Like the proggy/poppy group it documents, Time and a Word: The Yes Story is a bit schizo. Martin Popoff’s book is part straight-forward timeline, part oral history. Generally dry and purely informational by nature, time lines are almost never interesting to read. Chatty, gossipy, and a bit hard to trust, oral histories are almost always great fun. That means—like Yes’s discography (sorry, I’ll stop comparing the book to the band)—Time and a Word is enjoyable in fits, but it also lacks the authorial insight and details that would truly make it “The Yes Story.”
We readers learn the basic beats of the band’s career: the comings and goings of its multitudinous members, the record releases and the receptions to those records from both critics and band members, the splits and reunions right up to 2015. What we don’t learn is much about the people in the band. Jon Anderson’s spirituality gets discussed quite a bit, but only because it was so relevant to the music he wrote, and this is really a book about music not people. Rick Wakeman, the most flamboyant member of the group by some degree, has no problem exuding his personality regardless of what he’s talking about. Otherwise, a bunch of guys who critics have often criticized as being faceless music-bots do not get humanized in any meaningful way. Because those guys aren’t particularly gossipy, the oral history portions often fail to fill in the gaps, particularly when dealing with inter-band conflicts. That Popoff’s writing can be very lively, which is evident from his personal assessments of the albums the Yes Men made in and outside of the group, makes one wish he’d tapped into that energy more when explaining the history. Time and a Word could have used a lot more of that kind of liveliness and insight. As it stands, it kind of reads like box set liner notes.