YES – Live at San Jose Civic
On 19 August 2014 – Watch the YES live show from San Jose Civic CA – FREE – exclusively on Yahoo Screen.
Setlist: FRAGILE & CLOSE TO THE EDGE in their entireties plus 2 tracks from HEAVEN & EARTH plus more GREATEST HITS!
Showtime: 11:30pm ET / 8:30pm PT / 4:30am UK
Check the show time in your location here.
If you miss the live event, don’t worry, the show will also be available to view afterwards on the same website.
Will Yes be the first band to transcend generations?
From an awesome new interview with the excellent Jon Davison:
But even with all the lineup changes, Yes’ music retains a dynamic, unmistakable identity that manages to end up being bigger than its individual players.
That’s right, and it’s similar to the way classical music works. Long after those marvelous composers, like Chopin and Bach and all of them, passed, and the centuries moved forward, their music lives on. It’s not so much about the personality anymore. And people have a hard time seeing that now, because obviously the members [of Yes] are still alive, apart from [original guitarist] Peter Banks, who passed away last year. But it’s so easy to associate the music with the personality, and that causes a lot of conflict among fans. But ultimately, it’s about the music, and just taking the music forward. And there will always be a Yes. And I’m a lover of Jon Anderson as much as I’m a lover of Chris Squire, but you can’t fight it. And when something has that power to it, it’s beautiful, and beauty transcends all of that personality, and it’s always gonna belong, you just can’t put a cap on it and say, “Well, the original members aren’t doing this music anymore, so it’s over.” That can never be. It just can’t be.
It reminds me of the music of Frank Zappa, who composed so much great material with many different lineups — and many different lineups have performed it.
Yeah, that’s exactly it. Art just transcends so much. And when there’s something beautiful and powerful, it’s going to thrive, and you can’t stop it. Each lineup of Yes reflects a new, fresh kind of flavor, if you will. In the grand scheme and topography of Yes. So I think that’s kept it going. I think that’s kept it really fresh. Even the later albums, with “Open Your Eyes,” and so on, those albums are less popular, perhaps, but there was always a nice freshness there, the music was alive, and I think that has to do so much with the unique lineups that keep evolving.
In a recent article, Yes bassist Chris Squire joked, but in a somewhat serious way, that Yes will be around in a hundred years.
For me, when I hear the classic Yes stuff, yeah, I definitely hear that this is a ’70s band — there’s a lot of aspects in it that reveal that. But at the same time, it’s futuristic music. It’s like this thing you can’t quite pinpoint. It’s, like, way ahead of its time. And I still think we haven’t arrived at the point where, OK, we’ve arrived to the full realization of what Yes is. No, it’s like it’s still in the future, and I think that’s why it goes over so many people’s heads.
It’s definitely rock and roll, but at the same time, it has this transcendental quality that you can’t quite pinpoint.
Greetings all. Over the weekend before Talk came out, I picked up the promo CD single for "The Calling" from my local rarites dealer. It contains three different edits of the song plus the original version. Imagine my surprise a few days later when I found that the original version of the song is not on the album (not on the US release, anyway). The four tracks are: Radio Edit (5:58) The only version that I have heard on the radio. An apt title, I suppose then. Edited out are the funky guitar/keyboard break (occurs about 3:00 into the original version) and the long quiet part that immediately follows. Single Edit (4:39) Like the radio edit, but with the harmonized vocal intro edited out (that is, the first verse starts where we would expect the harmonized intro to start), and an very early faded-out ending. Album Edit (6:55) You guessed it, the same version that is on the album. Like the original version, but with the long quiet part (for lack of a better name) edited out. Silly me, I was puzzled for a few days as to why they called this the "Album Edit", but now I know. Original Version (8:06) This is the version some have heard on the radio, and I believe it was played at the premiere party. There is a soft quiet part right after the guitar/keyboard break. To give those who haven't heard it an idea of what it sounds like, I halfway expected Anderson to start singing "Awaken" during it. The cover to the cardboard sleeve is exactly like that of the album (minus the word "Talk", naturally). Stranger still is the fact that the words "The Calling" do not appear anywhere on the cover. The spine reads "Yes - The First Track From Talk". The back cover reads "The First Track From Talk", and "Start TALK-ing now!" (duh). Was there perhaps some indecision over what the first single would be? The number on the spine is CDP 1178, if that helps anyone, and I paid $4 for it.
