Music marketing is a fickle thing, folks.
Had the legendary progressive rock group Yes issued their album The Ladder in, oh…. lets say… 1978 … or perhaps even 1989… chances are it would have been a pretty big hit.
That the band didn’t get around to pulling this gem together until 1999, and this on the heels of the very spotty Open Your Eyes in 1987, the world simply blinked and moved on to the next thing. Frankly, most fans of this sort of intricate popular music were already looking the other way, especially in the face of young bands like Radiohead; a group which at that time was rightfully ascending to the throne of Kings of Next Generation of Progressive Rock, in 1997 Radiohead issued its watershed, musically forward looking and bleakly beautiful album OK Computer, a record many were justifiably calling Album of the Year, some calling it this generation’s Dark Side of the Moon.
So there amidst an audience newly attuned to paranoid androids and subterranean homesick aliens we have our heroes in Yes putting out a shiny new, optimistic album bursting forth with Roger Dean’s fabulous new age flavored outer space art, singing songs of universal peace, love and understanding.
Yoda might have said: ‘Harsh and unfair, this world, it is…’
But you know, a funny thing happened on the way to the future: public tastes began to change and even expand. As another pop prophet of our days, one Mr. Robert Zimmerman, once sang, “the times they are a changin'”
And thank goodness things are always changing…
So, while at the time The Ladder sadly sputtered on the charts, reaching #36 in the UK and #99 in the US, it is kinda cool to find people rediscovering this album here in 2015. A new generation of vinyl fans are discovering progressive rock in general and looking back on gems that got lost in the shuffle along the way from The Nice and Neu to Nektar. Radiohead itself has pushed itself off the prog rock throne allowing artists such as Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson to be heralded for for their boundary-busting progressive soundscapes.
Anyhow… I knew that Yes was pushing for some of its later period albums to be reissued, with first-time vinyl pressings appearing in recent years of Magnification, Open Your Eyes and even their newest recordings with replacement lead singers Benoit David and Jon Davidson, Fly From Here and Heaven & Earth , respectively.
But the one I was waiting for — praying for, if I might be so much of a fanboy for a moment — was in fact The Ladder, an album I bonded with when it came out (yup, right alongside Radiohead) and one that I feel has aged very well. Unlike the production choices made for Yes’ 80’s smash hit 90125, The Ladder has a timeless sound which means that the music within sits perfectly alongside the band’s classic albums such as 1977’s Going For The One and even 1971’s The Yes Album.
So how does this reissue from Music on Vinyl sound? I am quite thrilled with it, actually! Now, I will say up front that in all likelihood this album was recorded digitally, so you anti-digital folks out there might have to suck it up a bit if you want to hear this one on vinyl. That said, the sonic difference between the vinyl version and the CD is more or less a night and day experience. And I say that acknowledging that The Ladder sounds pretty solid on CD, all things considered.
In comparison, I can hear a lot of angularity going on with the CD version relative to the LP which sounds rich and warm. By angularity, I mean that sort of sharp-edged harshness that can happen when a recording is prepared for the “Red Book” CD standard of 44.1 kHz and 16-bits; especially if the master was recorded at a high resolution digital or on to analog tape (as I suspect this was), you’ll inevitably lose something in the transfer down to the CD format.
So, on the original CD, the instruments have a crispness which gets more uncomfortable to listen to as you turn up the volume on your stereo. Jon Anderson’s voice has a sort of phase-y texture on his vocals throughout on the CD which is not apparent on the LP version.
On this new vinyl version, again, made by the folks at Music on Vinyl, there is an almost analog like warmth to the recording, with fat sounding guitars, big ballsy bass and drums and airy, feather-like highs. The test for me of course was turning the album up pretty loud and there is where this pressing really started to shine. Some recordings start to fall apart as you push your amplifier to play them loudly. That was not the case with this new version of The Ladder which drove my amp and really pushed some colorful musical air from my speakers.
Or in more lay terms : It rocked!
Maybe it was an analog master after all. I don’t know for sure…
The new Music on Vinyl version of The Ladder spreads fine fine full fidelity Yes music across four sides of two thick, 180-gram, dark black vinyl records that are dead quiet and perfectly centered. Ultimately, I prefer listening to it on LP, with the break in album sides providing much needed pause between the olympian music heroics going on on some of the cuts.
The records come housed in audiophile-grade, plastic lined black paper inner-sleeves. There is also a nice LP sized insert which contains all the album lyrics. And of course, one of the grand side benefits of this well done LP release is we get to see Roger Dean’s fabulous artwork in a large scale format of which it is so deserving.
There is not much more I can say outside of giving you a song by song run down of the album but that would be a bit cliche’d and boring. If you are not familiar with the music of Yes, you should just go online and listen to The Ladder to make sure it appeals to you. Assuming you get hooked on the music, go ahead and order the vinyl. It would have been nice if they had included a download with the LP but, frankly, you can find a used CD copy of it pretty easily for ripping to your computer. The old CD is still a good listen in the car if, perhaps, you still listen to CDs that way.
I’ll shut up now and let you go climb The Ladder.
The view there is great when you get to the top.