Round Table Review
Yes - Heaven and Earth
|Country of Origin:
||FR CD 651
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I Believe Again (8:18), The Game (7:05), Step Beyond (5:44), To Ascend (4:52), In a World of Our Own (5:30), Light of the Ages (7:56), It Was All We Knew (4:20), Subway Walls (9:21)
Basil Francis' Review
She was beautiful, she was perfect; she was yours. No other girls were quite like her, not even close. She was the brightest star in your sky, she made you see colours differently, she opened up your world. And in your mind's eye, all those incredible moments you spent with her seem so vibrant, and yet so distant.
After the accident, she was never the same, of course. You tried to support her, care for her, listen to her, but the magic had gone, purloined by the passing of time. Eventually you left her to pursue new endeavours, new goals, new girls. But you never stopped thinking about her, or reminiscing on those old times. Even as she grew to be very different to the maiden you once new, you kept thinking about her as she used to be.
The party. Oh yes, the party! She was going to be there; you'd heard about it from your friends. As you had grown older, you had become cynical of everything she stood for, wondered how you could have ever possibly loved her in the first place. But you had to see her, right? Perhaps to make some snide remark about her to your friends when she wasn't listening. That seemed fair enough.
Almost the instant you arrive you see her. She catches your eye, walks over and says hello, smiling beamingly. Despite being pleased to see her again, you're still acutely aware of the life she's led, the one that differed so much from how you wanted it to pan out. It becomes quickly apparent that nothing can and ever will happen again between the two of you.
But secretly, you still want it. She was your first love, of course you do. It doesn't matter what she's done, surely she could be the same once again? As the conversations flow, anxious thoughts race through your mind and you begin to mumble. She notices this and politely laughs. She offers a glass of wine and you gladly accept.
Chatting to her still further, you once again become comfortable with the way things are. She's a changed person after all, not the stars-in-her-eyes girl you once knew. She doesn't flirt or tease, only chats politely and you become more self-assured as you realise that a platonic friendship is possible between the two of you.
And then, out of nowhere, the kiss. What just happened? The party is winding down and most people have left. As your lips briefly part, you glance around the room to see that you are alone with her. You were too pulled in by her conversation before to notice. Before you know it she begins again to make her advances. Unsure of what the best course of action is, you kiss her back, and all the old feelings erupt once more. Perhaps it could all be the same once again!
... No. No, it couldn't. No, something just isn't quite right. She doesn't do it the way she used to. Nothing can ever quite recapture that perfect time you spent with her so many years ago, and it pains you to admit it to yourself. Leaping up, you apologise and leave the building.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Fly from Here was the second album I reviewed for DPRP, after Revivor's decidedly unprog slice of bland post-punk fare The Siege (review here). I gave both albums 3/10 and if you've ever read the DPRP review guidelines (which you can find here) as I have countless times, you'll know that 3/10 equates to "Bad: Wouldn't want to review another album by them".
In the case of Revivor, this is very true; I've never felt even the slightest urge to revisit the drab pretentious moanings of those daft Irish gloom-pedlars. But with Yes, it goes a lot deeper than that. No matter how awful their music is, how inflated their egos may become, how quickly the revolving door turns for their junior members or how surprisingly trendy and social-media savvy their PR has been, they are still Yes and that makes them important here.
No matter what I say - good or bad - about Heaven and Earth, one thing is certain: it will sell by the bundle. Put the Yes name on anything, be it a mug, sofa, parrot or perhaps even an album, you will instantly have thousands of scrabbling Yes fans ready to part with their dosh over it, no matter the quality. Slap a pretty Roger Dean cover on top - I must say, he's excelled himself on this occasion - and you'll triple, nay quadruple that number. But since you've made it this far into my review - and I do humbly apologise that I haven't given even the remotest whiff of what the album sounds like yet - let's try and treat this as if it were an album like any other, by a band you know pretty well by now.
It's safe to say that Yes have attracted a lot of pretty negative attention in the past few years. After giving the boot to their peerless singer Jon Anderson in 2008, fans have been divided as to the authenticity of their favourite band. It has become uncommon to find any thread on the group's rather functional Facebook page which doesn't include at least one comment requesting the reinstatement of Anderson. This isn't the only source of bad press of course. In February 2012, the band pulled a similar stunt with their replacement singer Benoît David, in circumstances uncannily similar to Anderson's. It appears that being a prog singer is about as dangerous as being a member of the Stark family in Game of Thrones.
