Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: Yes' Heaven & Earth

Yes – Heaven & Earth

Tracks Listing
1. Believe Again (8:02)
2. The Game (6:51)
3. Step Beyond (5:34)
4. To Ascend (4:43)
5. In A World Of Our Own (5:20)
6. Light Of The Ages (7:41)
7. It Was All We Knew (4:13)
8. Subway Walls (9:03)

Steve Howe / Electric Guitar, Acoustic & Steel Guitars, Backing Vocals
Chris Squire / Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals
Alan White / Drums, Percussion
Geoff Downes / Keyboards, Computer Programming
Jon Davison / Lead & Backing Vocals, Acoustic Guitar on tracks 1, 4 & 6

Label: Frontiers Records (Universal)

Yes have been able to navigate through the years with different guitarists, different singers, different keyboard players, and different drummers, while still maintaining their essence. Think of The Yes Album, which introduced us to Steve Howe, or Rick Wakeman’s debut on Fragile, Alan White’s on Topographic, Patrick Moraz’s on Relayer. Think of the double whammy that brought us Drama – Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. I mean, the f-ing Buggles helped create a better album than the “classic version” of Yes ever could with Tormato.

Then we come to the ultimate change – the Trevor Rabin years – starting with 90125. Even the purists got caught up with the popularity that Yes were acquiring thanks to the South-African guitarist.  Although this popularity brought with it new legions of fans,  the rest of the 90s would see a slow but steady decline in both originality and popularity.

All this to say that changes in personnel cannot be used as an excuse for a bad album. On the contrary, most of these changes seem to have pushed the band even further in their own musical self discovery, and brought us some great albums. This latest iteration should not be different.

So, is this album as bad as many reviewers say it is? The easy answer is no, but it’s more complicated than that.

I used to jokingly say that the last two great Yes albums were Glass Hammer’s If and Magenta’s Seven, and this is not to disparage Glass Hammer or Magenta as Yes clones, which they certainly are not. But those two albums have more of a Yes feel than this new offering.

Like its predecessor Fly from Here, this album needs multiple listening to really get a feel of the album as a whole. I originally hated Fly from Here, thinking that the title track was a bloated expanse of what originally was a straightforward song first played live during the Drama tour. I still think the song is too long, but as a whole I grew to love the album.

Same goes here. Heaven & Earth doesn’t contain the best music Yes have ever written, but neither is it a dud. The songs are pleasant enough and listenable. Tracks like Believe Again and To Ascend could have easily been sung by Jon Anderson, while Subway Walls could have been on an Asia album. As a whole the songs are closer to Turn of a Century and Madrigal than to Close to the Edge. The only truly objectionable track here is Step Beyond, which is an insipid song whose bouncy keyboard parts grate on one’s nerves.

Jon Davison does an admirable job as lead vocalist and co-composer, especially on Light of the Ages, one of the best songs on the album. In fact he is the glue that holds this album together as he was fully involved in writing or co-writing all but one of the songs. The other members of the band are competent enough but not exceptionally so. There are no standout riffs or solos. There is no sense of adventure in the songs.

In short, Heaven & Earth is unobjectionable and accessible. One wonders what could be done with this line-up if they really wanted to explore and expand musically.


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