Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Yes - Heaven and Earth

I've been a fan of Yes's music for the best part of 40 years, particularly the material from what is deemed to be their 'classic' period, and was therefore delighted when they announced that the current line-up of the band would be performing perhaps the three greatest examples of their art - 'The Yes Album', 'Close to the Edge' and 'Going for the One' - at venues across the UK earlier this year. The show in Sheffield was excellent, proving that this material still has a freshness about it, and that the latest incarnation of Yes could still produce some sublime music together.

With news of the tour also came word of a new album being produced: news which heightened my anticipation for the coming year. How would the new material stack up against the classic repertoire? And how would it compare to the recent 'Fly From Here', which had met with a mixed response from critics and fans alike following its release in 2011.

When I reviewed 'Fly From Here' someone commented that Glass Hammer's 'If' was a better Yes album. If they were correct, would the inclusion of Glass Hammer's vocalist Jon Davison to the band in place of the short-lived Benoit David produce something more to the liking of the fans? From many of the reviews that have already appeared for this new album it would seem not to be the case, and I'm still struggling to understand why.

Davison has writing credits for all but one of the songs, therefore his imprint is on the music from the off. The opener 'Believe Again' promises much for the rest of the album, and there is much in this song for Yes fans to latch on to. The Yes Choir is evident and Davison brings much of Jon Anderson's style to the lyrics and delivery, but I felt there was more of an Asia fell to the song overall than a Yes one. Sadly that promise fails to materialise as the album proceeds. 'The Game' is just flat pop-rock, reminiscent for me of early Police, and 'Step Beyond', the second Howe/ Davison composition after 'Believe Again', really disappoints with its twee, twiddly keyboards and flat rhythm: it simply lacks substance and is too long. 'To Ascend', which gives Alan White a writing credit alongside Davison, is a safe ballad with some nice interplay between guitar, bass and strings and the spirit of Jon Anderson in lyrics which speak of 'the eyes of a child', whereas 'In a World of our Own' seemed to me to be an out-take from Squackett's 2012 'A Life Within A Day'. 'Light of the Ages' offers some slightly more inventive drumming and guitar work which is a lot more evocative of the classic Yes sound in its opening couple of minutes, and I was beginning to think that maybe things were looking up. Sadly the song quickly loses the plot. 'It Was All We Knew' is the only track not to feature Jon Davison as a writer, being a Steve Howe composition. It opens with the feel of Stealer's Wheel's 'Stuck in the Middle with You' mixed with the tune of 'My Grandfather's Clock', has some nice harmonies throughout with Davison not so prominent in the mix, and a pleasant rocking riff mid-way through. The final track, and the longest at 9:03, is 'Subway Walls', the only song for which Geoff Downes is given a writing credit. It opens with strings reminiscent to me of some of Karl Jenkins' work, and is overall the nearest to progressive rock that this collection gets: if the rest of the album could have reached this standard, we might have had a very different animal.

My overall impression is, sadly, one of intense disappointment. 'Heaven & Earth' doesn't leave me feeling uplifted in the way that some Yes music can and does. The recurring word seems to be 'flat': this is uninspiring and on the whole uninspired music, with little invention evident. The long(ish) songs that bookend the set show glimpses of what might have been. Maybe the band were too keen to get something out there and should have spent a little more time working on their ideas, though I appreciate that the constraints of touring limited the amount of studio time available. There is talk of more new material being around and a further album/ albums to come from this line-up. I hope, if that is the case, that they will give the material the time it needs, otherwise (and it saddens me to write this) it may be time to call time on this seminal progressive band.