“…we had so much happening musically and sonically, we needed surround sound to realize the concept” – Jon Anderson (interviewed for the sleeve-notes to this release discussing ‘The Gates of Delirium’.)
At first glance, Relayer, Yes’ seventh studio album, resembles Close to the Edge. The format – a side long piece on the vinyl Side One, with two lengthy tracks on Side Two, wrapped in a gatefold Roger Dean sleeve suggests as much. Released towards the end of 1974, it’s fair to say that most Yes fans would have been content for that resemblance to have carried through to the music. That was not to be the case. Certainly, there were plenty of familiar Yes sound posts in the recording but, not for the first time, a new musician in the band had prompted a rethink as to how the overall Yes sound world would be presented. The difference on this occasion was that – unlike when Steve Howe replaced Pete Banks or when Rick Wakeman had replaced Tony Kaye – Yes was now one of the biggest bands in the world. Nor was the arrival of Patrick Moraz, like his predecessor Wakeman an adept arranger as well as ace keyboard player, the only audible change. For Relayer, Steve Howe abandoned his usual Gibson guitars for the more traditional rock sound of the Fender Telecaster along with pedal steel, Chris Squire used a Fender bass as well as his usual Rickenbacker, while Alan White brought various pieces of metal & other implements, extending the array of available percussion. The sound world may have changed, but the band’s ambition remained undiminished. Elements of the compositions for the album reflected the jazz rock experimentalism of Return to Forever and Mahavishnu Orchestra. The contrast between this combination of new sounds, fresh influences & the sonic attack of the mid-sections of Gates of Delirium and Sound Chaser with the more serene latter/end sections of both sides of the original album made for an exhilarating listen, markedly different to the previous year’s Tales from Topographic Oceans.
Upon release, the album immediately appeared in the Top 5 in charts on both sides of the Atlantic in the peak selling December period. The audience for Yes had grown dramatically in the previous two years. Where theatres were once filled, now arenas were over-subscribed. Over the following year or two, the band became one of a handful of British acts touring the USA for whom stadium sized venues were required to accommodate ticket demand.
In the 40 years since its recording & release, Relayer is an album that has steadily grown in stature. It has become an album that fans now routinely cite as among their favourite of Yes’ studio albums – something that certainly wasn’t always the case - & it’s also become an album that other musicians point to as an example of Yes at its most dizzyingly complex musically & technically. Such complexity did, however, come with a cost & in the case of the original Relayer mix, there was always a sense that some of the album’s most heavily overdubbed passages resulted in a cluttered mix that served to mask some of the individual contributions; widescreen music squeezed into a much narrower soundfield. While the high-resolution edition of the original mix helps somewhat in this regard, Steven Wilson’s new album mixes in stereo & particularly in 5.1 surround sound reveal all of the sonic details, previously unheard elements & relentless innovation of this line-up’s sole studio recording. It confirms Relayer as one of the very best Yes albums, an album which, like its predecessor Tales from Topographic Oceans is long overdue a more widespread critical re-appraisal. With the new & original mixes complemented by a complete album running order of demos & studio run-throughs, a booklet with new sleeve-notes drawn in part from fresh interviews with Jon Anderson & Patrick Moraz & packaged contained in a restored/expanded edition of Roger Dean’s original gatefold artwork, this is the definitive edition of Relayer.