Celebrate YES: Finally Inducted

In this world, the gods have lost their way.

A huge, ginormous progarchy congratulations to YES for *finally* making into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!!!

Over our five years of existence, we’ve been huge YES fans.  Here are just a few selections of the many thousands of words we’ve written on YES over nearly half a decade.

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From our good friends at PROG magazine

Continue reading “Celebrate YES: Finally Inducted”

Relayer: A Brief Retrospective

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A visually stunning album cover. Profound and thought-provoking lyrics. Epic instrumentation and vocals. I could be describing almost any progressive rock album of note, but I am specifically referring to the underrated Yes album Relayer in this case. I say underrated because this album, featuring only three songs, all of which are worthy of the designation “progressive,” ended up wedged in between the controversial Tales from Topographic Oceans and the (relatively) lackluster Yes albums of the late 1970s/early 1980s.

First a brief comment on the sleeve design. Roger Dean is an integral part of Yes’ image, and his design for Relayer only bolsters the importance of his role. Inspired by images of war and the Knights Templar, Dean draws the viewer in to a world of fantastical images and drama, as the knights on horseback arrive to do battle with the twin snakes. Before one even listens to the album, he can already grasp its focus and themes: war and peace, victory and hope. Dean can capture in an image what Anderson, Squire, and Howe can capture in music.templar

The three songs are not only well-written, but they are also well-performed. This may seem like an understatement in regards to Yes, but this cannot be said about every song they released. The epic opener Gates of Delirium, inspired by Tolstoy’s even longer epic War and Peace, and featuring superb work on keys and synths from Patrick Moraz on his only Yes album, was best described by Jon Anderson: it is a “war song,” but not one that seeks to explain or denounce war, but rather a song that explores war’s aspects: there is a “prelude, a charge, a victory tune, and peace at the end, with hope for the future.” Sound Chaser, a frenetically paced tune featuring a true guitar solo from Steve Howe, solid drumming courtesy of Alan White, and a sizzling performance on bass guitar from the late, great Chris Squire, allows Yes to explore their jazzier side. The final tune, To Be Over, moves at a more relaxed pace, anchored by Howe’s electric sitar. It is a beautifully straightforward song, and it provides the perfect final touch on a visually and acoustically stunning album.

In sum, Relayer may not be the most renowned album in Yes’ extensive catalogue, but in this reviewer’s humble opinion, it is one of their finest works overall, and one that deserves more attention and respect.

YesYears: Twenty-Five Years Later

Remember YesYears?  It was one of the first really nice box sets to come out, back in the day when the only nice box set was that Bruce Springsteen one that had come out in the late 1980s?

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YesYears–a Nice Fiction that Every Member of Yes Loved One Another, Beginning to Present

YesYears came out on August 6, 1991.  Union had come out at the very end of April that same year.  Unless you were really connected to the internet (not that easy in 1991), Yes fans just had to guess as to what was going on that summer with the band.  Was Yes really an eight-person band?  And, how long would that last?  YesYears seemed to present the eight as living in harmony with one another.  After all, while the four discs did not include anything from Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe, it did list them as a part of the really nice fold-out sleeve, tracing every aspect of Yes history from “The Warriors” to Yes incarnation #9.

Whether real or not, the packaging of YesYears certainly makes a coherent narrative of the band and everyone of its members from Alpha to. . . well, certainly not Omega!  Yes was alive!  Or, so it seemed.

At the time that YesYears came out, I was very poor (a second-year graduate student) and still listening to cassette tapes.  Despite the expense of the YesYears box set, I purchased the four-cassette package.  And, yes, it made a deep cut in my savings account.  Those were years when I would skimp on lunch (usually not even eating one) to spend the money on music or books.

Yes+Yes+Years+350639bAnd as far as I remember, I never regretted having bought that box set.  Sadly, though, the cassettes that came with it were not of the best quality, and I wore my copies out rather quickly.

Jump forward two decades.  Today, in the mail, all the way from an Ebay seller in New Jersey, arrived a mint condition 4-cd box set of YesYears.

