When it comes to Yes albums, fans of the band have issues with quite a few of them for various reasons. So with that in mind, it wasn’t easy picking which album to revisit. “Tales From Topographic Oceans” was somewhat maligned at the time but I think more people love it. Albums like “Drama,” “90125” and others all have their fans. “Tormato” is the one album where I don’t think I have ever seen it listed on anyone’s favorite Yes album list.
What is wrong with “Tormato”? This might take a while but I’ll try to not ramble on. For starters, the name itself is stupid and the artwork is equally stupid. Had the band named it “Yes Tor” as they had planned and maybe not had a smashed tomato on the cover, it might have helped the vibe a little. Regardless, the music on the album is confusing to say the least.
Song wise, there are 3 songs that I’d consider ones I listen to on a regular basis and all 3 of those have major flaws. “Don’t Kill the Whale,” “Release Release,” and “Onward” are great songs in my opinion. But each suffer from bad ideas, the same ideas permeate the whole of “Tormato.” Rick Wakeman decided to use such high pitched, sterial sounds of what I believe was a polymoog that it is almost unbearable to listen to. I don’t mind when Wakeman plays a ton of notes but when each has the tone of squeaky toy, it gets fucking annoying. Listen to the end of “Don’t Kill the Whale” for an example. It basically destroys a well written song.
Wakeman uses that sound throughout the album and as if trying to out do him in the “annoying as fuck” department, Steve Howe plays a game called “Searching for a note that he never finds.” It’s one thing to solo, but to never play any rhythm guitar parts and to just play those short noted annoying solos that sound like it is working them out as he is going, HOLY FUCK! STOP IT! “Release Release” gets sabotaged and on the best song on the album, “Onward,” Howe plays this really annoying picking part which nearly kills an amazing song. The song would be incredible if someone would mute his playing on the whole song.
Thankfully, the orchestral arrangements added by Andrew Pryce Jackman add a proper solo to the song, since Howe and Wakeman couldn’t play an emotional solo if they had guns to their heads during the “Tormato” sessions. But let’s not let the rest of the band off the hook. Chris Squire (RIP) was using a harmonizer on his bass which sounded dreadful. It sounded worse because like all the sounds spewing from this album, they are higher pitched than they should have been!
The rest of the songs are half-baked, at best. The opener “Future Times/Rejoice” was written by the whole band and it has always sounded like a first take demo where they were still working out their parts, even the melody where Jon Anderson sounds lost. “Circus of Heaven” is a total piece of crap. There is no real hook to the song. I can’t remember the damn thing and I’ve listened to it a thousand times! “Madrigal” could have been good but once again, the playing of Wakeman and Howe make this potentially nice piece into 2 plus minutes of pain. “Arriving UFO” has its moments but Wakeman once again kills it with a polymoog from hell.
I’ll mention that the b-sides from “Tormato” were no better choices. “Abilene” has decent music but letting Steve Howe write his own lyrics wasn’t a great idea. Granted, the lyrics that Anderson wrote for the album were bad too. “Money” was just a joke track and nothing more. So there was nothing that could have been swapped out to save “Tormato.”
“Onward” shows what could have been if Chris Squire had maybe written more on his own for this record. Between that and “Don’t Kill the Whale,” he wrote the best music for the album. Eddy Offord was started producing the album but left the project and unfortunately this left the band to their own worse devices. It really does sound like a band trying hard to sabotage its own music. I guess the album cover makes sense after all. “Tormato” is actually worse than I remember it being! There isn’t much that could have been done to save it either.
1. Future Times/Rejoice
2. Don’t Kill The Whale
4. Release, Release
5. Arriving UFO
6. Circus of Heaven
8. On The Silent Wings of Freedom
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Just read your ‘Tormato’ review and was greatly relieved by your spot on criticism as I agree wholeheartedly. Why it became relevant today has to do with my just receiving Charles Pinder’s “The Strawberry Bricks Guide to Progressive Rock.” His comments regarding Yes and ‘Tormato’ address what many of us know first-hand… Wakeman over the top and the band a bit too frantic leaving the ‘informed’ fans very disappointed. That this record sold so successfully has me puzzled. I can barely tolerate even the better tracks of the album. Thanks for sharing.
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My bad. The correct name of the author mentioned is Charles Snider.
Thanks for reading, Gary!
Tormato is, in many ways, my favourite Yes album for its musical tension and expressiveness, as well as for the great contrasts within its music. It may not be an easy listen (not helped by its sound quality), but it does repay repeated listening.
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