Now, a new Jon croons for Yes: Jon Davison of Glass Hammer. His CV does make him a perfect fit for the job; though I have very much enjoyed albums such as If (review here) and Cor Cordium (review here), to say that the band were anything less than wholly influenced by Yes would be a complete fallacy. Bands such as Druid, Starcastle and now Glass Hammer seem to come along purely to fill the lucrative void that Yes leave whenever they are taking a hiatus or are otherwise not producing brilliant music. Think about it, Starcastle's eponymous debut album was released in 1976, two years into Yes's first long break, when fans were desperate to get another fix of their favourite stuff. Of course, Glass Hammer have done slightly better out of this method, as Yes have long since passed the point where they can create anything near as good as what their imitators.
It's Jon 2 who immediately sets the tone for the album on track one, Believe Again. Though certainly influenced by Anderson, he doesn't try to imitate his idol, instead bringing his own unique timbre to the mix, making Yes ironically sound like a washed out Glass Hammer. Nevertheless, the title of the song humbly beseeches me to "Believe Again" and rather than preordain my judgement, I've decided to keep an open mind and assess this album on its own merits.
Certainly the first track sounds very "nice", with gentle lilting chords that drift into something of a catchy and semi-uplifting chorus. My very first listen of this album happened to be when I went for a jog and I can tell you now that this is great running fodder. Unfortunately, for general listening, eight minutes does seem a bit long, like they've padded a decent song idea out purely for the purpose of making it seem "prog". I wonder if anybody in the 70s ever suspected they'd see the day when Yes would stoop to such low tricks.
With The Game, the soft rock parade continues. Incredibly, I found some of the vocal harmonies on this to be reminiscent of the girl groups of the 90s and early 00s, not to mention the rigid 4/4 structure. However, this track does deviate from that standard by taking up nearly seven minutes. Again, fairly "nice" with easy chords and pretty hooks, but is this what Yes fans want?
Step Beyond; more like Misstep Beyond if you ask me. I don't mind the cheesy syncopated rhythm over Downes's saccharine synth line, even if it does make Yes sound like they're playing songs for children, but I do wonder why the band take some bizarre minor detours whenever Howe is put in charge. Really not a track you want stuck in your head all day.
To Ascend; now that's more like it! Truly, Yes do ascend somewhat with this track. All at once, I can see the band not trying to outdo themselves, realising their limits and yet producing something that is actually fairly listenable. Ok, so it's a bit one-dimensional, but it's very pretty with good acoustic sensibilities and delightful melodic hooks.
Now that we're halfway into the album, it's useful to reflect. The amount of prog heard on this album so far? Minimal! But that's OK, isn't it? I mean, anybody who's listening to Yes in 2014 to hear new prog is certainly barking up the wrong end of the stick. Actually, besides the fairly weak Step Beyond, I feel it's all been consistent so far. Perhaps Yes have found a new sound that their willing to stick to. Sure, it's not my cup of lark's vomit, but I admire any band that have a clear vision and are willing to make it a reality. It's far better than last time on Fly from Here where they tried and dismally failed to recapture the glory of the past by making an overbearing "epic".
Now comfortable that we are listening to a non-progressive iteration of the institution that is Yes, we press play on track #5. Still "nice" and inoffensive, Yes conjure up something quite different on In a World of Our Own with a rather bluesy atmosphere that I can't recall hearing anywhere else in their 45-year canon. Howe pulls out a few nice licks on the guitar between verses and in the instrumental towards the end. This is so much better than anything on Fly from Here, not that that's saying much.
Now, Light of the Ages is pushing eight minutes, and really a track like that should have a sizeable instrumental in there somewhere. Unfortunately, this symph-pop exercise features a lot of Davison's singing. As sweet and mellifluous as his voice is, I do wish he'd shut up once in a while and let the music speak for itself. If you look deeper however, there is some interesting gentle interplay between Squire's bass and White's drums, something noticeably different from what's gone on before on this album. It's almost as if they're getting ideas. Not enough to keep me coming back for more though.