Wow, it is a thing of beauty.

I know that many of the songs that had not been readily available in 1991–such as Abilene, Vevey, Run with the Fox–are now very easily available.  Still, the 1991 box set is really, really gorgeous.  I actually paid less for this mint condition version (including postage) than I did for the cassette version 25 years ago.

Just as in 1991, I have no regrets.  The sun is out, my kids are laughing somewhere in the house, and I’m listening to disk three of YesYears.

Still amazingly beautiful. . . even a full quarter century later.

A Brief Remembrance of 90125

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One of the most important reboots ever.  November 7, 1983.

Funny how certain moments leave profound impressions.  The winter months always make me think of Yes’s 90125.  I very well remember purchasing the album on its release, November 7, 1983.  For months, every night, I listened to it on my headphones, after dinner and in the dark, sometimes two or three times.

I’d been a good Yes fan since first hearing Yessongs in 1973.  As I’ve mentioned before on progarchy, I fell in love with every aspect of Yessongs–the art and music.

Of course, I knew 90125 represented a huge break with the past, but it seemed like a rather brilliant break.

I’ve never stopped loving 90125.  It’s pretty much been in constant rotation since I first heard it at the age of 16.

I wish I had something profound to write about it at the moment.  I don’t.  Except, thank you Trevor, Chris, Trevor, Alan, Tony, Eddie, and Jon.

Progarchy’s Exclusive interview with Alan White of Yes

PROGARCHY EXCLUSIVE

An Interview with Yes’ Alan White (August 3, 2015)

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Prog Rock’s quintessential super group, Yes, will be heading out on an American tour again this summer/fall, including the third annual Cruise to the Edge in mid-November.  The most notable change in the line-up, of course, will be the absence of Chris Squire on bass—the first time ever for a Yes tour.

PROGARCHY’s Kevin McCormick recently spoke for with Yes drummer extraordinaire, Alan White, as he prepared for rehearsals for the upcoming tour.

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PROGARCHY Thank you so much for taking time to talk with us.  I think I speak for all of the members of Progarchy.com in offering our condolences after the recent and sudden death of your colleague and friend, Chris Squire.  Obviously he was such an essential part of Yes, founding member and the only person to appear on every Yes album.  Are there plans to honor his memory in some way on the upcoming tour?

Alan White  Well, we’re going to start rehearsals on Monday and we’re going to put our heads together.  We’ve got numerous ideas and we’ve got to work out something to honor Chris.  Just how we’re going to do it, we haven’t really decided.

Chris Squire

PROGARCHY On your website, you wrote a touching note in his memory.  As a musician, I know how unique the musical relationship between the drummer and bassist is and how crucial it is to forming a solid foundation for the band’s sound.  Can you put your finger on what made your collaboration with Chris work so beautifully seamlessly?

AW Well yeah, it’s a question of similarity with each other.  And over the years it became a more brotherly kind of relationship.  Chris was almost part of my family.    We shared a lot of experiences together and we played together for 43 years.  So when you play together with someone for that long you get to know all of the facets of their playing and visa versa, him with myself.  So it made it easy for us to work out some kind of flow in the rhythm section in what Yes was creating.  And it was a special relationship.  It probably never will be the same.  All the same, he did ask that we keep this going, and that I keep it going.  He said just do whatever you can do.  And that’s a good insight, to just keep things very much forward.

PROGARCHY I imagine it must have been difficult to choose to continue with the planned tour.  Was there a deciding factor for you?  

AW That was what Chris wanted. He didn’t want everything to come to a halt just because he was ill.  And while he was ill he had a very positive outlook to the future.  He said, “Well, I’ll go into hospital for four to six weeks, I’ll get rid of this and I’ll be back on tour next spring.”

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PROGARCHY Well, the fans will certainly miss him and I know the band will too.  Any hints on the set list for the upcoming shows or will that be decided at the rehearsals?

