The latest Yes album, Magnification, was recorded in Santa Barbara, the rich folks’ town that marks the end of Southern California and the beginning of the central coast. Farther up the line is San Luis Obispo, another big Yes stamping ground. The band used it as the venue for one of their recent live recordings, calling it by the native’s acronym, SLO.
SLO’s also home to a couple of really novel tourist attractions. First, there’s the automated, sculpted men’s urinal in the Madonna Hotel. The flush cycle is hooked to a motion-infrared sensor, and when you whip it out, the waterfall rinse cycle commences, so to speak. Electrical engineers find the mechanism mesmerizing—there are tons of ’em graduated out of Cal Polytechnic and in the employ of the military’s ICBM operation at Vandenberg just south of there—and it’s my hunch that this is one of the reasons Yes is fond of the central coast, too. I’ve always felt the Yes catalog sounds like the work of E.E.’s with secondary Ph.D.’s in rock—guys who set tunes to busy “mechanisms” of instrumentation, triggered to begin spontaneously and bury the listener in stacks of groaning layers.
But the biggest SLO attraction is the chewing gum alley. It’s another engineering feat, of sorts. In this case: one dull side street in downtown SLO converted to a tourist attraction through assiduous wallpapering of its “sides” with millions of pieces of already-been-chewed waddage. It’s way beyond disgusting, but locals and tourists claim to enjoy it.
Magnification is a chewing gum wall of typically Yes-type prog engineering, millions of sticky bits of orchestral instrumentation, and the tirelessly multitracked vocals of Jon Anderson. Some of it is fine—namely, the parts that sound like George Martin- penned musical interludes lifted from the Help soundtrack, plus a number called “Can You Imagine” that’s short and ribbed with a pungent Steve Howe riff. Unfortunately, Howe is mostly employed in the role of old brick, peeking through the cracks between the wads of sonic chicle.