The band wait until track seven to throw a musical turd in your face. It Was All We Knew has to be some of the laziest songwriting I've ever heard. It's not lazy in the traditional sense of "can't be bothered to write", but rather lazy in the sense of "can't be bothered to actually sort out our ideas and make this song sound good". It's clear that the band came up with a few half-baked themes and then hastily assembled them into something playable, if not listenable. Alan drums along almost reacting to the changes as they happen, as if he isn't aware of what's about to come! And then there's that detestable chorus "Sweet were the fruits, long were the summer days/It was all we knew." You'd actually have to listen to the song to hear how horrible that melodic line is.
Out of nowhere, exhiliration! Subway Walls begins with an exciting classical intro played on the synths. The listener's expectations are suddenly heightened. Yes, who seemed to have had rather relaxed time so far, suddenly ramp up the anticipation... only to then lose all the momentum by slowing down before any other musicians have joined in. That's not what the real Yes would have done!
Forgetting the intro entirely, the band continue with something that nonetheless sounds rather... Yes. Oh man, perhaps this could still be really good! Staccato themes ring out and Squire's trademark thunderous melodic bass underpins the proceedings. This really sounds a lot like Yes now. The band are back!
Or are they? No, that doesn't make sense. Even as they play a decidedly proggish instrumental in alternating 7/8 and 9/8 time, I can see through what's going on. This is the money shot. This is what they place in adverts to hook existing Yes fans into buying it. This is only a tiny fraction of the full album, and if they really were still committed to playing prog then they would have been playing in all sorts of complex rhythms throughout, rather than in one short segment of a single song. I wouldn't be surprised if Frontiers Records had made the band sign a contract saying "Thou shalt play in at least one odd time signature."
Worse still, this upsets the balance of the entire album. I'd been content to listen to a band finding their feet playing music they are comfortable playing. I'd been prepared to accept this new "non-prog" version of Yes. I'd been overjoyed at the relative consistency of this album compared to the putrid mess of Fly from Here. No. Yes had to take it one step too far and try to live up to all of the prog-hype that surrounds them. If they really consider themselves this good at playing prog, then why not do it for the full album?
Evidently, Subway Walls is the best track on the album, for containing lots of bits that you can't help but like as a prog fan. The classical theme from the beginning does come back and makes for something of a stunning outro when played by the whole band, particularly when compared to the rest of the album.
But incredibly, the best track on the album is also the one which turns out to ruin the whole thing. In all my years of reviewing, this is a first. Only Yes could do something so paradoxically stupid. When you have this surprising outlier, it puts all the other tracks on the record to shame. I thought I'd been happy to listen to To Ascend and In a World of Our Own, but I guess they just don't compare.
Even worse than that though, Subway Walls robs Heaven and Earth of the chance to be
assessed on its own merits. Rather than staying separate from Yes's sublime early canon, one cannot help but
compare Subway Walls to the better stuff - the Sound Chasers and the Starship Troopers - and realise that Yes have still basically gone downhill since the 70s. They aren't fooling anyone... well, not me anyway.
Geoff Feakes' Review
As recently as last Christmas in the DPRP's Yes special I had the pleasure of revisiting and reappraising classic albums like Close to the Edge and The Yes Album from the band's most creative period. A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then with names like Banks, Kaye, Bruford, Moraz, Horn, Rabin, Sherwood, Khoroshev, Wakeman (senior and junior), David and of course Anderson who all played their part in shaping the band's sound now consigned to the 'former members' category.
Back to the present and the band's twenty-first studio offering Heaven and Earth featuring the debut of vocalist Jon (Anderson sound-alike) Davison. The singer has been with the band for over two years now and already the veteran of several tours. He of course replaced Benoît David who under similar circumstances to his illustrious predecessor was compelled to step aside due to ill health. The rest of the band need no introduction, but I'll do it anyway: Steve Howe (guitars, backing vocals), Chris Squire (bass, backing vocals), Geoff Downes (keyboards, computer programming), and Alan White (drums, percussion).