AW Well we’ve put a set list together, but we’ve not rehearsed. We’ve got a few things to try out and see if they’ll work out or not.  That will determine how we approach the set list.  It’s not confirmed yet, but we have a good idea the type of set we want to do, because we’re touring with Toto who are probably going to do a lot of their [popular tracks].  We’re not going to play whole albums like we’ve done in the past few years.  We’re just going to do a great selection of Yes music that people love to hear in concert.

PROGARCHY At first glance, Yes and Toto doesn’t seem like the most obvious double-bill.  How did it come about?

AW Well it sounded pretty good to me.  Maybe … because we know the guys in the band so well.  Steve Porcaro and all the them, I’ve known those guys for years.  They’re all super-nice guys and we get along really well.

PROGARCHY Any chances that you might join forces?  

AW I doubt it.  You know, once you get on the road you have a set list to get into and a time line you keep to.  There’s not really time to work that kind of thing out.  But I’ve played with Steve Porcaro and Billy Sherwood [on the Pink Floyd tribute album, Back Against the Wall].

Yes Tour

PROGARCHY So is it Yes with Toto or…?

AW It’s going to be Yes and Toto.  They’ll be opening for us every night, but it’s really more of a kind of double-billing.

PROGARCHY It’s amazing to me how much energy you bring to your live performances.  When I saw Yes perform in Austin in 2013, I was impressed with the power in your playing.  For you in particular, it must be extremely physically demanding.  

AW [laughing] Well it all depends on what part of the tour you go to when we’re on the road!  You know, none of us are spring chickens anymore, obviously.  And traveling is really what gets you.  If we didn’t have to travel on a daily basis we’d be in relatively good shape every evening.  But sometimes you’re just really tired when you get to the evening and the last thing you want to do is share music.  But it’s really funny how the body turns around and rises to the occasion.  I guess when you walk out on stage and see all of the people out there, the body just shrugs all that off and gets to it.

PROGARCHY Has your relationship with Yes’ music changed over time?  Are there any songs that you enjoy more now than when they were recorded?

AW Not really.  All of Yes’ music is pretty challenging to play.  Each song has got its own demands on what to play, and how to play, and the way to play it.  So you have to readjust yourself to all of that framework….I have played some of them quite a few thousand times.  So it’s about getting back into the mold and making it work.

PROGARCHY Are you surprised at all to still be playing with Yes after so many years?

AW [laughs] Well, I mean, yeah.  Eventually, when I joined the band I said, “I’ll give you guys three months and see if I enjoy it and you give me three months and see if you enjoy it as a band.”  And I’m still here forty-tree years later, so there must be something working.

PROGARCHY You had commented a while back about the current line-up of Yes is one of the best there’s been and Jon Davison’s working out well.  Are you still feeling that?

AW Jon Davison is an excellent vocalist and all-around musician.  He’s a super nice guy and very easy work to with.

PROGARCHY It’s amazing to me that Yes is still touring after 40 years.  Is there an element to progressive rock that allows it to reach across decades and generations?

AW I guess the main thing is that everybody strives to make Yes a well-respected, high-standard-of-musicianship kind of band.  When we perform, everybody gives 110 percent. If one part of the band isn’t clicking on all eight cylinders or whatever, you can tell, because it affects everybody else and their whole performance.

When we’re all firing on all cylinders, there’s no other band like it.

PROGARCHY Indeed!  Thank you so much for all of the great music over the years and good luck on the upcoming tour.

AW Alright, man.

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Led Zeppelin: A Progressive Rock Band?

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John Paul Jones would answer, “Yes.” I have contemplated this question for some time now: is Led Zeppelin worthy of being labeled a “progressive rock” band? Although best remembered for the being the premier hard rock band of the 70s, Led Zeppelin could easily fit into the category of progressive rock-at least to some extent. For a band that never released a single, never performed on “Top of the Pops” (or any other television program), and was able to get away with leaving their name off their album covers, the Zep certainly achieved a level of success unmatched by any other band during the “progressive” era. Please bear with me as I detail the history of Led Zeppelin’s gradual transition from blues-based rockers to true “progressive” artists.

