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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Yes

Heaven and Earth

Review by Gary Hill

Where do I begin on this review? I guess I should start by saying that I’m a Yes fanatic and I have been since I was twelve years old – and for those keeping track, that’s a long time ago. I picked up their Close to the Edge album at a garage sale and hated it the first time I spun it. It took several repeat visits before I got it. That’s the thing with Yes music. You often don’t “get it” the first time you hear it. There’s a complexity that you miss with the casual musical encounter. That applies to this album, too. No, I’m not saying this is another CTTE. But then again, neither is any other Yes album.  For me, Yes is both a simple joy and a complex thing. I love Jon Anderson and a part of me feels a disloyalty to him when I like a Yes album without him. The thing is, Yes is Jon Davison, Geoff Downes, Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White now. So, to like Yes in the modern day means to accept that, and I do. There really has only ever been one Yes song I haven’t liked in the whole catalog (more on that later). So, it’s a safe bet that I’m going to like a Yes album. It’s just a matter of how much I’m going to like it. I actually like this one a lot.

A number of critics have panned this complaining that it’s not progressive rock or not complex enough or whatever. Others have said that it doesn’t sound like Yes. Those are really pretty ridiculous complaints if you think about it. Let’s look at them individually. First, it’s not progressive rock enough. What exactly does that mean? There are a very wide variety of bands and sounds that (depending on the listener) are considered progressive rock. Everything from Marillion to Tool to Pink Floyd to Rush to the Beatles to Radiohead to Muse to Vangelis to Giant Squid and more can get labeled as “prog.” It’s a wide ranging field and there is no one sound by any means. I would say that this is as proggy as any number of things considered “progressive rock” by others. If you want to look at a traditional definition, progressive rock is music that progresses the style of rock music. By that definition most of the stuff that gets labeled prog wouldn’t be. I mean, playing something that sounds like something else played forty years ago isn’t progressing anything. So, that’s a silly argument, too. “It doesn’t sound like Yes.” So, there is a “Yes” sound then? I mean, to some degree, I get it, and I’ve commented where they’ve given us a sound here that seems new for them. Honestly, though, what is the common ground from “Beyond and Before” to “Siberian Khatru” to “All Good People” to “Owner of a Lonely Heart” to “Rhythm of Love” (that’s the Yes song I can’t stand, by the way) to “Soundchaser” to “Roundabout” to any number of other Yes songs? The “Yes sound” is a moving target. It’s an ever expanding field and by producing and releasing music under the “Yes” banner, they make that field grow.

So, what we’re left with is this question: “is this a good album.” No, it’s a great album. One can quibble or argue about where it lands in terms of the Yes catalog. But, the more you fuss and fight about it and try to categorize it, the more you miss the point. This is an entertaining disc. It’s one you should put into your player and let wash over you. It’s one with the classic layers of depth that reveal themselves in repeated spins. I like this album a lot and I’m glad it’s made its way into the Yes catalog. I’ll be listening to it for years to come. Of course, it’s Yes, so that’s a given.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Believe Again

Atmospheric melodic sounds open the album and the song builds out from there. The lyrics talk about drifting at one point and there is a real feeling of a guided drifting. I really like the vocal melodies and themes on this. There are some classic Yesisms in the music that drives the chorus. I really love the instrumental section on this piece. In some ways it makes me think of some of the guitar driven stuff that we heard on Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe. I’m reminded just a little of “Brother of Mine.” Geoff Downes manages some particularly tasty keyboard passages. This movement really feels a lot like classic Yes.

The Game
This starts with more atmospheric elements. This time, though, they are delivered on guitar, not keyboards. The song kicks in from there. This is a very accessible number. It’s also great. I love the vocal hooks and the whole thing just has such a positive, infectious feeling to it. Sure, it’s more pop music than pure progressive rock, but it also has some really great sound built into it. I love the multiple layers of the vocal arrangement.
Step Beyond
Here’s a cut that’s a bit less familiar. The keyboard driven section that opens it has a real pop music vibe to it. That gets alternated, though, with a guitar dominated movement that is trademark Howe. It’s a bouncy cut that’s quite pop like, but it’s not that far removed from some of the music on Open Your Eyes in some ways. While it’s not my favorite song here, I like it quite a bit.
To Ascend
The acoustic guitar driven section that opens this really has a pretty trademark mellow Yes sound. As the song grows outward it gets more layers of sound with the arrangement become more lush. The vocals really carry the power and drama of the early sections, but if you listen carefully, there is more to this than that. As it rises upward after a time it gets sort of a power ballad approach. Again, it’s still quite trademark Yes in a lot of ways. I really like this one a lot.
In a World of Our Own
Those who have only heard the studio albums might think of this as a huge change. Sure, the bouncy kind of bluesy, jazzy vibe is something we’ve really not heard on a Yes album before. That said, when they did an acoustic version of “Roundabout” (also on the In A Word boxset, if I remember right), that song got a similar treatment. I thought it was a welcome bit of freshness then, and I feel the same way about this cut. I like Steve Howe’s guitar soloing on this. It’s not overly flashy, but still meaty and tasteful. While this is a bit different for Yes, it’s also a great tune. There are some interesting shifts and changes on this and some unusual little changes.
Light of the Ages
The introduction on this features some nice Steve Howe guitar soloing along with some solid melodies. As it drops back to the mellower sounds for the first vocals, it’s another that’s almost trademark Yes in a lot of ways. After the first verse it moves out into a great melodic excursion that is both very progressive rock oriented and very “Yes-like.” The vocals return over that type of backdrop as the piece continues to evolve. This piece really grows quite well. The journey is an ever forward one, but it’s also organic and gradually. The jamming later in the track is among the coolest of the album. That said, it’s understated in that you have to listen for it to really appreciate it.
It Was All We Knew
This is probably the biggest surprise of the album. There’s a real old time rock vibe to it. I can almost make out some 1960s rock and roll on some of the musical elements. Once the vocals enter, though, it’s more of a modern progressive rock sound. This isn’t instantly recognizable as what you would consider Yes, but it’s still quite proggy and quite good. I like the catchy chorus on this. It reminds me at times a bit of Fly from Here. The guitar break section is classic Steve Howe, really. The soloing later in the track is instantly recognizable as Howe, too.
Subway Walls
There is an almost classical air to the keyboard section that brings this into being. It’s quite symphonic in texture. As more layers of “strings” are added, that’s even more apparent. The introduction builds to a crescendo and then drops down. A more atmospheric version of itself moves forward. Then a more rock oriented sound is heard on the keyboards. Chris Squire’s bass comes into play. Then Steve Howe joins with a trademark sound. The cut gets a Squire based riff section. The vocals come over the top of an almost fusion-like sparse arrangement. This is trademark Yes. This thing works through a number of changes. It’s gets a more mainstream sound on the chorus, but the verses are very much a modern Yes jam. After the first chorus it drops to just bass. There is some finger snapping over the top before other instruments join. From there we’re taken into a hard rocking jam that gets a retro sounding organ solo added to it. This is classy and classic. Howe solos after that keyboard excursion. Eventually this works through and takes us back into the song proper. It works through another vocal section. Then some piano moves us out into another movement. This has a great Yes meets ELO kind of feeling to it as far as I’m concerned. From there it keeps shifting and evolving. As this one ends, the impulse is there to press “play” and start the ride all over again.
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