The last studio album Fly from Here (was it really three years ago?) divided opinions in the DPRP team and whilst I was in the positive camp curiously enough I've hardly played it since. Downes and producer Trevor Horn were responsible for writing the majority of the material for that album including the title song which dated back to 1980. Study the composer credits for Heaven and Earth and a common denominator soon emerges. Believe Again (Davison, Howe), To Ascend (Davison, White), In a World of Our Own (Davison, Squire), etc. In fact, with the exception of the penultimate tune It Was All We Knew (written by Howe), Davison had a hand in writing 7 out of the 8 songs here.
The producer for Heaven and Earth is none other than Roy Thomas Baker, famous for his work with Queen and infamous (amongst Yes fans) for the abandoned 1979 Paris sessions, tracks from which can be found on the 2003 Drama reissue and numerous Yes bootlegs. Also involved is long time Yes associate Billy Sherwood, responsible for the mixing and engineering the backing vocals. So much for the credits, what about the results?
The opening track I Believe Again is engaging enough (in a Wondrous Stories kind of way) but does it warrant its 8 plus minutes length? It also seems a tad lightweight to be in pole position (especially on a Yes album) until you realise that virtually the whole album is in the same laidback style. In fact if I had to describe Heaven and Earth in one word it would be 'mellow' with a capital 'M'. As such it's strangely ironic that during the aforementioned 1979 Paris sessions Howe, Squire and White complained that Anderson's contributions were too lightweight. It's an ideal environment for Davison's voice however and so similar is his singing at times it felt like I was listening to a JA solo album.
The snappily titled The Game (the song titles are one of the best things about the album) opens with a haunting, sustained guitar figure from Howe otherwise it's more of the same although a strong chorus (co-written by Squire and ex. Syn colleague Gerard Johnson) makes it one of the albums most memorable offerings. The poppy Step Beyond on the other hand is pure fluff and really shouldn't have made it beyond the demo stage (Downes' bouncing synth line is excruciatingly naff).
To Ascend is better with Davison's vocal adopting a yearning quality that brings Graham Nash to mind whilst In a World of Our Own has a surprisingly late-night blues vibe aided by Howe's gritty guitar picking and Downes' stark Hammond chords although the jaunty Beatles-ish chorus undermines the mood somewhat.
Light Of The Ages (composed entirely by Davison) opens with one of the albums longest instrumental sections (all 1 minute 45 seconds of it) featuring Howe's atmospheric steel guitar and White's most inventive drumming on the album. The choral refrain however is barely strong enough to sustain the songs 8 minute length. Howe's It Was All We Knew is driven by an infectious little guitar hook and despite the pin sharp harmonies the song itself is lame and would have worked better as an instrumental.
Given the evocative title and its near 10 minute length it would not be unreasonable to expect the final track Subway Walls to be a gritty epic. Sadly that's not the case. Downes' and White's extended orchestral introduction certainly sets the scene as does Squire's edgy bass runs but any sense of drama is diluted by the lightweight chorus and Davison's blissed out vocals. Even Downes' and Howe's normally welcome solo excursions seem contrived and the anticipated grand finale is anything but.
Supporters of Heaven and Earth (and I'm sure there will be many) may well argue that this is Yes growing old gracefully. Personally, I'd hoped the involvement of Davison (born the same year The Yes Album and Fragile were released) would energise the band into producing something of substance. True, I never expected a return to the dynamics, elaborate arrangements and virtuoso playing of old but I did at least expect something less flat and uninvolving. Davison is probably the best thing about the album whereas Howe, Squire and White sound listless for the most part, not helped by the indifferent production. As for Downes his input (compositionally and instrumentally) seems strangely minimal. Perhaps the sun soaked, laidback environment of LA may not have been the best choice of recording venue for Yes.
As a writer for the DPRP it would be all too easy for me to deride Heaven and Earth for its lack of progressive rock content but that's not the real problem. The real problem is, unless you include easy-going pop-rock bordering on MOR, for the most part it feels devoid of any content.
Andrew Halley's review
I'm going to start with the concept of "comparisons". I was sent the sound files of the new Yes CD Heaven and Earth as an MP3 format and immediately dragged it onto my iTunes to consume its contents. I then wrote "Yes" into the search box which showed 28 albums and it had alphabeticaly defaulted just after Going for the One and before Keys to Ascension (disc 1) in the listing. So if I was having a Yes night, Awaken would finish, the new one would play, and then it would seque into the live version of Siberian Khatru.
