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Yes Returns with a Pleasant, if Not Entirely Memorable Effort

Yes: Heaven and Earth, CD Review

Yes, Heaven and Earth (2014)As a diehard Yes fan, I find it extremely difficult to write a negative review of their music, but their latest album, Heaven and Earth, is not one of their greatest. It’s certainly a pleasant listen, but it isn’t earth-shattering or entirely memorable, especially when compared to the majority of their oeuvre.

Here you won’t find anything comparable in scope to The Yes Album or Going For The One, and the songs are greatly lacking the same oomph as some of their more spiritually influenced material, such as “Awaken”, or “The Revealing Science of God”. This time around, the songs more or less just plod along without any real innovation or inspiration.

Many hardcore Yes fans have been bitching and complaining for years that Yes IS NOT Yes without lead vocalist Jon Anderson (a sentiment I disagree with), who was with the band from its very inception in 1968 until he left in 1979, only to return in 1983 and stay with them until he was, by some accounts, forcibly removed in 2008. While there have been approximately 628 members in Yes over the years, Anderson still remains the band’s most visible one, who left an indelible imprint with his distinctive alto tenor voice and lyrics that ventured into the spiritual and mystical.

This time around, American Jon Davison from the prog band Glass Hammer has taken over the vocal chores from Canadian Benoit David (who appeared on their last album Fly From Here in 2011). To be fair, I will say that Davison does have a decent voice, but he sounds remarkably like Anderson, especially when compared to David who had more of a deeper register that worked well with Fly From Here‘s New Wave tinged sound. Aside from the obvious Anderson comparison, Davison’s voice actually complements the overall context of Heaven and Earth; it seems to be a reasonable fit. The real negative here is that Davison’s lyrics (he co-wrote the majority of the songs) often appear to be fairly bland and at times clichéd and sappy. There’s no real sense of mysticism nor is there a touch of the abstract in Davison’s lyrics…time will tell if future offerings will find him branching out and sculpting something a bit more intriguing.

In terms of the music, the dominant instrumentalists here are guitarist Steve Howe and keyboardist Geoff Downes. While Howe could be accused of offering little more than psychedelic noodling here, his guitar does stand out throughout the album, even on the less successful songs. Sadly, both bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White seem to be going through the motions on this outing, which is strange because they’re one of the greatest and tightest rhythm sections in all of rock.

The Songs

First, the Lackluster Ones:

While the opener “Believe Again” has a dreamy feel, and sounds like standard Yes fare, in the end it’s nothing earth-shattering, aside from some pleasant keyboard washes by Downes. “The Game” is a fairly bland and unmemorable song, with some nice work by Howe, but it leaves a lot to be desired. The band makes a valiant attempt to liven upStep Beyond,” but it’s the most annoying track; the lyrics are unbelievably corny and Downes’ continuous keyboard riff makes the whole experience quite grating. “In a World of Our Own” is actually kind of catchy in spots, with Downes and Howe contributing some interesting interplay, but it’s a forgettable number. Sadly, Howe’s solo contribution “It Was All We Knew” while featuring some pleasant guitar solos, just can’t escape its straightforward pop sound.

And Now, the Highlights:

Yes, 2014: Squire, White, Downes, Howe, DavisonAside from the aforementioned songs, there are some moments where Heaven and Earth actually does come to life, allowing it to briefly rise above its overwhelmingly maudlin sound. “To Ascend” features lyrics that often delve into saccharine silliness, yet Howe’s acoustic guitar and Downes’ piano both enhance the song’s ethereal and dreamy vibe, bearing some relationship to the Yes of days gone by…it’s one of the best songs on the album. “Light of the Ages” is Davison’s solo composition; it’s a mysteriously dark and brooding number with some interesting musical interplay that is a great addition to the Yes songbook. The finale, “Subway Walls”, is clearly the stand out track that actually ventures into experimental/progressive territory without caving to pop sensibilities, while adding a smidge of funk. The complex interplay of Downes (who’s all over this track), Howe and Squire provides a much-needed kick in the ass to a fairly lifeless album. In all honesty, if the whole of Heaven and Earth sounded like this, we’d probably have a new classic on our hands.

Am I disappointed with Heaven and Earth? Well…somewhat. I expected something a bit more adventurous and experimental, but I guess that this was not to be. Roy Thomas Baker’s overall production sounds flat, depriving the music of the trademark richness found on classic albums such as Fragile, Close to the Edge and Tales From Topographic Oceans. Instead of creating something that could be complex in its overall structure, Heaven and Earth seems primarily rooted in dreamy soundscapes with a modern pop sound, which is fine, but, I just wanted more. Sure, I wasn’t expecting anything as boisterous along the lines of “Sound Chaser” or “Every Little Thing”…but here every little thing just seems stuck in a tired groove.

You can’t have everything. Yes is still capable of producing a masterpiece, but, sadly, Heaven and Earth just isn’t it.

Dave Bower is Co-Publisher of The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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