Title: The Ladder
Type: Studio Album
Released: September 20th, 1999
Recorded: February - May, 1999
Label: Eagle Records (UK), Beyond Music (US)
Producer: Bruce Fairbairn
The Ladder 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 Ladder 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 Ladder, 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 Ladder 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'll Be a Good Day is a traditional Jon Anderson piece, in the tradition of Madrigal, 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 Ladder 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 to add brass to Lightning Strikes (a Fairbairn trademark) and 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 and it ended up being the opening track.
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 Ladder to be the most solid full-length, studio offering by Yes in the 1990's. It has a more distinctively Yes-sound than either Talk or Open Your Eyes, and the Keys to Ascension project was primarily live material, with just a few new songs on Disc 2 (none of which featured a live outing!)
Tragically, Fairbairn died while the album was in post-production, and Yes played Nine Voices at his memorial service. 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 Ladder as any other Yes album.
Track Listing Edit
- Homeworld (The Ladder) (9:32)
- It Will Be A Good Day (The River) (4:54)
- Lightning Strikes (4:35)
- Can I? (1:32)
- Face To Face (5:02)
- If Only You Knew (5:43)
- To Be Alive (Hep Yadda) (5:07)
- Finally (6:02)
- The Messenger (5:13)
- New Language (9:19)
- Nine Voices (Longwalker) (3:21)