Would this be a consistent flow of expectations? Unfortunatley the answer would be: no. I have listened to this latest presentation a few times in the hope that it would become a grower... It hasn't. Back to the comparisons idea, with a few computer keys I can instantly listen to Cor Cordium and If by Glass Hammer, Why? Because Yes' new singer is the "new" singer on both those records and they are great, very (ahem) Yes-like. That, of course, would be the case if Yes sounded like Yes anymore. Which they don't. Another example would be, if I nudged back to "W" and found Wobbler's Rite of Dawn, another Yes influenced band, which is also great. In fact I've almost had to cleanse my ears by blasting out all of the aforementioned "influences"! So Sorry to say any of this...
Am I also wrong to make further comparisons to earlier glories? Are we all meant to "move on" and stop being old farts? Well it was only yesterday that I picked Gates of Delirium as my "dog walking music of choice" one, for length (always gets the high paw from the Bedlington Terrier), but mostly for the fantstic music it is, the incredible drumming, the in your face Telecaster screech, the bass guitar interplay, etc. All sadly missing from the new effort!
A lot has been made of Jon Davison's contribution to this album, especially in the writing process, but the sheer banality of some of the lyrics leaves me wondering if there really is a heaven - "If you lose your touch to handle kid gloves in the hard game of push and shove". On opening track Believe Again and in The Game, the main chourus is repeated four times with very little else in a 6:52 song. As for how many Steps Beyond? Oh ONE... yes, YES, we get it! Alright! This is all such a shame since a new Yes album used to be such an exiciting event for me, but I suppose it's been a downward spiral for many years from Open Your Eyes bottoming out to this.
I'm going to "go compare" again, by saying that their last tour reminded anyone who saw it what utter majesty this band can still produce with the three album concept (even if some of the tempos were being respectful to the combined age of our heros) to then produce something that, to be honest, doesn't actually belong on this website, is One Step Beyond.
That all said, final track Subway Walls is full of promise of what can still be acheived, with actual nods to prog with organ and guitar flourishes that hint at future goodies for us fans, but the production by Roy Thomas Baker seems to round off edges and plane off the spikes. A louder and grittier sound would have redeemed the whole album. Even the little jazzy bass solo is played using the "less is more" school of dynamics, but us nerds don't want "less is more", we want "more is more"!
This isn't the record that long term fans were hoping for. There is so much good music out there for us all to make comparisions with and this doesn't pull the wool over anyone's (open) eyes. Is it more of a song based record? Well the vocals are up in the mix so we can all hear the words, but do we want to? The playing is a bit sedentary and the lyrics sub O-level English. I'll always be a Yes fan and I suppose the more and more they release re-mastered versions and 5.1 surround versions for us to grow old to and spend our children's inheritence on boxes to play it all on, then I will continue to be so. However, this new release won't be bothering my hifi very often.
Guillermo Palladino's Review
In the last four decades, Yes has become one of the most important symphonic rock bands in the history of music. Even with their major line-up changes, with how many times Rick Wakeman joined and left the band, with all the success they achieved by turning into a more commercial-oriented band with 90125, or the unlikely reunion with their most relevant members to create Union, they remained standing tall.
Now we have another particular circumstance in the history of the band, with a major line-up change and the third consecutive album with a different singer. Remember that on Magnification (2001) Jon Anderson provided the vocals, on Fly from Here (2011) there was Benoît David, and today we have Jon Davison of Glass Hammer after the two previous singers were asked to leave due to illness.
Two months were enough to record this album with Roy Thomas Baker as the producer, returning to work with the band since the failed 1979 Paris recording session, and Billy Sherwood mixing. Unlike Fly from Here (which features partially earlier compositions wrote by Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn), Heaven and Earth features new material only.
Overall, I felt disappointed with this album, despite the fact that it was beautifully arranged and the band members demonstrate all their skills in composing and playing. I feel that it is too weak and tasteless for me. I recognized some arrangements that reminded me records like Going for the One and some elements from Fly from Here, but there is nothing more. The Ladder is a more powerful record, with an energy that was no longer present on the subsequent albums. Jon Davison's influence on the songwriting is clear, making it as some Glass Hammer Light album. The highlights of this album are Believe Again, The Game, and Subway Walls. Davison's voice sounds great, but that was to be expected since he was the replacement to fulfill the band's necessity to find somebody who can sing the earlier songs.
