Not more than two weeks after the long-delayed release of Keys to Ascension Volume 2, Yes’ new label, Beyond Music (a subsidiary of RCA/Victor or BMG) released ‘Open Your Eyes’ their first full studio album in three years in record stores. Two new albums performed by the same band with two different line-ups? Certainly, a feat unheard of. Unfortunately , the majority of Yes fans worldwide consider this the worst slapped together collection of original material ever assembled under one package. An experiment of bridging the gap between the pompous over the top seventies material with the middle of the road eighties pop sensibilities that made them household names with 90125. Recorded in Van Nuys- it seems the band was seeking some kind of a easy listening adult contemporary sound with sunny Beach Boys harmonies that collides fatally with Andrew Lloyd Webber results – and that sound could not sound more evident on what is possibly the most lackluster song that Yes has ever composed, “Man on the Moon” . The first pure-blooded American to ever join the group, Las Vegas local boy, Billy Sherwood was the one who penned that song.
The history of Sherwood’s involvement with the band goes back to late eighties and early nineties when Chris Squire checked out one of Billy’s performance with his band World Trade. Along with the lead guitar player of that band, Bruce Gowdy- they were slated to replace Jon Anderson and Trevor Rabin just before the idea germinated in Anderson’s head to form Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, & Howe– so Chris and Billy sat down and wrote some songs together. Two of the songs only ever managed to get recorded: ‘Love Conquers All’ wound up as the only brand new song to appear on Yes’ first box set compilation, YesYears and ‘The More We Live’ made it to the Union album. In the proverbial nick of time, Sherwood was rescued from assuming lead vocal duties when Anderson and Rabin decided to still be involved with Yes West- after easing his trepidation of pulling another Trevor Horn. Eventually, Billy relished on taking a more behind the scenes approach with the band, taking on versatile duties such as engineering their albums and touring as an additional utility guitar and keyboard player on the Talk tour. However, with the new label demands of recapturing that 80’s pop magic, Billy was talked into become a more permanent member in filling in Trevor Rabin’s shoes when the band started to record Open Your Eyes at his home studio (herby dubbed The Office).
The bulk of the material on Open Your Eyes seems to be borrowed from unused material that Sherwood and Squire wrote together as an offshoot band “the Chris Squire Experiment” which changed its’ name to Conspiracy in 2000. The most disturbing thing that I discovered about this album is a song titled Somehow, Someday which is a song that has turned up on two previous Jon Anderson solo albums- it was first recorded with some members of Toto on his City of Angels disc in 1987 and then redone for Jon’s classical project “Change We Must” released approximately at the same time that this disc was released (incidentally, Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro appears as a guest musician on Open Your Eyes).
There are a very few memorable tracks on this album. Initially I was never happy with the idea of the title track (originally titled Wish I Knew) being made as a single, but I could groove to a New State of Mind, which admitting was an outstanding way to open the album. Fortune Seller has a familiar 90125 Hold On vibe to it. Jon Anderson’s lyric to Universal Garden teeters on the brink of New Age insanity, but a subtle little Howe/Anderson acoustic ditty entitled From the Balcony brings Anderson back down to earth as a song that he dedicates to his second newlywed wife, Jane (who you can always spot in the first couple of rows of every show dancing away in the aisles like some Grateful Dead hippy chick coming down off of a Timothy Leary plastic flashbulb).
For those who bought the album way back on its’ initial release, you can find a bonus track of nothing but an atmospheric 23 minutes of an ambient sound scape filled with chirping birds and roaring ocean waves interspersed with capella versions of some of the vocal work done in previous tracks.
I saw the Open Your Eyes tour when it did a brief stop at the Universal City Amphitheater in December of that year. It was a monumental show for me, because it was the first time that I had ever heard Revealing Science of God played live in its’ entirety. Also the addition of Russian keyboardist, Igor Khoroshev made an impression on me that tour. I also had an opportunity to attend a Tower Records signing with the band in Glendale – which was originally rerouted from its’ Sherman Oaks location. I somehow got Jon Anderson a little peeved off at me for bringing up the passing of Carlos Castenada to his attention. Maestro Jon A was in full denial of the incident, claiming that Carlos is still very much alive, only he resides in all our hearts then I was gently nudged away by security before I could press the matter further.
And speaking of pressing matters, Wikipedia may have a solution to all these eye-opening conspiracies.
Open Your Eyes is the seventeenth studio album by progressive rock band Yes, released in 1997. It is the first album to feature Billy Sherwood as a band member, and the only one on which he is the main keyboard player.
