Jon Anderson – Animation: Album Review

“What you want, you say you?”A new (slightly) expanded Jon Anderson remastered release – Animation from 1982

Release date: 30th April 2021

Label: Esoteric Recordings

Format: CD / DL

The third release in six months of Esoteric’s Jon Anderson remasters, following the Olias Of Sunhillow debut (our review) and the follow-up Song Of Seven (our review). Despite both being high on my personal Anderson/solo Yes playlists, and despite the rather uninspired cover art, I do have a soft spot for Animation. I have a soft spot for Jon Anderson full stop, being a local lad from Accrington. Jon, not me and these days he’d say we all belong to the same world…

I digress. The ’82 tour (available from all good bootleg outlets) which sadly didn’t reach the UK, had electrifying versions of songs from the album, a thrilling Yes medley and some arrangements on his work with Vangelis. Hopefully, someone someday will source a quality recording for an official release. The band on Animation is pretty decent. With David Sancious, Clem Clempson, Simon Phillips and Jack Bruce on the teamsheet, the fantasy band scores are on the high side.

And on hitting the play button, the dynamic opening of Olympia reflects that electricity. It does have a touch of Yes finesse all carried by a thundering and undeniably pounding rock rhythm. Possibly even more so than the Rhythm Of Love (the Yessong from ’88, lest ye think otherwise…). Lyrically, Jon’s quick off the blocks and at his liberal best, the freeform wordplay spiralling (possibly even cross collateralising) wildly.

Anytime you meet superstition
Just add thoughts to advision
Then cross collateralise and
Subsidised by television

The ode to technology might seem quaintly antiquarian but the reminiscing is continued with the title track. How many people can get away with writing about the wonderful gift of childbirth in a rock song? Animation continues the long-form of Song Of Seven. Various sections are pieced together in a musical kaleidoscope. The first part is overtaken by a rocky part where Jon extols the virtue of childbirth before the emotive piano conclusion that evokes some of his sublime work with Rick Wakeman.

The hippy-dippy dreamy Surrender with the kid’s voices and idealistic ‘let’s abandon all the weapons – yeah!’ philosophy. The power of love will rise above all. Peace and love for all echoed in All In A Matter Of Time and yes you might be feeling the rush of love’s emotions of which he sings.

Side one is brilliant. After boldly declaring that Olias Of Sunhillow is the best of any Yes solo albums (certainly the ones from the ’75 sabbatical and yes, I know that includes all the Howe and Wakeman solo work…), I’ll stake a similarly bold claim: the first side of Animation is Anderson’s best ‘side’ of his solo work.

The second half presents a more varied (patchy even) pallette. Anderson exploring various musical forms that shift from electronic to acoustic jollies and a touch of uplifting gospel style massed voices. A hint of funk with some electronic rhythms drives Unlearning that for me is the pick of Side Two. Possibly something you could see on a Jon & Vangelis collaboration before the spiritual Jon takes us o’er the mountains and o’er the green allies- maybe thinking of his Lancashire roots and throwing it together in a ‘Jon Anderson goes folk’ pastiche. A lovely massed acoustic guitar fest adds to a strong opening.

The musical variety continues, via more soul and stark funk-influenced outings, plus an injection or two of world music styles that would feature in his later solo outings. It comes to a head in the joyous and uplifting All God’s Children. A song that rounds off a celebration of the wonders of childhood and an innocence that’s owed a Hallelujah! Praise be.

Bonus marks for adding the B-side Spider that’s a close fit to the Animation template. Then there’s the sprawling demo of The Spell. Maybe a deeper investigation might reveal some moments to get excited about. It seems an extended experiment which has Jon conjuring up lyrics seemingly at will, sat at the piano one afternoon, plonking away while thoughts pour out. There’s a line or two about “two old ladies sat there so quietly” in the tale of reminiscence (“they did have beauty once”) that explains why it remained in the archive. And confirms too the quality of the released album. Along with the Jon & Vangelis album The Friends Of Mr Cairo from 1981 (their best – a thought for discussion…), it’s a fertile period for Jon Anderson. I guess you could call it a very useful and productive time before returning to his throne as the voice of Yes.

Here’s the opening track, Olympia:

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