All the band members give to this album their special touch. Steve Howe's technique is clean and precise as always. Chris Squire switches into his own way of bass playing with powerful but simple arrangements. Geoffrey Downes mixes vintage sounds and organ to provide the ambient.
Steve Howe once said "Our music is not about troubles, is about beliefs", and he is absolutely right. Heaven and Earth is not a bad album, it's what I call a "good vibe" album. Despite of In a World of Our Own which is a bit of an outsider in the good vibe songs. Probably is a matter of change the beliefs, but in the other side we can't always be pleased when our favorite bands have a new release.
So, for me is good but I'll need to "Believe Again" in Yes.
Roger Trenwith's Review
Up to and including 1977, when they released their last truly great album Going for the One, Yes were responsible for some marvellous records, and one everlasting classic. Close to the Edge was that album, and it has featured in my top five albums of all time, of any genre, since I first heard it as a young teenager in 1973.
In Utopia, Yes would have split up for good during the recording of GftO's follow up Tormato, realising that it was simply not up to scratch and that their bolt had been shot. Back in the real world, the need to earn a living and to keep ex-wives happy has meant that excluding one very short gap in the early 1980s there has always been a band calling themselves Yes. From Tormato onwards the band have released a succession of patchy albums, some containing good moments, but nothing that even came close to past glories.
As we all know they have also released some real clunkers since 1977, which brings us neatly forward to 2011 and Fly from Here, a title steeped in irony as it turned out, and so it was with some trepidation I awaited my review download of this new album.
Boasting a crowd-pulling Roger Dean cover, Heaven and Earth begins with Believe Again, which judging from its title should be a reaffirmation of the core values of Yes. Unfortunately it is merely a half-decent idea stretched way beyond the point of reasonableness, probably as a matter of expediency for its prog audience. The languid pace of this overlong track summons up visions of the band lying back soaking up the sun on a cruise ship as the world floats by, which is not unsurprising I suppose.
The soporific vibe emanating from the lethargic opening track sets the theme for majority of the album, and for the most part the pace of the album never threatens to overtake a motability scooter, and reminds me of those annoying sods who hog the middle lane of motorways, never varying from 58mph, blissfully unaware of their surroundings.
The music on H&E (heheh) seems to have been beamed in from Geoff Downes' laptop, somewhere from the south side of the sky. Steve Howe only occasionally gets animated enough to be noticed, and is often faded out as soon as he gets into his stride, most notably on the initially cringeworthy pop throwaway It Was All We Knew. On that number the low-key syncopated riffage that kicks in halfway through would have built and led to a thunderous ensemble denouement in days gone by, but here it just fizzles out to nowt at all.
There are exceptions to the sleepy pace, one of which is Step Beyond. Unfortunately, Step Beyond is possibly the most awful thing I've ever heard put out under the name Yes. Even some of the dreaded Open Your Eyes album sounds more like Yes than this sorry slice of album filling. Step Beyond has the kind of lazy drumming that makes Ringo sound like Animal, but then again the lame excuse of a tune it props up did not deserve any better. A simplistic little nursery rhyme, it is positively jaunty in comparison to what has gone before, thanks to Downes's synth line, but if you counted the bpm, I'd bet it wasn't far off the previous two numbers. "Get up off that chair" sings Jon Davison. If only!
Jon Davison, as you know, is the singer with Glass Hammer, a band that along with the likes of Wobbler and a fair few others follow a regrettable trend begun by Starcastle way back when. They all seem to exist solely to create the missing link Fragile at the Edge album. Why do musicians with so much obvious talent want to wallow in 1972? I freely admit I will never understand. I am tempted to say Jon had been instructed to write "in the style of", but he probably didn't need that command, given his other band's propensity to write better Yes music than Yes themselves.
My favourite song on the album, which admittedly is not saying a lot, is In a World of Our Own which almost threatens to get funky in a 10CC sun-kissed fashion, and features Howe's best work on the record. It's still stuck in the slow lane, but is redeemed by hints of Beatles and Steely Dan, and being a mere five and a half minutes long at least it doesn't outstay its welcome.
