Polydor 1982 / Esoteric 2021
Vocal avatar of wondrous storytelling comfortably inhabits the age of plastic to sing dithyrambs to electronic digits.
It may not seem like this from today’s perspective, yet “Animation” was a pivotal album in Jon Anderson‘s career. If "Olias Of Sunhillow" had been recorded in 1976 while YES went on hiatus, and 1980’s "Song Of Seven" saw the warbler in full awareness of his freedom from the ensemble, their follow-up signaled a time for the singer to establish himself as a solo artist – which Anderson did, with flying day-glo colors, and still remained faithful to his progressive habits. From the neon-bright image of the platter’s cover to its electronica-tinged arrangements, Jon’s first opus of the ’80s found him eagerly embracing the decade’s sonic possibilities.
Interesting, then, that on this album Anderson, consciously or not, not only approximated his former band’s aural template on the entrancing “All In A Matter Of Time” but also looked into the future where he would repurpose the folk-styled ballad “Boundaries” as “O’er” on the artist’s own “The Promise Ring and as “Somehow, Someday” on “Open Your Eyes” which the band he returned to used. However, these numbers appear deeper in the record, further down the line from the effervescent “Olympia” whence fresh instrumental passages seep into the ether to the infectious fluctuations of David Sancious’ ivories and Simon Phillips’ drums. With keyboards layers bolstered here and there by Dave Lawson, Blue Weaver and Ronnie Leahy, and Clem Clempson‘s riffs and licks darting around, Jon has a lot of ground and space to bounce his vocals out of, so his celestial, and increasingly tight, harmonies swirl in the titular piece’s scintillating, delicately orchestrated air.
A rousing, rumba-flavored “Surrender” – a precursor to “Deseo” – that Anderson’s old colleague Ian Wallace‘s beats propel to rapture can feel less majestic, and the polyphony-flaunting “Unlearning (The Dividing Line)” that Jack Bruce’s four strings spank in the way they’d do on his own “Automatic” later on is less melodically impressive, yet these songs possess a powerful, period-dictated groove. As does “Pressure Point”: the driest cut on display, it provides a plastic soundscape for Jon to apply newfangled sensibilities to his familiar performing method which the breezily spiritual “Much Better Reason” floats on the surface before the choir-enhanced, Tony Visconti-supervised “All God’s Children” unfolds an anthemic theme – high on optimism and belief in the better things to come.
These things might have sprung from contemporary bonuses – the two of them. The acoustically tinctured single B-side “Spider” quickly expands its scope and sway to stream the multitude of Anderson’s voices via many synthetic layers that gradually expand into vibrant cosmos – all in under three minutes – unlike the demo of “The Spell” whose haunting, hypnotic harmonies are shrouded in hazy sonics which meander around adventurous verses in an epic, yet understated, manner, with half-abstract piano ripples leading to, in turns, majestic spiritual minstrelsy, chamber solemnity and vaudeville frivolity, expressed vocally rather than verbally.
The musical era dictated a different approach, though, and, without having gone through the “Animation” phase, Jon wouldn’t be ready to say “Yes” to Chris Squire‘s and be prepared for the “90125” resurrection of their old collective’s success. The rest was history – sawed here for good.