Well, now that’s some perfect timing…
Rock Cellar Magazine: Is there a Yes album that gets overlooked?
Alan White: Drama is an underrated album for me. It was one of my favorites because everyone in the band wrote everything on that. I wrote the main lick in Machine Messiah. There were musical contributions from everybody and I loved the album Drama.
The other one that I thought was really good was done in the Trevor Rabin era and that was the Talk album. That album doesn’t get looked at very much but it’s an absolutely superb album. There’s a track on that album called Endless Dream, which is absolutely stunning and features a lot of great playing from everybody.
And there you have it! “An absolutely superb album.”
Erik’s review of Talk got me all nostalgic for the good old “Notes From the Edge” days. The site is currently inaccessible via the front door, but the ASCII pages are still up on the Internet, so you can get in via a back door if you type in a numerical URL. While poking around this way, and stirring up old memories, I came across this hilarious “parody review” (i.e., “IT’S A JOKE, GUYS!!”) of Talk written by “Jeremy” a.k.a. “Captain Apathy” (and dated “March 22, 1994″) — which I think makes a nice addition to our most recent Progarchist controversy over Talk:
Yes- Talk WAY Too Much After two years of arguments and lawsuits, the band Yes-We're-That-Pretentious has finally whittled their membership down to a slim 5, minus members: Rick Wake- Up-and-Smell-the-Coffee-Man, Steve Howitzer, and Bill Brooford. The band is now the same line-up as on '90125.71243..." and "Big Degenerative", and have just released their newest album: "Talk WAY Too Much." Using state of the art technology, the band recorded and mixed the album completely through a Radio Shack Tandy computer. But now, let's talk to the band members. Jon Andersony: "What the band has done in the past I've really enjoyed... what I remember of it. But this album I'm extrememly proud of. We have pushed the band to the limits... of human decency." Trevor Rabin-McEntyre: "The last album ("Onion Soup Mix") was horrible. It was so bad that I didn't even play on it; I got my good friend Yngwie Malmsteen to do the guitar work; it was just horrible. But now with the computer, we can get rid of those horrible tape recorders... of course we stored all the computer information on tape recorders, but what the heck." Tony Casey Kasem: "Actually, I kind of liked that last album. But I'm just happy Rick's gone. It gives me a chance to strut my little toy piano!" Alan Whitehead: "I've been with the band through and thick and thin, and I think this is the best work we've done... of course, I'm getting paid to say that." Chris Drinks-Like-A-Fish: "Where am I? Someone get me a drink!" But, let's get to the album, shall we? The tracks (in no specific order): 1) I've Been Waiting (For A Girl Like You) As a homage to their past, the band produced this timeless cover of the Foreigner tune, lengthening the song to 3 times its original length. Jon: "It worked with America, so why not now?" 2) The Call-Waiting Trevor: "I love this phone feature, it's cool! I can have a three-way conversation now!" The band hopes to have the song used in an upcoming MCI commercial... 3) Really Expensive Love Chris: "I think Trevor wrote this song about a prostitute girlfriend or something... where's my Scotch?" 4) State Of Play-Acting Tony: "Actually, the song is 5 minutes of Trevor air-guitaring... we hope to get it into video-form, or no one will understand the song." 5) Malls Surprisingly, this tune was written with the help of Roger Hodgepodge of the 70s band Superdupertramp. Why was he asked to help write the song? Trevor: "Because the Village People were unavailable." 6) Where Will I Be? Jon: "The song is actually about one of my favorite books... Where's Waldo? I just love those things. I sit for hours and hours and try to find him... it's just wonderful!" 7) Endless Song For the first time since "Going For The Other One", the band has released a song of epic proportions. In fact, the song is so long it fills up a second, third, fourth and fifth CD. Alan: "You see, it would have only been one, but Trevor's solo was just so long!" a) Silent Thing Trevor: "I think Robert Fripp-Wilson would have approved of this one... over four minutes of silence! It's just... awesome!" Jon: "Actually, Trevor forgot to turn the mike on." b) Some Talking Jon: "I just had so much more to say lyric-wise, that we put this on... I mean, this is the beginning of the past... or is it the future? Anyway, other alien galaxies will know what I'm talking about when they hear the song." Chris: "Right, what he said... where's that martini?" c) Endless Song Tony: "This is the best part of the album. There's one point where I got to take my Hammond Organ and really tear it apart! Just like Keith Emerson!" Trevor: "Actually, we had to cut that out, Tony, to put more of my guitar solo in." Tony: "What?! Why you little..." Let's hope we'll hear more from this talented band!
