You'd probably need a mainframe computer to keep track of all the personnel changes in Yes over the years, and the quality of the prog rock giant's music has fluctuated nearly as much as the lineups. The Ladder is a synthesis of the best traits of the experimental Fragile era and the pop-oriented 90125 era. Producer Bruce Fairbairn completed The Ladder shortly before his death in 1999, and unlike some of his work with Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Kiss, and others, he didn't overproduce it. Vocalist Jon Anderson, lead guitarist Steve Howe, and bass guitarist Chris Squire all have fine moments, and drummer Alan White is consistent. The roles of keyboardist Igor Khoroshev and, in particular, guitarist Billy Sherwood are less clear. It occasionally seems the purpose of Khoroshev's keyboards is providing a variety of sonic textures instead of functioning as a lead instrument. Sherwood's second guitar tends to flesh out the sound. "Homeworld (The Ladder)" is a tight band performance, but the supple vocals/acoustic guitar/piano coda is the best part. Howe's bouncy acoustic guitar drives "Lightning Strikes," yet the biggest surprise is the addition of a horn section. The energetic "Face to Face" is the strongest track, and Squire lets loose with a sputtering bassline. "If Only You Knew" is a sweet, straightforward love song Anderson wrote for his wife. "The Messenger" has a smooth, funky feel -- a remarkable feat considering prog rock is usually considered the "whitest" rock genre. "New Language" is the best long song on The Ladder, thanks to a clever arrangement giving all six members an opportunity to demonstrate their talents.
AllMusic Review by Bret Adams