Following the 1996 reunion of the mid-1970s “classic” lineup of Yes (and the release of the two live-and-studio double albums Keys to Ascension and Keys to Ascension 2), keyboard player Rick Wakeman had left the band once again, throwing future tour and album plans into jeopardy. In order to sustain momentum, the band was obliged to come up with a new workable lineup as well as new sources of song material.
Already a well-known progressive rock musician in America, Billy Sherwood had previously been involved with Yes as a backup keyboard player and guitarist on the Talk tour (as well as being considered as a potential new lead singer during Yes rehearsals circa 1990). More recently, he had worked as engineer and producer for part of the Keys To Ascension project. He had a strong working relationship with Yes bassist Chris Squire since the late 1980s, when the two had begun work on a duo project called The Chris Squire Experiment (later to become Conspiracy). Yes singer Jon Anderson was impressed by some of the early Conspiracy material and became interested in singing on it, in part because of Yes’ need for new material. Consequently Sherwood, Squire, Anderson and White began working on several Conspiracy songs together with the aim of transforming them into Yes songs. Sherwood has said the band was falling apart after Wakeman’s withdrawal and that he led on songwriting activity to keep the band going, working with Squire, White and Anderson. Guitarist Steve Howe (at the time, the band’s only UK-based member) was not practically involved for most of the process and made his contributions to the album at the end of the sessions (and mainly as a player). By the end of the sessions, Sherwood was formally inducted into Yes – he would play second guitar and sing harmony vocals on tour.
Although Sherwood played the bulk of the keyboards on the album, two other keyboard players were involved. Steve Porcaro had played keyboards on the title track when it was a Chris Squire Experiment piece and his parts were retained. Russian keyboard player Igor Khoroshev performed on “New State of Mind”, “No Way We Can Lose” and “Fortune Seller”. Khoroshev was hired as the band’s keyboard player on the tour promoting Open Your Eyes (on which he also played percussion and sang backing vocals) and would be a full member by 1999’s The Ladder (on which he featured far more prominently
Open Your Eyes was received with mixed reaction from both critics and fans upon its November 1997 release, some finding it lacking in trademark Yes qualities, while some still praise the album for its upbeat nature. While the album was a commercial flop, only reaching No. 151 in the US while missing the UK charts completely, the title cut and “New State of Mind” received substantial airplay on mainstream rock and classic rock radio from the time of its’ release well thru the spring on 1998. Several band members later revealed their discontent with the finished album, with both Anderson and Howe claiming that the album was too rushed to incorporate their ideas and suffered as a result. During the touring supporting the album, only “Open Your Eyes” was played every night, while “New State of Mind”, and “From The Balcony” (the sole Anderson/Howe joint contribution, in terms of writing and concept) were played live a few times on the tour dates.] The album cross-references other recordings related to the band. Versions of “Open Your Eyes” and “Man in the Moon” later appeared on the eponymous Conspiracy album (which was delayed for two years because material was co-opted for Yes and Sherwood’s entry into the band). The song “Somehow, Someday” incorporates the first verse melody and lyrics from the song “Boundaries” on Jon Anderson’s 1982 solo album Animation. The cover of Open Your Eyes also references the band’s 1969 album debut. Billy Sherwood had wanted the album to be titled “Universal Garden” but the rest of the band outvoted him.
A limited edition surround sound version was also produced [BYCD3075]. This came with a cardboard slip case and blue CD, not seen on the standard release. Although not true 5.1 surround, the aim was to produce a wider sound field from just two speakers and in that respect it does have some limited success. It was the first attempt by Yes at surround sound until the subsequent DVD-A release of Magnification [8122-78250-9]. The album was reissued in 2006 as part of the box set Essentially Yes.
Open Your Eyes (Eagle EAGCD013) reached No. 151 in the US during a chart stay of one week.
SONG / TRACK LISTING
All songs written by Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Billy Sherwood, Chris Squire, Alan White
1. New State of Mind Total time: 6:00
2. Open Your Eyes Total time: 5:14
3. Universal Garden Total time: 6:17
4. No Way We Can Lose Total time: 4:56
5. Fortune Seller Total time: 500
6. Man in the Moon Total time: 4:41
7. Wonderlove Total time: 6:06
8. From the Balcony Total time: 2:43
9. Love Shine Total time: 4:38
10. Somehow, Someday Total time 4:47
11. The Solution (song) (5:26) Total time: 23:47
On the other Cary Coatney side of life in 1997, I was still getting more letters and articles published in Comics Buyer’s Guide. My popularity certainly wasn’t on the wane at that point – but neither was it increasing either. However I did irk an irritated reader response in a form of a death threat that was sent to the Rookies & Allstars address over a letter I had written berating the studio chiefs of the Fox Kids Network over the producers of the X-Men animated series pandering their religious views on an episode that had Nightcrawler pushing Wolverine to start reading the Bible.