Let me write from experience about what it is to be a Yes fan. Sometimes, “Yes Derangement Syndrome” (YDS) can take hold.
This happens when a new Yes album comes out and it’s like your beloved spouse coming home with a wildly different pair of glasses, or a radically different hairdo, or a crazily different wardrobe theme. Your first reaction is you know you don’t like it. But this reaction is way more emotional than rational, and it’s almost entirely subjective in that it is mostly founded on very deep mental patterns of subjectively-cultivated habituation. You have created a vast mental universe of inner love, and suddenly reality is asking you to consider radically new data.
It’s been really interesting to read about the reactions of Brad and Erik, both today and back in the day, to Yes’ Talk. For me this is one of my Top Ten Yes Albums, but it took me a long time to assign it that five-star ranking.
Incidentally, I challenge all Progarchists to list their Top Ten Yes Albums, an exercise like the Top Ten Rush ranking we did recently. Yes has 20 studio albums (I am counting Keystudio as one), or 21 if you want to include Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe (ABWH) — as I do. So, it’s an interesting mental exercise to divide the oeuvre into two playlists: a Top Ten and a Bottom Ten.
However that may be, let me tell you about my three cases of YDS.
The first was Talk. I remember when I first bought this CD. I listened to it once, found myself hating everything except “The Calling,” and then used the excuse that its bundled software didn’t work on my Windows PC (anybody remember that?) as the way for me to return it to the record store and to get my money back! Yep, I got my money back. Only years later, upon hearing “The Calling” again (an overwhelming nostalgic experience which instantly melted my heart), did I break down and buy the whole album once again. After many listens, I now really love everything about it and rank it in the upper echelon. But note my initial crazy reaction. I mean, how many albums have you ever tried to return to the record store in your life?! And, how many did you succeed in getting your money back for?!?! I marched this one back without even making a cassette recording of it. Crazy! YDS, indeed.
The second case of YDS was when ABWH came out. After three listens, I launched into a vicious diatribe against it that melted the ears of my Yes-loving best friend. I still remember his face. He was visibly wincing at my hatred for the album. Then, weeks later, I had completely reversed my opinion about the album, and I endlessly praised it to him. To the skies. He looked at me like I was a crazy person; I remember that look too. Sound familiar? Yes, fans, we may call it YDS. Thank God there was no bundled software on this CD, otherwise the record store may have seen me arguing on a technicality again.
“We don’t accept returns of opened products.”
“But I haven’t been able to open it. The software won’t launch properly on my PC. So, virtually, it hasn’t been opened.”
The third case of YDS is with the new Heaven & Earth. We know what that looks like, and it ain’t pretty. I had an extreme critical reaction to this disc, but over time I have to admit that it is steadily ascending in my mental universe. So far it’s gone from one star to four stars in my hidden mind drive. Who knows where it will stop? More on that later. But the point is this: I have learned from my previous two cases of YDS. And I have wisely resolved not to repeat it a third time.
So, back to Talk. There is much to love about this album, infused as it is with so much Rabin-era goodness. Like all the best Yes, it is magically positive and spiritually uplifting. The opening track is pure awesomeness, and I love how Erik describes it as a perfect meld of 90125 and the 70s.
