“A funny crossover of styles… interesting, but only partially successful”: Jon Anderson’s In The City Of Angels reissue

Former Yes singer thinks his voice didn’t cross over to pop as well as Phil Collins’ did - but it’s strong enough on this 1988 title

Jon Anderson - In The City of Angels
(Image: © Floating World)

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Received wisdom has it that the outdated progressive rock bands were brought down by the punk hordes in the late 70s. Although this was fanciful, smaller prog bands did struggle into the 80s, and the bigger groups had to think how to appear for the MTV generation.

Yes famously grew mullets, slapped on the hair gel and, in 1983, got themselves some chart action with a new approach on 90125. But on this 1988 solo album, Jon Anderson pushed further into the mainstream, recording in LA with members of Toto and enlisting producer Stewart Levine, who had worked with Simply Red and Randy Crawford. It was never going be another tale from the topographic oceans.

Two of the songs, the uptempo Hold On To Love and the sumptuous ballad In A Lifetime, were co-writes between Anderson and Lamont Dozier. That invited the idea that the singer was keen to follow Phil Collins – who’d also collaborated with the legendary Motown songwriter – in a career arc from pop to prog to pop. 

The former Yes singer sounds committed and animated… his singing is strong throughout

But the album only sold modestly; and Anderson has admitted that his voice wasn’t as suited to radio as Collins’ was. Still, while In The City Of Angels is full of 80s production gloss – cool, spacious reverb, keyboard stabs and big drums – the former Yes singer sounds committed and animated, and his singing is strong throughout.

There’s a funny crossover of styles. Sundancing (For The Hopi/Navajo Energy) mixes hippie-ish sentiments with a synth and keyboard extravaganza. New Civilization is a groovy, uptempo dance number, peppered with elliptical statements such as, ‘We change our style/We change our style upon/This day called summer’ and a horn section that sounds like it belonged on a tune by Lionel Ritchie.

For You, co-written with Toto’s David Paich, is reminiscent of Anderson’s work with Vangelis. Overall, In The City Of Angels is an interesting, albeit only partially successful, outlier in his career.

In The City Of Angels is available now via Floating World Records.

Mike Barnes

Mike Barnes is the author of Captain Beefheart - The Biography (Omnibus Press, 2011) and A New Day Yesterday: UK Progressive Rock & the 1970s (2020). He was a regular contributor to Select magazine and his work regularly appears in Prog, Mojo and Wire. He also plays the drums.