, that the world was a mysterious and exciting place, full of wonders to be discovered and revelations to be... er, revealed. Whereas The Chainsmokers left me feeling that earth had nothing to show more fair than one's name in slightly bigger letters than those of one's ex on the cover of a magazine.
I know which I prefer.