Sunday, 3 July 2011

Fly From Here

The wait is over. The first new collection of music from legendary Prog rock band Yes in 10 years has been released in Europe, with a few changes to the line-up and people now no longer wondering what the new sound will be like. It's only the second album of theirs not to feature Jon Anderson on lead vocals - a distinct, and some would say essential, feature of the Yes 'sound'. So how does it shape up?

The album opens with a six-part suite, 'Fly From Here', which began life as a shorter piece penned by Downes & Horn over 30 years ago, during their 'Buggles' period. The overture sets the scene nicely, introducing themes that will reappear later, and leading into the first 'movement', 'We Can Fly'. This is our first encounter with the lead vocals of Benoit David, Anderson's replacement, who made his name in a Canadian Yes-tribute band. He seems to have a similar range to Anderson, though perhaps just a touch more understated. The track itself is OK: a little pop-y in places, and the obvious single (if there is such a thing these days - an abridged 'radio-edit' has been available for a week or so now), though it is also quite obviously Yes in its style and particular in Steve Howe's guitar part.

The second 'movement', 'Sad Night at the Airfield' has echoes for me of Alan Parsons' early work, and also of a current favourite of mine, Big Big Train, and there are glimpses of David Gilmour in the slide guitar work, so a good prog pedigree shining through in this track. By the third 'movement', 'Madman at the Screens' we begin to see more clearly than hitherto the influence of Trevor Horn & Geoff Downes' previous work with Yes, as this has, for me, clear hints of 'Into the Lens' from their first engagement with the band, 'Drama'. It's also the first foray into odd time-signatures (an essential element of classic prog) with a substantial portion of the song in 10/8. This continues into the fourth 'movement', 'Bumpy Ride', which lives up to its name with passages in 15/8 and 6/8, with many changes in tempo as well as signature. The final section, a reprise of the first, draws the suite to a close, and at 23:49 it clocks in as the band's longest single piece of music. As one of their many epic tracks it's not quite up to the grandeur of 'Close to the Edge' or 'Awaken', but it is worthy of Yes.

The rest of the album comprises five shorter pieces. 'The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be' is the only track to feature Chris Squire on lead vocals, though strangely it's the only song in the collection that I can imagine Jon Anderson singing. It has a good guitar part from Howe, but has, I have to say, nothing really outstanding about it - which probably means it'll be a future single. 'Life on a Film Set' is another old Buggles demo brought to life, and another song that has echoes in it of Drama-era Yes: it has a nice section in 11/8. 'Hour of Need' is a Steve Howe-penned song, relatively harmless, of which there is a longer version on the Japanese release of the album. Steve Howe's other solo writing contribution, 'Solitaire' is a solo performance from him on acoustic guitar, a tune with nice variations in pace and good displays of his undoubted virtuosity, which stands well alongside his other classic solo acoustic numbers, 'Clap' and 'Mood for a Day'. The closer to the album is 'Into the Storm', which starts explosively, but which fades quickly. I get the feeling that it is trying to be another 'Tempus Fugit' or 'The Silent Wings of Freedom' as an album closer, but it doesn't quite manage it. The final bars contain echoes of the opening suite, which does give a wholeness to the album.

It's good to hear new material from a band that has been delighting audiences for over 40 years, in various manifestations. Although not up there with 'Fragile', 'Close to the Edge' or 'The Yes Album', it's certainly not a 'Big Generator': this is recognisably Yes, and is certainly worth a serious listen by aficionados and by those exploring the delights of Prog for the first time.