Published on 30th April 2021
Jon Anderson – Animation [Remastered & Expanded Edition]
There are some albums that REALLY need a second chance with a decent re-release, and Jon Anderson’s 1982 album Animation is one which was crying out for some love and respect, to be presented again with characteristic care and attention, as has now been done by the excellent Cherry Red label. This remastered and expanded edition casts new light on an album which had curiously been ill-served in previous releases. Animation reveals the continuing fascination of the clearly Vangelis influenced Anderson with electronic instrumentation, amidst a diverse array of other influences.
The late ’70s and early ’80s were a period of abundant and varied creativity for Anderson, including three very different solo albums alongside two albums with Yes and his collaborations with Vangelis. It is difficult to plot a course from Anderson’s startlingly original solo debut Olias of Sunhillow in 1976 to this more mainstream third solo album in 1982. In truth, the major shift in focus had already occurred with 1980’s Song of Seven, which has a similar musical agenda and diversity to Animation. Indeed, Animation retained many of the collaborators Anderson worked with on Song of Seven, including the lovely complimentary backing vocals of Chris Rainbow, Ronnie Leahy on keyboards, percussionist Maurice Pert, John Giblin on bass, guitarist Clem Clemson (of Colosseum) and Cream bassist Jack Bruce. Additionally, like some sort of musical magpie, Anderson collected a rather dazzling array of other guest musicians, including Mike Oldfield’s drummer Simon Phillips, plus Greenslade’s Dave Lawson and David Sancious, both on keyboards. Anderson also returned to an old friend from his mid-’60s pre-Yes days, The Warriors’ drummer Ian Wallace, who later played with King Crimson. It’s an impressive roster of artists and Anderson seemed determined to use them across a range of different styles.
It is interesting how a re-release may reveal facets of a work not really appreciated upon first listening. When first hearing this in 1982 I must admit to some disappointment, but that was probably borne more out of my own expectations and hopes (basically I wanted another Olias of Sunhillow, but that was a definite ‘one off’ and those days were gone). Upon hearing this re-release, I initially still struggled to some extent – so what do you do if you’re struggling? You ask a friend for help. TPA’s man in New Jersey Mike Strauss is a lifelong aficionado of all things Yes, and Jon Anderson in particular, so I asked for his opinion – and here it is:
‘No matter how Jon or the press tried to distance themselves from the fact that this was an attempt by Jon to do a solo YES/Prog album, it is exactly what they’ve done.
Olias of Sunhillow, to me, is an experiment in soundscapes with Eastern musical influences thrown in, and not really in the ‘prog’ arena. Animation is the only solo Jon Anderson release that dips its big toe into the ‘Prog’ pool. He accomplished it with Vangelis and later with Jean-Luc Ponty, and with The Flower Kings’ Roine Stolt on 2016’s Invention of Knowledge, but Animation is solo Jon recreating YES.
The songs are very much in the mid to late ’70s style Yes with bits of Relayer thrown in.
On this record Jon assembled a core band with instrumentation similar to YES. The genius of this record is that 3/5 of the band came from jazz backgrounds. Clem Clemson and Simon Philips bring a Rock/Prog approach while the other three players are predominately jazz players. They created a beautiful progressive arrangement to Jon’s songs and any denial that these could have been offered to YES is foolish.
Animation, the title track, is written in the same emotional context as Turn of the Century. Where Turn of the Century takes us on the journey of a relationship ending in the death of one of its partners, Animation brings us to the beginning of life with the personal, emotional story of the birth of Jon’s daughter. Both songs are lyrically written with concise, straightforward thoughts and emotions. They are unlike his characteristic ‘spacey’ lyrics or his tendency to nothing but metered rhyme sequences. Animation has many song structure changes. It works on so many levels. Surrender is a homage to peace, surrendering all instruments of war and is a perfect bookend to Imagine by John Lennon.
On many of the songs Jon has included his own brand of harmony, first heard on We Have Heaven from Fragile in 1971. It’s his unique vocal sound originating with YES and it now appears on this solo album.
Jon later recorded new age records, pop records and Celtic records. Their predecessor Animation shows where he was going with his roots, but as the arranger Anderson maintains his Prog stylings.
If there’s a question or criticism of Animation it has to be why these songs weren’t offered to and recorded by Yes. Jon’s other works are clearly not meant for his Yes band mates. Animation is clearly Anderson solo but with the ghosts of Yes in the studio with him.’
Wow! Well, it just goes to show how two people who profess to like similar music can hear the same songs and seemingly hear two very different albums. However, this different perspective from a person whose opinion I respected did send me back to the album with fresh ears. What had I been missing… if anything? Perhaps it was time to listen again and judge it on its own merits rather that what I wanted it to be all those years ago!
The informative CD booklet includes an interview with Jon which reveals all sorts of interesting perspectives, including the influence of Vangelis, with whom he had recorded two albums, Short Stories (1980) and The Friends of Mr Cairo (1981). The opening track Olympia is about Anderson’s new found fascination with keyboards and electronic music, inspired by a visit to an equipment festival held at the Olympia exhibition centre in London. However, alongside the more electronic elements of this track one can also hear Anderson’s characteristic high quality layered vocals and bursts of guitar from Clem Clemson, and even some typically angelic harmony vocals and ethereal lyrics:
Songs of Infinite, My Child media”
Threaded into this thumping electronic anthem, Anderson has embroidered some more progressive motifs. It is quite an opening song.
