Jon Anderson' s angelic voice has always been one of the trademarks of the music made by Yes. Moreover, he undoubtedly belongs to the best composers in the progressive rock scene, but he's also a human being who doesn't possess an inexhaustible well of inspiration. I already noticed a lack of inspiration on the new album made by his former band mates of Yes. A large part of Fly From Here (see review) contained music that had been written a long time ago that now has been rearranged for this album. The new material sounded rather average and can't compete with the legendary material from the seventies. It seemed that Jon Anderson also lacks the inspiration to write some fantastic progressive rock tunes. His latest solo effort Survival & Other Stories sounds rather average and contains no highlights at all.
The album was recorded after Jon Anderson had put an advert on his website that went something like 'musicians wanted, anyone who can send MP3-samples as a basis for collaboration.' Apparently this meant that he had a writer's block. In the past Anderson recorded his best work together with other composers like Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Vangelis. So he once again needed other people to achieve something special. Much of the received material made it to Survival & Other Stories, only this time the collaboration with unknown composers and musicians didn't lead to an album that can be regarded as a highlight. The main reason is that he picked material that can't be described as progressive rock music. All compositions sound too average and mainstream and could be used as well by other singers who don't have any relation with prog rock at all.
The music written by Jamie Dunlap (tracks 1, 7, 10), Peter Kiel (2), Jann Castor (3), Dan Spollen (4, 6), Kevin Shima (5), Steve Layton (8), Jeremy Cubert (9) and Paul Quinn (11) didn't result in outstanding or remarkable compositions. Most of the material sounds mellow and lacks strong bombastic or up-tempo musical fragments that lovers of the genre enjoy so much. The few orchestrations arranged by Stefan Podell on Incoming and by Ryan Fraley on Just One Man don't lead to fantastic orchestral pieces. It's nice, no more, no less.
For Jon Anderson, writing songs for Survival & Other Stories was in many ways an uplifting process. He worked with musicians from all over the world via the internet, which provided him with a healing energy. Anderson suffered a difficult episode in his life. His illness prevented him to join Yes again, but it did result in a duo album with Rick Wakeman. However, for me The Living Tree (see review) was a disappointing album as well. So I guess that both albums were above all good for Mr. Anderson himself and a way to show that he's still alive after a painful period.
Survival & Other Stories is the first of three albums to be released by Jon Anderson in the next two years. Hopefully the next releases have music wise much more to offer for the readers of Background Magazine. It's about time for Jon Anderson to prove again that he still belongs to the best composers and singers in the progressive rock music scene!
** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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