“Keys to Ascension 2”
Artist: Yes
Label: Purple Pyramid
Rating: 3 notes out of 4
Assistant Pulse Editor

When listening to Yes’s “Keys to Ascension 2,” there is nothing to indicate that this album is already irrelevant.

The two-CD set, like its year-old predecessor “Keys to Ascension,” features a combination of live versions of some of the band’s classics from the 1970s and “new” studio cuts. The lineup that produced this album is the same: vocalist Jon Anderson, guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and drummer Alan White.

However, the studio cuts were recorded nearly a year ago, and since that time Wakeman has left the band. The band has hired guitarist Billy Sherwood (who co-produced “Keys 2”) and has another new album, “Open Your Eyes,” due out next Tuesday (with substitute keyboardist Igor “Ivan” Khoroshev). “Keys 2” is destined to be forgotten.

The live tracks are a mixed bag. “Going for the One” and “I’ve Seen All Good People” seem to be lacking some energy, and “Close to the Edge,” one of rock’s most magnificent compositions, comes off as somewhat listless. However, Wakeman’s lovely piano-based treatment of “Time and a Word” and the band’s flawless execution of the wonderful “Turn of the Century” is something to behold.

The studio tracks are the story here, though. They are excellent and feature a creativity the band hasn’t shown for quite a while. The second disc’s opening track, “Mind Drive,” is an 18 1/2 minute clinic in effective songwriting and features Wakeman and Howe in starring roles.

In fact, these two steal the show on all the studio cuts. Howe’s graceful acoustic and energetic electric guitar playing is prominently displayed throughout, and Wakeman finally shows on a Yes album why he is (and always has been, quite frankly) rock’s premier keyboard player.

However, with “Open Your Eyes” out only two weeks after the release of “Keys 2,” this fine effort will be buried in favor of the new album, for which the band already is touring. This is a shame. “Keys 2” is a worthy release that could easily stand on its own. Unfortunately, it will never get a chance.