The early 1980s marked a time of constant change for Jon Anderson. He departed the band he co-founded in March after sessions with Roy Thomas Baker (Queen, Dusty Springfield) failed to click and tensions rose with his bandmates Chris Squire, Steve Howe, and Alan White. (Rick Wakeman left Yes at the same time.) He was finding more creative freedom when he joined the electronic music pioneer Vangelis as “Jon and Vangelis.” Their debut Short Stories, released in January 1980, was a top five album in the U.K., and the duo followed it up in 1981 with The Friends of Mr. Cairo. It landed them a top ten placement in the U.K. and comparable success in Canada, Australia, Austria, and the Netherlands. In between, Anderson had released his second solo album (Song of Seven) with The New Life Band. But through Vangelis, Anderson had come to see the wisdom of incorporating electronic textures into his music. With Yes no longer in the picture, the singer pursued his own muse for a third solo album: 1982’s Animation. Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings imprint is about to issue an expanded edition of Animation on the heels of its recent reissue of Anderson’s solo debut, Olias of Sunhillow. It’s due April 30 in the U.K. and the following Friday in North America.
Unlike the ambitious sci-fi concept album Olias, Animation was a more straightforward pop-rock affair with Vangelis’ influence permeating its then-contemporary sound and style. Anderson enlisted producer-engineer Neil Kernon (Dexys Midnight Runners, Daryl Hall and John Oates) to serve with him in those capacities. As on Olias, Anderson wrote the entire album himself (save for one song co-written with his then-wife Jennifer) but rather than playing all of the instruments himself, he brought in an illustrious band including early E Street Band keyboardist David Sancious, guitarist Clem Clempson (Humble Pie, Colosseum), drummer Simon Phillips, bassist Stefano Cerri, and singer Chris Rainbow. Guest musicians dropped by, too (Blue Weaver, Jack Bruce, Dave Lawson), plus a gospel choir and brass and string sessions. Attesting to the loose nature of the sessions, Anderson even tapped a guest producer for one track (Tony Visconti, no slouch himself). The presence of these musicians ensured that the electronic sounds didn’t dominate the final mix.
Synths shimmer on the uptempo rocker that opened the set, “Olympia.” It sets the tone for the album: energetic, spirited, and contemporary. The song’s lyrics allude to the modern age in which it was recorded (“What you want, electronic music/What you have, such symphonic music/Sanyo, Sony, power multiply by hour/Computer redesign/Riding out in scale of nine”) while the music pulsates to a bright pop beat. Most of the tracks on Animation are relatively succinct (mostly in the 4-5-minute range), with the 9-minute title track as the sole exception. It’s the most prog-oriented cut on the LP with its pastoral images of family, dreaming, memory, and desire set to shifting melodic contours. The buoyant and catchy “Surrender” bounces along a gentle tropical rhythm; unsurprisingly, it was chosen as the album’s lead single. There’s a sweetness both to “Surrender” and the second A-side, “All in a Matter of Time.” Some well-placed guitar soloing lends a welcome earthiness to the latter.
“Pressure Point” is the most typically “’80s” song on the LP with its processed vocals and steely, jagged beat while Anderson adopts a slinky jazz cadence for “Much Better Reason.” The most enduring song on Animation might well be the lightly loping folk-influenced ballad “Boundaries” if only because Anderson has reworked its music and lyrics not once, but twice: first as “Somehow, Someday” for Yes’ 1997 album Open Your Eyes and then the following year as “O’er” for his solo The Promise Ring. Tony Visconti helmed the final track on the LP, “All Gods Children.” (Anderson clarifies in the liner notes that the title should have been “All God’s Children,” but it was simply misprinted on the original sleeves!) His big production is well-suited to the gospel-infused anthem.
Two bonus tracks have been appended: the boisterous and brassy non-LP B-side “Spider” and the previously issued outtake “The Spell.” The latter, clocking in at 11+ minutes, is particularly fascinating. Anderson explains in a note that the album was originally conceived with a concept – specifically, a theme he envisioned developing “as a musical, a movie, and a story.” However, the narrative of “The Spell” was a bit obscure (“[It was] always something more than I was able to explain. I could, and still can, see it perfectly clear in my mind’s eye…I just could never put the entire thing into words such that it would make sense to anyone besides me.”) and the record label passed on the song. That original demo appears here, sourced from a home cassette tape.
Animation is packaged in a glossy digipak and includes a 28-page booklet featuring the original lyrics, a comprehensive essay by Malcolm Dome drawing on interviews with Jon Anderson, Clem Clempson, and Dave Lawson, and Anderson’s note. While very different from Olias of Sunhillow and much of Yes’ output, Animation adds up to a worthwhile chapter of Jon Anderson’s solo career.
- All in a Matter of Time
- Unlearning (The Dividing Line)
- Pressure Point
- Much Better Reason
- All Gods Children
- Spider (Polydor single POSP 465-B, 1982)
- The Spell (first issued on Animation, Opio Media CD ARC-7190, 2006)