But I don’t want to go over every track in detail right now, because I think it is more important to answer the five YDS-tinged complaints from Brad. Let me conclude with my rejoinders to his all-too-familiar YDS insanity:
1. The title is brilliant. 90125 is inarguably one of the stupidest titles ever, but Talk is most definitely wonderful. Like the band’s name, it is one syllable. Perfect. Further, it subtly references a subsection of the epic track “Endless Dream.” So, it pulls the listener into acquiring a deeper familiarity with, and appreciation of, the hidden dimensions of the album. It invites the prospective listener into the magical depths of prog. And what will the listener find in this magical place? Only one of Jon’s most beautiful Yes melodies ever. So, I refute this first point by directing you to the epic “Endless Dream,” beginning at 3:48 with all its titular glory.
2. I love the colors on the cover. It’s a beautiful spectrum, symbolic of the dazzling musical palette of the inimitable Yes. The point that it looks like emergent writing seems to be lost on the haters who liken it to a child’s scrawl. Obviously, that is the entirely deliberate point of the art design. It depicts the beginning stages of the acquisition of linguistic communication. The emergence of the Word is pregnant with all the possibilities of communicative color. The album title is thus iconically represented in this picture and it all ties in perfectly with the first words of the album:
Feel the calling of a miracle
In the presence of the word
The awakening of communication in a child’s word and in the non-verbal space of music is invoked by the album image. So, I slay the objection by replying with the opening lines of “The Calling.”
3. YDS can fixate on entire albums, or it can suddenly scapegoat a single song. There’s no arguing with such craziness. I can only say that I really love the two tracks Brad excoriates. They are excellent and I can’t comprehend the haters, except to say that I have been there once too. I even got my money back! But now, I have seen the light.
For what it’s worth, if I had to scapegoat a least favorite track on Talk, it would be the loopy “Where Will You Be.” However, I would rather choose to view it in context instead, as a refreshing pause before the epic finale track.
4. The album integration is cohesive as it is, pace YDS. The favorite fantasy that a Yes fan can indulge in is: “How I could make this awesome album even more awesome.” (Another guitar lick in this empty space here. A little more cowbell there. And so on.) It’s crazy! Give it up! In this case, the YDS fantasy is simply fueled by Yes’ own auto-suggestion in the third line of the opening track, “The Calling”:
Now we hold the right to rearrange
Yeah, sure you do. And you have the right to return your album too. Whatever! Let it be, my friend.
5. Create your own playlist if you want to monkey with track order. Or do a remix or mashup with 90125 if you are serious about the fevered suggestions you make. But the album is awesome as it stands, no matter how many imaginary universes we can conceive of where it qualitatively “goes to 11″ and is “just that much” better.
Talk begins with all guns blazing (“The Calling”) and ends with an epic assault of sonic awesomeness (“Endless Dream”). A strong beginning and a strong ending! Totally brilliant — and a contrast with 90125, I would opine, which I always thought kind of peters out with its last two or three tracks. (“Two Hearts”? If you want to be a hater, throw your “sap” and “boredom” here! But then you may as well as give up on Jon Anderson entirely.)
Hey, these are my favorite kinds of arguments. Arguments reserved for we few, we happy few, we band of brothers. He that wigs out today on Yes with me shall be my brother, be his criticism n’er so vile!
Earlier today, Brad had an excellent post on Talk, the final album of the Yes-West era, as it is sometimes called. After submitting a comment on the post, I was invited to expand on it with a full post of my own. I am only too happy to oblige, so let’s go.
Talk is a difficult album to analyze, at least for me. The context for my own evaluation of this album pre-dates its release by some three years, with another big event in Yes history – the Union era. I’m not a big fan of the album itself (and prefer the Trevor Rabin-penned Lift Me Up and Miracle of Life over all other songs on that record), but I am ever thankful for the eventual tour it spawned. My first Yes concert (discussed here) was in 1979. After that there was turmoil, break-up, re-unification, more break-up, and re-re-unification. I had had two near misses with Yes concerts, one in 1984 and the other in 1988. And after Jon Anderson departed for ABWH, my thoughts were that I would not get another chance to see them live. So when I became aware of the Union Tour, I was very happy, and I was elated when their show at the then-named Walnut Creek Amphitheater in Raleigh, NC was announced. Tickets were purchased as soon as they were available, and on July 10, 1991, I finally caught up with my favorite band again. After thinking I’d never get another chance to see them, being there that night was very emotional for me. It was the best of both worlds, the classic Yes lineup and the Yes-West lineup, all in one. And it was an utterly fantastic show, the best of the six Yes concerts I’ve had the good fortune to attend.