The mini-epic title song Animation is very much in the vein of the title track to the previous album Song of Seven. There are some curious discordant electronic accents in the intro, but we are soon into a flowing melodic discourse from Anderson, based on the birth of his daughter, Jade. Animation is initially a cascade of energy, acclaiming the experience of childbirth. Midway through the song, after the birth of the child, it becomes contemplative and touching with the strings of the Delmay String Quartet, which then recede in a twinkling. The final section is mainly the pure vocals of Jon Anderson over a piano and synth background as he shares his joy as a parent with beautiful words:
Oh tell me there is nothing like seeing the birth of a child
So tell me the thought, the memory lingers so”
Lovely thoughts and lovely words – it’s by far the best song on the album. It may be a little sentimental for some, but that’s just Jon Anderson – he does touching emotion quite unlike other artists – you just have to buy into it.
The following calypso infused song of peace, Surrender, bounces along quite happily. However, for some it may be rather a jolt after the splendour of Animation (especially its rather ‘parpy’ keyboard ‘horns’), but you cannot fault Anderson for his positivity and willingness to try different styles. All in a Matter of Time is an upbeat song filled with great musicianship, especially a brief and fluidly bubbling synth solo. Clemson adds a tasteful guitar solo as this piece of musical joy rolls along optimistically.
The diversity of this album is underlined by the curious percussive backing and discordancy of Unlearning (The Dividing Line) over which Anderson sings assertively. It is a strange and progressive song, filled with electronic accents and some fine bass playing, underpinning this strange excursion. Similarly, Pressure Point takes an unconventional path with echoes of Weather Report in its jazzy inflections, and strangely the sinuous synth line in the middle has more than a hint of Sound Chaser from Yes’ Relayer. Lazy summaries that this a more ‘pop’ oriented album have been missing the point as Jon sought to experiment in different areas of music, but threaded through are some subtle touches of his usual more progressive tendencies.
The folky Boundaries is rather more straightforward, and was clearly a tune Anderson liked because he later recycled it on the 1997 Yes album Open Your Eyes, in the latter half of the song Somehow, Someday. Thankfully, this original version is far superior to its inclusion on one of the worst Yes albums of their career! Animation moves towards its conclusion with the groove-laden Much Better Reason, with some impressively funky bass and even some samba. However, this would have been musical territory well outside the comfort zone of many of Jon’s more Yes-oriented fans at the time!
The album proper finishes with All God’s Children, co-written with Anderson’s wife Jennifer, and the only track to be produced by Tony Visconti. It’s a stirring, uplifting Gospel number, benefiting from the musical ideas of Eugene Sister Moule, and gives this diverse album a suitably positive finish.
One question that some fans may have: is it worth getting this release if I have the album already?
Well, if they have the appalling 2006 edition from the Opio label then it is DEFINITELY worth it, as apparently that previous edition was not transferred from the master tapes, but was taken from a worn vinyl copy – it is regarded by some as one of THE worst re-releases ever in terms of sound quality! Cherry Red have treated this album with altogether more love and care, and Paschal Byrne’s remastering job reveals all sorts of details and layers that were obscured in the previously botched release. This expanded version includes the breezy lightweight B-side Spider with some undulating synths and Anderson’s daughter Deborah in the background telling an old Irish tale about a 13th sign of the zodiac. More interesting is the lengthy out-take The Spell, which was originally intended to be a main part of the album. With the already lengthy title track, record company scepticism led to The Spell being dropped from the final album. Anderson found a cassette version which has cleaned up pretty well and gives a clear idea of the much more complex route he had been going down for that piece, but in the context of the time it is perhaps understandable that such a peculiar and long track did not make the cut.
After this album, Jon Anderson soon returned to the Yes throng with the mega-successful 90125 in 1983, and his solo career largely remained secondary to his main band for the next 25 years. After such a promising start to his solo career with the trio of albums Olias of Sunhillow, Song of Seven and Animation, it is interesting to speculate just how his solo career may have developed if he had not returned to Yes. Animation does not reach the sonic and imaginative heights of Olias or quite evoke some of the magic of Song of Seven, but it does succeed in some ways. Animation was not a great commercial success, which is perhaps understandable given its diversity. This is the sound of an artist determined to explore a range of musical ideas and styles, some more successfully than others. The musicianship from a high-quality set of collaborators shines out and undoubtedly Animation has some golden moments. As I have learned, this well-presented re-release is worth exploring with an open mind.
01. Olympia (4:58)
02. Animation (9:06)
03. Surrender (3:55)
04. All in a Matter of Time (3:08)
05. Unlearning (The Dividing Line) (4:56)
06. Boundaries (3:20)
07. Pressure Point (4:33)
08. Much Better Reason (4:24)
09. All God’s Children (4:30)
~ Bonus tracks:
10. Spider (single B-side for Surrender & All in a Matter of Time) (2:56)
11. The Spell (demo) (11:43)
Total Time – 57:04
Jon Anderson – Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Clem Clempson – Guitars
Stefano Cerri – Bass Guitar
David Sancious – Keyboards
Simon Phillips – Drums, Percussion
Chris Rainbow – Vocals
Dave Lawson – Keyboards
Ronnie Leahy – Keyboards
Blue Weaver – Keyboards
Billy Kristian – Guitars
John Giblin – Bass
Jack Bruce – Bass
Ian Wallace – Drums
Brother James – Percussion
Morris Pert – Percussion
‘Brazilian Idiots’ – Brazilian Percussion
Delmay String Quartet – Strings