After swimming several unenergetic lengths of the top deck pool without threatening to raise the heartbeat, we emerge to conclude with the initially synth-symphonic Subway Walls that, like most of what has preceded it, meanders along inoffensively enough and leaves little impression on this by now weary astral traveller. At least it attempts some trademark Yes tricksy vocal and time signature changes, but given the AOR pop of the rest of the record it sounds like a contrivance thrown in to appease the prog fans, along with its nine minute mini-epic length, which oddly enough as it turns out was maybe not long enough. Subway Walls is somewhat redeemed by a decent keyboard led mid-section that leads into some nice guitar playing that gives the conclusion to the record its best musical moments, but it never really develops, and is cut off way too early. The climax, if you could call it that, actually shifts up a gear, but this almost promising song is far too little, far too late.
I've read that the band made this album in a hurry, in between tours and messing about on boats, and that the thing was completed under pressure; "We were just kind of throwing everything in at the last minute, then we only had two or three days before we had to start (a) tour" as Jon Davison puts it. Jon also tells us that there was plenty more partly finished music they had to leave in the can due to time constraints, which rather begs the question why rush it, why not finish all the music and compile it from that? If the record contract was to blame for the hurried recording then one can only put it down to yet another administrative own goal to add to plenty of others the band have scored over the years. At least for once it is not in the HR department, as this line up is actually establishing itself and appears to be fairly stable, but whatever you do, don't get the sniffles Jon!
Let down by weak songwriting and an almost total lack of dynamic tension, H&E has a weary "we don't care anymore" feel to it. In conclusion, unless Yes are willing to take their time over signing a record contract and in composing and recording a new album, and can recognise average music when they hear it, or employ a producer with the cojones to tell them as much, then they would be far better off sticking to being their own tribute band, in much the same manner as the Strolling Bones. The nostalgia-fixated prog crowd that flock to those album recreation shows will remain huge for as long as they still have functioning ears, and given that the average age of a Yes fan is probably ten years less than that of Squire, Howe, and White, there will be no danger of their pension funds drying up before dotage demands they hang up their instruments.
I can think of at least a dozen new albums by modern bands released this year, prog or otherwise that deserve your attention far more than this tired record, and the fact that it got nominated as album of the year in Prog Magazine's poll before it was even released says more about advertising revenue that it ever did about the quality of the album, although the former reason is obviously no fault of the band's.
I had a protracted discussion with my best mate and fellow one time Porcupine Tree obsessive when Steven Wilson's Raven album was released. He was, and still is to be fair, under the impression that the album was a con, recreating and reassembling prog moves from 40 years ago and marketing said tunes as new and exciting. I disagreed up to a point, but that's a discussion for elsewhere. My friend should listen to Heaven and Earth; now that is a real hoodwinking! Yes's fans are so enamoured of their heroes that the band know they will buy anything with that name on the cover (especially if said cover features some Roger Dean artwork), much like One Direction's hordes of sheep-like followers would buy Harry Styles' toenail clippings off eBay. At least the boy band makes no attempt to dress up their music as anything more than mere fluff. Progressive H&E is emphatically not, and it barely registers on the progometer either.
In their defence, no-one should expect Yes in 2014 to make another Close to the Edge, heck, I can remember critics lambasting Tales... for that very reason, but that does not mean that it is not entirely unreasonable to hope that their new music will be fresh and stimulating, two things that Heaven and Earth fails by some distance to be. Even the much maligned Fly from Here has more ideas, energy and dynamism than this new album, and it seems far more care was taken with its admittedly rickety construction. While it is great to see that Yes are in good, if excessively complacent health, it is a shame that they have displayed such ruthless efficiency in banging this album out in no time at all, as boy does it show! In fact I fail to understand why they made the album at all, let alone rushed to complete it, as it will make little profit and does their already somewhat listing reputation no favours whatsoever. Watch out for that iceberg! Too late, by the sound of it.
Alison Henderson's Review
Dear Chris, Steve, Alan, Geoff and Jon,
So, it's time to pull back the covers again to discover what lies within. You see, as a Yes fan of more than 40 years, you have endlessly toyed with my emotions - from A (amazement at those 70s beauties) to Z (zesty because you could dance to parts of 90125) - so I am wondering where the alphabet pendulum will swing this time.