In the wake of the Union-era, I had hoped that something more permanent would come out of it. Surely they could find some way to work together as a band, couldn’t they? With that in mind, the revelation that Talk would mark a return to just the Yes-West lineup, I was a bit disappointed. That disappointment was made more acute when I became aware of rumors that Rick Wakeman wanted to work on the album, and the band itself wanted the same. But apparently, lawyers and record companies got in the way, or so I am told. If so, a pox on their houses, as one of my unfulfilled Yes fantasies is that Rabin and Wakemen never worked on a Yes album together. It was pretty clear during the Union show I attended that they had some real chemistry together, particularly when Rabin would jaunt onto the stage during Wakeman’s keyboard solo and the two would trade licks. And Wakeman was one ex-Yes member who had great respect for what the band had accomplished with 90125.
Twenty years ago, on a Sunday morning, I was departing Mass, heading back to my brother’s house in Boise, Idaho. Much to my surprise, I recognized Jon Anderson’s and Trevor Rabin’s voices on the radio. The local AOR station was playing “The Calling.” I had no idea that Yes had a new album, and I wasn’t even convinced it was Yes. Maybe Anderson and Rabin had started a projected. This was before the time of immediate internet gratification and information, so I had to hope against hope it was a new Yes album. I didn’t the song was brilliant, by any means, but I was excited by the possibility of a new album.
Let me offer two caveats here.
First, I’m not a Yes hater or an “aspect of Yes” hater. If it has “Yes” on the album sleeve or cd booklet, it’s a Yes song. The first album I ever remembering hearing was “Yessongs,” the 3-album live album. I was only probably six or so when I first heard Yessongs. I was the youngest of three brothers, and thank the good Lord, they loved prog. I benefitted immensely from what they’d purchased. When “Owner of a Lonely Heart” came out, I was just as happy as could be. Yeah, it wasn’t Steve Howe on guitar, but it was pretty good.
Frankly, I’ve never understood the huge division among Yes fans. Yeah, Wakeman is great, but Downes is pretty amazing as well. The same with Howe and Rabin. I love Chris Squire’s playing, but when Tony Levin played with ABWH, wow.
Had I been asked, I would’ve have suggested that the band that made “90125,” “Big Generator,” and “Talk” keep their original name, Cinema. It’s not that I don’t think the band was Yes, but Yes had such a deep history and distinctive sound that the band members themselves would have felt even freer to go in what direction they wanted. Plus, the name Cinema really does fit the music of 90125. If that album isn’t cinematic, no album is.
Second, this post you’re now reading (thank you, by the way) was promoted by waking up to an excellent piece by Conor Fynes over at Prog Sphere: http://www.prog-sphere.com/specials/yes-talk/
Talk is a point of confusion for me in so many ways. Long before I ever got around to checking out Yes‘ fourteenth album, I’d heard reports that it was the so-called saving grace of the Trevor Rabin era. Some rose-tinted listeners went as far to say it ranked up there with the band’s classic material. This high regard was sharp contrast to the hideously sell-outish album art, which may very well be one of the least appealing covers I’ve ever seen. If anything, the cognitive dissonance going into Talk made the anticipation that much more compelling. I was excited to find out what I’d think of it- after all, it couldn’t be any worse than Union… Right?
When I first heard “Talk” back in 1994, I was immensely disappointed. The songs dragged, the production was way too perfect, and the cover just looked ridiculous, something my three-year old nephew at the time could’ve drawn. On the good side, I was blown away by the lyrics and the vocals. The lyrics are some of the best Yes has ever written. They’re still airy and hippyish, but they’re also quite poetic and meaningful. The vocals are to die for. Of all of Anderson’s partners, Rabin best understands how to use his voice and how to write music to suit his voice. And, the trio of vocals of Anderson, Squire, and Rabin is simply one of the best in the history or rock.