The history of Led Zeppelin’s music demonstrates that they are indeed worthy of the “prog” label. Bursting on to the scene with Led Zeppelin I in 1969, the band’s early repertoire was dominated by blues-inspired songs, but early on they were showing signs of being something more than just a hard rock band. Dazed and Confused, memorable for Jimmy Page’s use of a violin bow on guitar strings to eerie effect, which demonstrated just how willing these virtuosos were willing to go to break the mold, one step at a time. Was the album truly “progressive” in the way we think of the word? Perhaps not, but it was a step in the right direction.

Led Zeppelin II was not a significant departure from the first album, many of the themes remaining the same (namely, women and sex), and most of the songs still bluesy in their origins. II, however, did introduce the rock n’ roll world to Tolkien and his masterpiece The Lord of the Rings in the excellent folk-rock piece Ramble On. And so began the marriage of Tolkien and the (progressive) rock world, thanks to Robert Plant’s fascination with Middle Earth. An odd match, perhaps, but it was a wonderful union indeed, one that would inspire generations of future progressive rock artists. (Also, observe the uncanny resemblance between Robert Plant and Theoden. Coincidence? I think not).

J R R Tolkientheoden

Led Zeppelin III demonstrated yet again the willingness of the band to experiment with various styles. An eclectic album to say the least, the boys shift from metal (Immigrant Song) to blues (Since I’ve Been Loving You) to traditional folk (Gallows Pole, That’s The Way, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp) rather seamlessly. Although the decision to include more folk and traditional music was not as well received, III has grown in popularity and respect over the years. It was not until the next album, however, that Zeppelin placed themselves firmly on the mantle of progressive rock.

By 1971 Led Zeppelin had developed such a following that they neglected to put their name on the album cover: and it did not hurt them in the slightest. As a matter of fact, Led Zeppelin IV proved their most successful album, and one of the most influential albums of all time. IV may also be considered their first “pure” progressive album. Although Black Dog and Rock and Roll retain thelziv “standard” rock sound, the rest of the album is undoubtably unique in its composition. The Battle of Evermore, an explicit reference to Middle Earth, and Misty Mountain Hop pay homage to Plant’s favorite literary land. Going to California is a pleasant yet intricate folk song dedicated to Joni Mitchell, the Canadian singer who supposedly captured the hearts of both Page and Plant. Four Sticks may be the first “math rock” song ever composed, a song so complex that it was only performed by the band once in concert. When the Levee Breaks features explosive drums from John Bonham and fine harmonica work from Plant. Finally, there is the iconic Stairway to Heaven, an eight minute long epic with enigmatic lyrics that starts off slowly and builds up to a climax of one of the most impressive guitar solos in rock history. If that does not fit the “progressive” mold, then I don’t know what does.

Zeppelin’s repertoire only became more progressive after the immense success of IV. Houses of the Holy featured two more Tolkien-inspired songs: the folk-rock Over the Hills and Far Away, and the haunting No Quarter. Physical Graffiti not only featured their longest song (In My Time of Dying, eleven minutes), but also perhaps their greatest one: Kashmir, one of the finest progressive rock songs ever composed. Backed by an orchestra, Plant, Page, Bonham, and Jones unleashed in this full scale epic of travels in a far off land, a theme explored by progressive rock groups past and present. Their next album, Presence, although perhaps their weakest, nevertheless featured the powerful (and progressive) opener Achilles Last Stand, as well as the catchy rocker Nobody’s Fault But Mine. Zeppelin’s next and final album (although they did not know it at the time) remains their most progressive. In Through the Out Door is dominated by John Paul Jones’ synthesizers and keyboards, and he is more than a competent keyboardist. His work prior to this album (Trampled Under Foot, No Quarter, The Rain Song) was impressive, but he truly shines on Zeppelin’s last album. In the Evening and Fool in the Rain prove he is more than capable on the keysjpjkeys, but it is his frenetic yet dexterous playing on the lengthy and cryptic Carouselambra that established Jones’ place in the canon of great prog rock keyboardists. This claim may be a stretch to some, as most identify Jones as a bassist, but I would urge the reader to listen to these songs mentioned above before arguing otherwise.