Well, I can tell you now: it is stuck on C for confounded and, to a lesser degree, captivated.
I cannot disguise the fact that the latter days have been something of a bumpy ride, the nadir being Fly from Here, the refried plate of Buggles' off-cuts that proved incredibly hard to swallow. For my part, it is now officially your paprika pot album because it will stay in my (CD) rack for years to come and never get used.
However, we all (apart from Jon Davison) go back an incredibly long way so here I am hoping that some of the old magic can be rekindled. The recent tour with JD in the post was something of a renaissance and revelation. I was mightily impressed with the way those three classic old platters have stood the test of time, transcending the decades and resonating as the major part of my own life's soundtrack.
With those wonderful, timeless, peerless songs still very fresh in the mind months afterwards, you deliver unto us a very chichi new Roger Dean cover – lots of lush flora and foliage, spacey landscapes and a harlequin effect logo, providing us with a hint of continuity yet again between the glory, glory days and the slightly more fragile present.
Can I also add a caveat at this stage to say that I do not have any issues with your present line-up? Recruiting JD was a complete shoo-in so far as I am concerned, his work with Glass Hammer being a splendid example of how the stock of Yes rises with so many contemporary bands using the music as their template.
I have to say that Heaven and Earth reaches a new zenith in your canon, because with this, your coming of age (21st album), you have delivered your very first vegan album. Why? It is because it is the musical equivalent of a nut cutlet. Those previous numerous meaty cuts where guitar, keyboards and bass take off into another dimension, individually and in tandem, are nowhere here. Instead, the repast is a fruitful abundance of sweet songs and syrupy melodies, which sound more West Coast than West Hampstead.
But here's the thing: unlike Fly from Here, I actually quite like this album because it is so laid-back, it should come with its own complimentary sun lounger. I like the fact the intro to Believe has echoes of Steve's guitar from To Be Over and overall, it's a bright and breezy song and it very much sets the tone for what is to come, the instrumental flurries sounding overly polite and mannered.
Perhaps the strongest track is The Game because its feel-good melody hardly needs any elaborate instrumentation to see it on its way, apart from a few dreamy chorus sequences behind JD's clear and pure as a mountain stream voice and some guitar flourishes from Steve.
Step Beyond really does enter the realms of pure prog pop with Geoff's zingy synth, slightly pedestrian rhythms and close harmonies. If this is ever edited as a single, this will be Ken Bruce's record of the week on his BBC Radio 2 show.
I can pick up on some retro Yes on To Ascend which wanders into Wondrous Stories territory with its acoustic guitar intro that is then gently strummed during the main body of the song, married up with some tinkling keyboards and esoteric lyrics.
The bluesy, jazzy vibe of World of Our Own is fun with some wonderful close harmonies but it sounds a bit pedestrian, cranked up as it is at the same plodding pace as the previous songs - and Geoff's keyboard riff comes very close to morphing into Smoke on the Water.
Light of the Ages feels closer to the source with Steve's pared back guitar finally taking flight, Geoff's subtle underpinning keys and Chris's bass finally rumbling into life. However, It Was All We Knew is just a bit too sickly sweet and twee - in a butterflies and daisies kind of way - for this particular palette despite the chunkier, spicier instrumental intervention halfway through.
Suddenly, the whole world seems to tilt a little with that majestic orchestrated start to Subway Walls with its distinctive xylophone overlay. I loved that lurch into the jazzy, Chris's bass finally emerging from the mix and JD stretching that astounding voice to pastures new. The composition is much freer and more elastic than the other songs and I so wanted it to go even further "out there" which it almost did with that hefty riff, punctuated by Geoff's keys and Steve's guitar. Even though it builds up momentum and gets ready to fly, it ends far too soon, leaving the appetite somewhat unsatisfied.
So chaps, in conclusion, – and to carry on the foodie theme - you have made some Marmite (love them or hate them) albums in the past but Heaven and Earth trumps these. The battle lines have already been drawn between the lovers and the naysayers. I shall bravely take my stand in neutral territory somewhere between the two.
Published Sunday 13 July 2014