[My only complaint with Rabin--and it basically holds for every member of Yes--is his wardrobe. Every time I watch "9012Live," I keep thinking, "dude, those pants are so tight, it's disgusting." Heck, give me Wakeman's cape ANYDAY over those bizarre tight pants.]
Over the last 20 years, aside from the final song suite, “Endless Dream,” I’ve hardly listened to the album. Indeed, I don’t think there’s been a Yes album I’ve listened to less. I even liked “Union” better than “Talk.”
A month or so ago when seemingly everyone and his brother had somehow managed to download a copy of “Heaven and Earth” and the same everyones and their dogs hated it, I decided to go back to “Talk.” Much to my surprise, I kind of liked it. I didn’t love it, but I did like it—far more than I did when I first bought it.
What Would Make “Talk “Great
So, this morning, after reading Fynes’s wonderful and thought-provoking review, I put the headphones on and gave the entire album a full listen and, then, a second. If I could re-make the album and re-release it as a 20th anniversary edition, here’s what I’d do (please remember: I’m a college professor of history and literature, not a musician!).
First, and very importantly, the title needs a change. “Talk” has almost nothing to do with the album in any way, shape, or form. The entire album, from beginning to end, is about words and The Word. The album title should reflect this. “Talk” not only doesn’t fit with the message of the album, it’s downright pedestrian. Yes needs to reach much higher.
Second, the album needs some different art. It doesn’t have to be by Roger Dean, but it should be something beyond a scrawl of Yes. Get someone brilliant such as Ed Unitsky, Jim Trainer, or James Marsh.
Third, the revised version of the album needs to delete “I am Waiting” and “Walls.” There’s no salvation for these songs. Sap and boredom mixed into one. Maybe, they could count as unfinished b-sides, but I see no hope at all for either.
Fourth, the album needs to be integrated in a much better form. It should be seamless, and every song should perfectly blend into every other.
Fifth: I would recommend the following track order:
- An extended version of “Endless Dream: Endless Dream.” It should be extended to allow the vocals to repeat themselves for another few minutes, to linger as it were.
- This should phase into a much rockier version of “The Calling.”
- Then, “State of Play,” a reprise of “Endless Dream: Endless Dream.” After a segue into “Where Will You Be.”
- The album should finish with “Endless Dream: Silent Spring” and “Endless Dream: Talk.”
- But, the entire album should close with “Endless Dream: Endless Dream,” again extending the song but not duplicating the “Endless Dream: Endless Dream” of the opening of the album. The revised and final version of the song should include hints of the melodies of all of the other songs on this album as well as brief references to “City of Love” and “Shoot High.”
Such a conclusion would beautifully close the Rabin era.
Please know, I write this as a fan of all manifestations of Yes.
Required reading: two merciless reviews of the new Yes album, Heaven & Earth, by fans who I am sure took no pleasure in writing their unhappy assessments.
Here’s an excerpt from the first, by Jason Warburg:
Yes have flailed, many times, but never before have they slumbered through an entire album. Tales From Topographic Oceans at least showed ambition; Big Generator at least had drive; Union at least offered variety. This album has none of the above: no ambition, no drive, no variety. The band whose kaleidoscopic approach used to not just use every tonal color available, but invent new ones, has made an album of unbroken, enveloping beige.
The opening moments of “Believe Again” offer a hint of promise as Downes’ chirpy, echoing synths and Davison’s pleasantly sing-songy delivery hark back to “Wonderous Stories” from 1977’s Going For The One. But just when it should soar, “Believe Again” does the opposite, moving from lilting verse into a plodding chorus.
Several of the tunes that follow are so utterly bland and generic—two adjectives that should never be associated with Yes music—that they disappear from the imagination seconds after they’re finished. “The Game” and “Light Of The Ages” in particular have a distinctly cheesy Asia/AOR feel, with Davison and Howe working in clichés high over pedestrian keyboard lines and ponderous rhythm tracks.
The low point comes early on when Downes puts a dime-store Casio synth patch on repeat for the duration of “Step Beyond,” already one of the laziest and most amateurish tracks ever recorded by an alleged progressive rock band. An utter embarrassment.