After John Bonham’s untimely death in 1980, the band split up, each man going his own direction. Jimmy Page, one of the most versatile guitarists to ever grace the stage, actually teamed up with Chris Squire and Alan White of Yes to form XYZ (X-Yes and Zeppelin). Although the project was aborted after a short time, it nevertheless demonstrated Page’s willingness to form what could have been a truly “progressive” super-group.

I hope this piece did not drag on for too long, but I felt it necessary to delve deep into and explore the fascinating world of Led Zeppelin. Many consider this group to be among the best, if not the best, in rock n’ roll history, but to me they are more than a standard rock n’ roll band. In my book, they were also one of the finest progressive rock bands of all time.

Yes Special- Interview with Geoff Downes and Heaven and Earth Review

Legendary progressive rock band Yes, one of the most influential and respected bands in the genre have outlasted many of their contemporaries, crossing from West Coast psychedelia into epic traditional progressive rock symphonies, new wave FM rock, back to progressive epics and beloved anthems over the course of their 46 years, evolving band line-ups and 21 studio albums.
Their latest opus, Heaven and Earth (released in the UK on 21st July, and in the States in July 22nd) marks the first studio release with Jon Davison (who replaced Benoit David back in 2012) on vocals, and Geoff Downes third studio album, firmly consolidating his place as their keyboard player with the classic line up of Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White.
I was lucky enough to grab a brief chat with Geoff recently to talk all things Heaven and Earth, and the impact that Jon Davison has had on the band,
‘It’s a bit different from other Yes albums, Jon has been given a freer run, and it very much reflects his style. It’s a different album from Fly From Here, and the stuff we did with Trevor (Horn), working with Roy Thomas Baker has another style, something that a diverse band like Yes can bear.’
I asked Geoff about the writing process of the album,
‘It’s all new material; we had a clean slate that enabled us to take it in a direction that felt natural to all of us. Yes is fantastic music, and it’s nice to be able to make a contribution even at this stage in the bands career, Benoit wasn’t so much of a writer, whereas Jon has really contributed to the album’
I think Geoff was being overly modest, as he and Trevor Horn had a massive impact on one of my favourite Yes albums, 1980’s Drama,
‘Drama, that came together in the studio, I’m very proud of it still, it sounds very fresh, and its what Yes needed at that point to move into a different arena for this type of music’
Of course with Geoff back on keyboard duties it’s nice to hear some of the Drama songs performed live,
‘Its good to play tracks like Tempus Fugit and Machine Messiah as they fit nicely into the set, we performed a few on the Fly From Here tour, and hopefully we’ll do more going forward’
I did wonder, which tracks from the new album would make it into the live arena?
‘We start rehearsals next week, we’ve practiced some of the songs so we have an idea which ones will work, we may only do a few from the album, certainly Believe Again, maybe one of the shorter songs and move them around in the set.
We’re playing classic albums in full, we’ve toured with that show for a while, so we’re changing it a bit, dropping Going for the One, focusing on Fragile, Relayer and lots of the Yes album.’
Heaven and Earth is a very different Yes album,
‘It’s very fresh, some fans don’t see beyond the 1970’s, but Yes were different in the 80’s and as different again in the 90’s, each different period of the band were interesting musical chapters, and this is another piece in the jigsaw. Hopefully it will bring in new fans to Yes’
Roger Deans striking artwork, with his black and white Yes logo (which to mind recalls the original Time and a Word album cover) is another Yes mainstay,
‘Roger Dean is very much synonymous with Yes, apart from that period in the 80’s where the very hi-tech album sleeves represented the albums, he’s very much a part of the scenery’
As Yes have only recently brought their show to the UK, I asked Geoff when he thought they might return,
‘We more likely to come back to the UK towards the start of next year, we are rehearsing for the US tour, then we tour the Pacific Rim, which will take up the rest of the year’
How did Geoff feel about returning to the Yes fold for Fly From Here?
‘It felt very natural, we started working on Fly From Here and it turned the clock back 30 years, the reunion of the 5 Drama guys, and it came together very easily the guys were all very helpful, it’s a great band. Jon coming in was not an easy job for him performing Jon Anderson’s songs and producing an authentic sound of Yes is a difficult role. My role as the keyboard player isn’t as critical as the vocal sound, and when we do the vintage albums the fans really like it, and Jon (Davison) has really worked’.
Of course Geoff has been the driving force behind Asia for over 30 years as well,
‘We’ve just done some Asia dates in Japan, and we had the new album Gravitas out at the start of the year, I think I’m busier now than I have been for a long time. Its great that in the past few years I am still involved in the bands that I was working with 30 years ago, it’s like my career has come full circle. We did Fly From Here, Asia still tour and of course we reunited the Buggles for some gigs a few years ago’
Buggles, the most misunderstood and underrated new wave band of the late 70’s/early 80’s, would Geoff ever consider a new Buggles album?
‘I still see Trevor and speak to him, and if the planets align, our diaries match up and we get the time it could well happen, never say never. The old stuff (from Buggles) still gets played a lot, and it’s nice to be involved with a timeless song (Video Killed the Radio Star), the same applies to Drama. I am really proud of that album; a lot of people were sceptical about these two pop guys joining Yes. In hindsight fans view Drama in a different light. I think it paved the way for Yes in the 80’s, my style of synths was techno, samples and it formed a bridge between Yes of the 1970’s and the work they did on 90125. Those changes helped sustain the bands longevity and shows it musical legacy could outlive the 1970’s when so many other bands folded’
There’s been a lot of interest in the Yes back catalogue recently with the 5.1 remixes
‘A lot of the progheads are into the 5.1 sound, like with Genesis fans some don’t like the pop Genesis. You have to look on each band as a whole, each album and each line up has a valid contribution to the bands history. I would like to hear Drama in 5.1, the album was heavily overdubbed at the time, and so it would reveal a lot of detail’.
Thanks to Geoff Downes for his time.