This incident raised some concern to the store’s main proprietor, John J. Lindsay who was hospitalized for the good course of a year after getting a hip replacement inquiring as to why the I was using his store’s address as the my personal publicity office. While John was on sick leave, his partner, Obi-Dan Kenobi left me in charge to run the store full-time. And therefore I was made responsible for ordering all the merchandise. I took the opportunity to make myself an advocate for the self publishing underdog which mainly meant that I was determined to make this comic book store into a small press haven. A lot of the letters to CBG written that year, talked about the plight of the small press publisher peddling to get his book seen in stores. I felt sympathy because I knew that one day I would want to garner the same type for respect when I was good and ready to put out my own independent published project out someday. So I went and did something daring I invited local publishers to bring 25 copies of their titles in the stores and would try to form my own type of Oprah book club and have local readers comment on why their book would or wouldn’t sell. John was at first ok with the idea, as the letters in Comics Buyer’s Guide was bringing attention to the store (it even got the attention of Star Trek’s Chekov Walter Koenig and Adrienne Barbeau to check the store out. Adrienne came by one day while I was absent to ask me to help her locate a book called Rat Bastard, for research into a movie role that she was offered in a proposed adaptation and her agent had sent her over to seek me for consultation.
Amazing what type of readers I would attract.
Lindsey on the other hand wasn’t keen on the added expenses it took to stock these titles in the store. John wanted strictly mainstream titles in the store and I took umbrage with this approach after I put in a year of life cementing the store’s reputation. We eventually had a massive blow out as we were about ready to transmit the first of 1997’s Diamond’s order and I saw all the changes that were made behind my back which resulted in me angrily throwing my copies of the store’s keys into the parking lot before storming out the door.
Although I may have been declared persona non grata at the store I helped build a foundation for (and also, technically I was a silent partner, having contributed some money to renovations to the place and I got all my merchandise at wholesale) at the same exact time Obi-Dan Kenobi fielded a phone call from the office from Beth Holley who represented the exhibits area at San Diego Comic Con International. After reading some of my letters in Comics Buyer’s Guide, the committee decided that I would be the perfect candidate to work as their new Small Press Coordinator for the 1997 show. They said the job wouldn’t pay anything – but my expenses would be covered for transportation to office meetings to help select the candidates who would be displaying their wares at the show. Also, as an incentive, I got free room and board to myself, as they set me up in a lavish suite at a hotel where I took the liberty of purchasing 16 pizzas from Domino’s and charged it to con’s expense account in order to throw a party for the exhibitors in my department. The party was a washout and I only wound up giving the pizzas away to my neighbors at the hotel.
I worked with and selected a lot of interesting people like Mike Hersh of Krankin’ Comics, Carlos Saldana of Burrito, David Spurlock of Vagabond Press and Cindy Johns with Fauve who were promoting The Blonde Avenger. I handed all the publicity for my department, even assuming the mantle of writing all the press release junkets for Comics Buyer’s Guide and Comics Journal (although uncredited) and it was publicized with Fae Desmond’s permission, that I would be editing a special give-away book to given out to convention patrons that would be touting the small press department.
One of the delightful pranks I pulled in the department was arranging to have the CCAS (Christian Comic Art Society) and some satan worshipping comics publisher to have their tables next to each other. Thought I could have fun watching both sides duke out their theological differences but the plan didn’t work and both parties arranged to switch tables with other patrons.
I contacted many artists to contribute a one page strip (I collaborated on a Burrito story with Carlos Saldana that still has not seen the light of day, but allow me to rectify that right now – it’s officially my first comic book work) to the book. As the convention drew closer, James Pascoe, Fae’s assistant at the time got the project nixed due to his handling of the con’s budget and assigned the blame to the press over my overzealousness of wanting to be an attention whore.
On the lighter side, I was lucky to meet legendary adult film legend, Hyapatia Lee (thanks to Jay Allen Sanford) at this convention and I somehow became e-mail pen pals talking about of all things, our shared appreciation of Indian lore, and the shows X-Files and Millennium.
Star Trek Deep Space Nine’s Chase Masterson stopped me rushing my way towards my department and . complemented me on my luxurious long mane. She wanted to touch it too.
This would be the first in a series of blow outs that I would have with the Convention’s secret clandestine committee – although the fatal blow would come with help from an outside source. An old nemesis would once again rear her hideous horror show plastic surgery face into my life and make a ton of trouble for him.