“To Ascend” is a well-intentioned ballad that falls flat even as Davison borrows a familiar Andersonism (“with the eyes of a child”). “It Was All We Knew,” a Howe composition, at least tries something a little different, giving the intro a hint of rockabilly twang before dissolving into America-ish easy-listening verses.
The nearest this album comes to anything resembling progressive rock is on the closing “Subway Walls,” a nine-minute track with some actual dynamics, with Squire awakening briefly in the early going and Howe doing the same just before the fade. Unfortunately, the lyric is weak, the transitions are awkward, and the whole thing ends up feeling disjointed and half-formed. It’s hard to figure out what, if anything, producer Roy Thomas Baker (Queen, The Cars, Guns N’ Roses) contributed to this mess; it’s clear there was no leadership or musical direction of the sort Anderson used to provide in the studio.
Four decades down the road from the era of greatness that first attracted many of us who still follow the band, it’s obvious that neither this nor any other lineup of Yes is likely to produce another Close To The Edge. Those days are gone. All most longtime fans are really hoping for at this point is new music that is worthy of the legacy represented by the name Yes. Heaven & Earth doesn’t even come close to meeting that standard. As a fan, this album just makes me sad.
And from the second, by Ken DiTomaso:
Most of the songwriting is handled by new vocalist Jon Davison, which suggests that the rest of the band was so thoughtfully tapped for material that they had to rely on his ideas to fill the gaps (and there must have been a lot of gaps). As a result, these songs are about as lightweight as it gets. To quickly summarize some of them: “The Game” sounds like it belongs in a greeting card commercial, “Step Beyond” is dopey and disjointed, “In A World Of Our Own” is the wimpiest excuse for a “dance” number I’ve heard in a long time, and “To Ascend” is an astonishingly cheesy ballad with garbage lyrics. There are a handful of moments where an unexpected chord change or chorus almost brings a song to life (“Believe Again” comes closest), but moments like that are dwarfed by the unstoppable wall of bland. This album rarely ever goes beyond playing it safe. And since Yes is a band who built their entire legacy on not playing it safe, unflinchingly drab material like “It Was All We Knew” might as well be a huge middle finger to the band’s fans and legacy. When Yes does take a few chances things just get weird. Awkward bridges are wedged in where they don’t fit, tacked on instrumental sections come out of nowhere, and songs are stretched to unjustified lengths. These are some thoroughly clunky songs.
Not only does this record fail on the songwriting front, it’s also immensely lazy. These tunes sound like they’re being performed by a group of drunk grandpas. Each track limps along at a sleep inducing mid-tempo, as if they’ve never heard the word “upbeat” before. The rhythm section has no drive whatsoever. Chris Squire’s distinctive bass sound is sucked into the background most of the time and Alan White’s drums sound distant and muffled. The band’s lead parts sound like they were played to a backing track without any reference to what the other members were doing. “Light Of The Ages” has a section that sounds like an elementary school band slowly attempting to play “Long Distance Runaround” for the first time. What possessed them to play this so slowly? The tempo picks up a little during “Subway Walls” but the song is such an inept piece of wannabe-progressive crap that I wouldn’t blame anybody for not noticing.
Jon Davison’s vocals sound weak and feeble. He has no lower register to speak of, and there are several moments where his voice quivers in an unprofessional sounding way. Surely these weren’t the best takes of vocals they could have used? He sounded fine in the live performances I’ve seen from this lineup. What happened here?
Steve Howe is an even greater disaster. His parts sound like he came up with them on the spot. The solo at the end of “The Game” even has these weird tiny halts that sound like he’s making mistakes! How could they have let this leave the studio? His lead parts sound like placeholders for where he would come up with actual written parts later but never did. During the bridge of “In A World Of Our Own,” Geoff Downes plays organ chords while Howe plays what literally sounds like random notes behind it. This is downright unfinished!
If you can bear to read more, check out the rest of both reviews at the links above. Well worth your time.
Caveat lector: I can assure you that the band is still fabulous live on the current tour, whatever your reaction to the new material might be. Check out the great review by Nick, with which I heartily concur.