Heaven and Earth by Yes – the verdict!
1) Believe Again (Jon Davison, Steve Howe) 8.18
2) The Game (Chris Squire, Jon Davison, Steve Howe) 7.07
3) Step Beyond (Steve Howe, Jon Davison) 5.45
4) To Ascend (Jon Davison, Alan White) 4.53
5) In a World of Our Own (Jon Davison, Chris Squire) 5.31
6) Light of Ages (Jon Davison) 7.57
7) It was All we Knew (Steve Howe) 4.21
8) Subway Walls (Jon Davison, Geoff Downes) 9.21

So, I don’t think a Yes album has been as eagerly anticipated as this one since the last one! Fly From Here, Yes’ first studio album in 10 years, and the only one to feature Benoit David on vocals. Musically and spiritually it was the sequel to Drama, only 30 years out of sequence, and with Trevor Horn on production duties, Geoff Downes on keyboards and the music made of Buggles demos (interesting alternative versions exist on Adventures in Modern Recordings 2010 remaster, which shows a different version again) received a mixed reception, which was seen by some as very much a holding pattern it can now be seen very much as Drama can be seen now. A bookend on a previous era, and a bridge to a new Yes. With Downes firmly ensconced in the keyboard position, and Roy Thomas Baker finally getting to finish a Yes album, the band is as stable as Yes can ever be. However the attention isn’t on the new old boy in the band, or the established Squire/White/Howe axis who have been the mainstay of this Yes era since 1996’s Keys to Ascension, the attention is always going to be on the vocals, and the fact that the vocalist isn’t Jon Anderson.
Much has been written, and will no doubt continue to be written about whether Yes are Yes if Jon Anderson isn’t on the record. To my mind if it says Yes on the album sleeve, and sounds like Yes on the record, then it’s a Yes album.
Jon Davison is the Yes singer, and he also writes a fair bit to, which can be seen in the credits above. Jon Davison has put his stamp on the Yes sound as firmly as his illustrious predecessors and his vocals add to the unmistakably Yes sound on display.
As Geoff Downes states in the interview above, each member of Yes adds something to the chapter they are writing, and this is as true on Heaven and Earth as of its 20 brethren.
There’s plenty of continuity here with former Yesman Billy Sherwood involved in mixing the harmony vocals, and Roy Thomas Baker (producer of abortive sessions in the late 1970’s) adding his considerable experience to the mix.
So what does the album actually sound like? And more to the point is it any good?
Well, if you can imagine the leap between the sound of the distinctly average Open Your Eyes, compared to the amazing beauty contained in its follow up The Ladder, then this is that leap from Fly From Here.
First of all if you’re looking for a quick hit, look elsewhere, this album is a slow burner. A grower, one that teases you and tempts you, revealing its secrets slowly and seductively, listen after beguiling listen. You’ll find songs slowly sneaking into your subconscious, humming tunes, singing along as you play the album.
Opening with one of the longer tracks Believe Again, which has been trailed as the teaser track for the album, you can tell instantly that its Yes, but that the goal posts have moved. Downes synths are to the fore, and then in come the vocals, similar enough to Jon Andersons to keep an element of continuity. Lets face it, if you’re Yes and you are hiring a new vocalist you need someone who can handle the older material and hit the heights Olias of Sunhillow used to hit at his peak. You wouldn’t hire Lemmy would you?
Jon D is different enough from Jon A to put his own stamp on this album, and Believe Again comes across to me anyway as a message to the fans saying believe in us, we are still the Yes you know and love. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but with Davison’s work making an impact straight away, and the band working in symphony from the get go, this is a Yes line up with chemistry, bouncing off each other, and whilst Believe Again is at the more commercial end of the spectrum, it’s still a powerful piece, with the vocal harmonies and musical counter play working really well. Howe’s guitar and Downes synth interplay is to the fore, and is something that really stands out throughout the album.
Geoff Downes isn’t the new keyboard player, he is the keyboard player. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing with this Yes line up, and to be honest I wouldn’t want anyone else in.
