It would be the simplest thing in the world to fire cheap pot-shots at Jon Anderson for his cryptic, indecipherable lyrics and homespun hippie psychobabble. But at his very best, as a member of Yes or via a select group of prime-era solo releases, Anderson’s work effortlessly deflects any such qualms, hoofing them into the long grass where they belong.
A single-disc, eight-song tale of an alien race that’s forced to flee to a new world in the wake of a volcanic catastrophe, Olias Of Sunhillow might sound utterly preposterous on paper though it’s widely viewed as the singer’s defining release away from the Yes mothership. Only Accrington’s most famous cosmic pixie could get away with a song (Moon Ra) that uses of the lines: ‘Worlds that lie between/Are simply seconds of words we do not mean/Cast a pastel sky/Or simply wonder until the day you die’, but be prepared to leave such qualms at the door because Olias Of Sunhillow is beautiful, uplifting, intoxicating and wholly irresistible.
Conceived just after the sessions for Yes’ Relayer and released in mid-1976 with Anderson handling all of the instrumentation as well as slipping into a variety of vocal characters, it’s a surprisingly low-key but rewarding piece of work that gently warms the cockles of the coldest and most cynical heart. Besides the so-called traditional range of rock staples, he uses harp, sitar, flutes, mandolin and koto to stitch together an exotic-sounding tapestry of sounds.
Reflecting the new age direction that would bring Anderson such incredible success in tandem with Vangelis, Ocean Song is among the more commercial-flavoured moments, contrasted starkly by Naon, the closing part of a seven-minute, two-part suite Qoquaq Ën Transic which fuses Marumbi-style drumming with what sounds like a female church choir that’s been on the communion wine.
But the best is yet to come. Solid Space begins with a fruity keyboard line that Anderson uses as a jumping-off point for some of the most wonderfully versatile vocals that you might ever hear. And at almost 13 minutes long, Moon Ra, Chords and Song Of Search are an interlinked trilogy that stands as the album’s piece de resistance. Occasionally keyboard-dense and other times in the new age vein, the effect is never less than hypnotic.
Olias Of Sunhillow is Anderson at his bonkers best. If you don’t already own it on CD then just overlook the dearth of usual outtakes and bonus tracks that we have now come to expect of our reissues because this new edition is an essential purchase.