|1. Ooooh Baby (Goin' To Pieces)|
|2. One Way Rag|
|4. Song Of Innocence|
|6. Silly Woman|
|7. Marching Into A Bottle|
In retrospect, it's clear that the fragmentation of Yes in 1975 (into five different solo projects) did some considerable damage to the group as a whole. After the heights of the Relayer album and tour, the decision to temporarily split up the group ultimately lead to the scaling-back of their musical ventures (there were other reasons, of course, but the Anderson/Howe songwriting partnership which dominated much of their 1971-74 output was disrupted in this period, never to return to same level in later years).
This is not to suggest that the late-1970s Yes output is worthless. But there was clearly something in the group's overall vision that changed during this period, and the disruption of their collective recording process played a significant role in this.
The 1975 fragmentation produced a few other problems as well. Although two of the albums that resulted from this period are top-rate (Fish Out Of Water and Olias Of Sunhillow), neither the Howe nor the Moraz album was a complete success. And then there's Ramshackled.
Alan White was clearly the member of Yes least ready to rise to the challenge of creating a solo album at this time. Despite having contributing the writing process of both Tales and Relayer, he had never proven himself as an independent songwriter of any note. And, which his background in session playing, he was ill-prepared to lead a recording process.
As it turned out, he must have realized his limits. Ramshackled is not, in any manner save the official credits, an Alan White solo album (any more than Fictitious Sports is a Nick Mason solo album, to refer to an earlier Tentative Review observation).
For his "solo" debut, White returned to his side-project with other session men, dating back (if I'm not mistaken) to before his membership in Yes. Not a single track on Ramshackled is even so much as co-written by White, nor can any of the tracks be regarded as "drum spotlights". In other words, this is a band project only tangentially related to Yes, released under the Yes name due to a fluke of circumstances. Not without reason does an Rolling Stone Anthology review of this release refer to it as being "not like Yes".
In terms of quality ... well ... there's something about a 1970s collaboration of session men from outside of the progressive scene that almost seems to doom the project from the beginning. Throughout the various styles that are featured on this album (and, to be fair, it is rather diverse), there seems to be an aura of "second-rateness" over the entire thing. Perhaps any such collection is bound to suffer in comparison to Yes. Even on its own terms, though, Ramshackled isn't all that impressive.
Things get off to a rather shaky start with "Ooooh Baby (Goin' To Pieces" [the number of "o"'s in the title varies on the album jacket, the liner notes, and the vinyl itself]. The track begins with some fairly interesting drumming (coincidence?), over which a distorted saxophone makes an appearance. Within a minute, however, the track reveals itself to be a fairly mediocre soul number, with traces of funk and disco along the edges. The sound is rather mainstream, with a few progressive inflections thrown in along the way. There are some notable moments to the track, most notably the introductory section, the keyboard setting shifts, and the use of acoustic guitars -- none of these make the work terribly much better as a whole, though. One associate of mine has likened the singer (Marshall? the liner notes don't specify) as being oddly similar to Tom Jones ... and, sadly, he has a point. This track simply isn't very good.
Things don't really improve terribly much with "One Way Rag", a track which ultimately can't disguise it's pedestrian nature with its obvious jazz influences. This is, for the most part, a fairly boring track of the sort that would eventually dominate "classic rock" radio -- the jazz elements simply aren't done well enough to really improve the track. The guitar solo and wind instrument accompaniments ultimately add a bit to the track, but it's not enough to add up to much.
"Avakak" is the first instrumental on the album, the most experimental track on the album, and the most successful piece here. The piano introduction (with wind accompaniment) is fairly good, if somewhere short of earth-shattering. Following this, a band section emerges -- the percussive section is fairly good, the guitars are, at first, a bit inappropriate for the song, and the trumpet arrangement (though not terribly bad) could have been better; whatever the faults of the individual instruments, however, this section is fairly good. Following this, a somewhat "soft-sell" bit emerges, toning down the quality of the music somewhat -- thankfully, this turns out to be the preparation for a final "free", semi-psychedelic section (the percussion in which is vaguely similar to that in Genesis's "The Waiting Room"). Following this is a revitalized band section, with the guitar playing a better lead role than before. This still suffers in comparison to Yes's best work, but ultimately isn't bad for what it is.
One would assume that the track featuring Jon Anderson and Steve Howe would be the highlight of an album of this sort. One would be wrong. This musical adaptation of a Blake poem (which is not called "Song Of Innocence" despite being from "Songs Of Innocence", but, anyway ...) is a fairly uneventful outing, featuring a prosaic arrangement that even Anderson can't really save. Howe's role is good enough, but peripheral. Suffice to say that neither guest is operating at 100% of their abilities here; the rest of the band, moreover, is similarly limited (White's drumming at the end is just rather sad). This is a disappointment.
"Giddy" then returns the listener to the second-rate soul/funk stylings of the initial track. The performances themselves aren't really problematic (save for the return of the TJ-esque vocalist, whose high range is a bit of an irritance), but there's still not terribly much with which to recommend the track. It would have been better as an instrumental (in fairness, the guitar hook is pretty good), but even here one has to confront the matter of the watered-down concluding bit. Another unessential track, all things considered.
And that takes us to "Silly Woman", an insultingly bad Brit-reggae number. However proficient the musicians may have been, and however much of a nice addition the steel drum was, the very essence of the song would almost seem to prevents a decent performance. The lyrics are the most dismal part of the number, all things considered.
Alan's handwritten liner notes identify the next track as "Darch Of The Lesbian Mwarphs (instrumental: this title has probably been changed)". Sure enough, "Marching Into A Bottle" is a fairly good (if brief) instrumental number, somewhat atypical of the album's primary musical focus. Acoustic guitar, flute and percussion dominate the track, featuring a pleasant enough melody and good performances by all. Perhaps more of the album should have been like this.
Things return to business-as-usual with "Everybody", a rock/soul track vaguely premised in progressive form. The vocalist here attempts to pull off a Joe Cocker impersonation, and (not surprisingly) appears as a second-rate version of the real thing in so doing. White isn't bad here, and the return of the steel drum is favourable enough; as against that, the arrangement is a mess. Perhaps some editing could save this one. Or perhaps not.
"Darkness", the concluding track on the album, is the only one of the vocal tracks to really add up to anything terribly notable. As per the theme of the song, the minor-key nature of the opening guitar passage is quite pronounced. The arrangement is actually fairly good in this depiction of urban-renter hopelessness, and the lyrics and singing are reasonably good for a change. The subsequent keyboard and trumpet leads are fairly good as well. This falls rather short of greatness, but it's still a worthwhile number (despite its flaws).
Incidentally, Yes fans may be interested in knowing that Jon's "devine" spelling habits make an appearance in Alan's liner notes as well (in the section for "Everybody"). That such a simple mistake should be made by two members of the same group is perhaps cause for concern.
In any event, Ramshackled is not an essential purchase, even for followers of Yes. There's a bit of good material here, but the album as a whole simply isn't that notable.
(review originally posted to alt.music.yes on 6 March 1998)