The Game has some fantastic work from Howe and some wonderfully direct lyrics. The themes are the same, but the vocal and lyrical approach is different throughout. Jon Davison isn’t trying to be Jon Anderson or Benoit David. He doesn’t need to be. He is the Yes frontman and lyricist and his identity is all over this album. His performance throughout is assured, confident and fits. If you liked his earlier work with Glass Hammer, this is right up your alley. The Game is taut, sharp, direct and punchy, a classy piece of rock.
Step Beyond, with its funky keyboard sound, its powerfully insistent vocal work, and the taut chorus, with some fantastic guitar work from Steve Howe, and with Downes nagging keyboard riff, combined with some truly classic Yes vocal harmonies, and a great instrumental interlude, only clocks in at under 6 minutes, yet it’s got a funky drive, some great drum and bass work from Squire and White and some catchy lyrical moments, it might be brief, but there’s so much going on here, both musically and lyrically, it could well be a new classic Yes anthem, and seems destined as a live staple.
That’s one thing that is really noticeable throughout the album, the sharpness of the harmonies, the work Billy Sherwood has done with Howe, Squire and Davison has brought all the classic harmony power that is a hallmark of Yes to the fore, and with Thomas Bakers production, the vocals have some real power.
To Ascend, has some beautifully direct lyrics, more of those gorgeous harmonies, and some beautiful acoustic guitar work from Davison, that mingles with Howes exquisite performance, whilst Downes majestic piano and keyboard work soar, all the while underpinned by the rock steady Squire and White, its glorious chorus, it’s musical crescendos and Davison’s performance is sublime, a true classic Yes track amongst all the adventure on this album.
In a World of Our Own, with some great musical work by Yes, Downes keyboards shining throughout, White kicking back with a funky dirty blues beat, Howes guitar cutting through the sound left, right and centre, with some languid blues and Davison’s honestly direct lyrics, as different as his predecessors as possible, with it’s tale of love gone sour, this is Yes gone film noir, meant to be listened to in a seedy underground blues club, black and white, smoky atmosphere, Davison as the blues singer, a lazy swing underpinning the whole track. Its Yes Jim, but not as we know it.
Light of the Ages is a suitably cosmic traditional Yes title, with some beautifully gloriously languid slide guitar work from Mr Howe, that stretches out throughout the track, whilst the synth work from Geoff Downes is amazing, however this is Jon Davisons track, and ironically the closest he comes to sounding like Jon Anderson at any point, with it’s spiritual lyrics, and it’s slow build to a majestic finale, this is one new Yes track that could have snuck onto to anything from Fragile to Tormato, and enhanced any album it sat on, here it is a highlight amongst highlights. Just when you think Heaven and Earth can’t get better it throws you another curve ball, and musically the band is reaching higher and higher, pushing further and further, and pull you along. Whilst Davisons vocal performance is the marzipan on top of this particular cake, and the Light of the Ages really shines with some glorious soloing from both Howe and Downes.
The only thing that’s a touch disposable is It Was all we knew, which is a bit of a weak link in the album, the musical performance is great as ever, however the track itself is a bit anonymous, despite the great harmonies, the lyrics are a tad clichéd and the track does tend to sound a bit nursery rhyme in places, even Howes spirited solo doesn’t lift the tone. I guess that’s my one complaint about this track, whilst the rest of the album is full of musical mood swings and counterparts, this just meanders on, almost Yes by numbers, which is a shame as if there were more going on, it could be great.
Now speaking of greatness we come to the finale, the epic, the closing 9 minutes plus Subway Walls, a Downes/Davison track, one crafted by the (relatively) new boys, and boy is this a statement of intent.
From Downes symphonic and dramatic synth work that opens the track, with its powerful riffs and it’s orchestral overtones you know you are in for a treat, and it doesn’t disappoint. A meditation on the meaning of life,

‘Is the meaning in the stars or does graffiti on the subway walls hold the secrets to it all’

That is the new Yes right there, encapsulated in that wonderful lyrical couplet, not just astral travellers any more, but also earthbound voyagers.
Heaven and Earth encapsulated in a nutshell, the answers aren’t just beyond and before, they are also here and now, for us all to see if we open our eyes.
The performance on Subway Walls, with some fantastic work from White and Squire, the lynchpin that holds Yes together, allows Downes and Howe the freedom to fly, and climb as they spar from about 4 minutes in, building and pushing each other, and taking the band with them, as they go from the subway to the stars and back again in 9 sublime minutes. Davisons vocals again are superb throughout, and the harmonies again majestic.
Heaven and Earth is probably my favourite Yes album of the past 20 years, more organic than any of the Keys to Ascension studio work, more fun than Magnification. This is the sound of a band working in harmony unlike Fly From Here. Yes haven’t sounded this good since the Ladder back in 1999, or Talk back in 1994.
It could have been so easy for Yes to return to what they did best in the 1970’s on this album, but that is not why Yes are still here. Nearly 50 years into a musical adventure that shows no sign of ending, they are still pushing themselves to make the best music they can, like the superb musicians they are. Managing that difficult balancing act of staying true to the Yes name, with all its attendant history, both good and bad, and yet managing to make new, interesting, and exciting music for them and us.
This my friends is the true meaning of progressive rock, something pushing forward, ever moving, ever evolving. Yes, once again have shown us what progressive rock means, and I thank them for it.

 

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Readers: You might also like Nick Efford’s take on Yes in Concert: https://progarchy.com/2014/05/10/yes-sheffield/

Aa well as Erik Heter’s retrospective on 90125 (30 years later): https://progarchy.com/2013/10/27/90125-at-30-a-retrospective/