Yes has been a band that I have loved since the early 1980’s and before. Many of their songs, particularly from “The Yes Album”, “Fragile” and “Close to the Edge” served as anthems as I went through school and college. Steve Howe was my inspiration, with his soaring solos, his use of all sorts of guitar-related instruments and his sense of melody and how to “play around the obvious”.
Yes has been through many personnel changes, from guitarists to drummers to keyboardists to lead singers. The only constant, and he is awesomely constant, is bassist Chris Squire. They make Spın̈al Tap look, well, like a real documentary instead of a spoof. Thankfully none of Yes’s drummers have spontaneously combusted.
I thought their last album, “Fly From Here” was good. It was neither epic nor great, but it was good. Several songs were pretty decent, none however make the top ten of the best Yes songs ever. I appreciated the self deprecating insights of “Into the Storm”, I loved the bass hooks of “The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be”. I thought the “Fly From Here” suite (or whatever you want to call it) was a little corny, and the rest pretty cliche. But it was a serviceable album, and perhaps a sign of things to come.
So… we get to “Heaven and Earth”, and to the heart of my disappointment. If you listen to something like “Roundabout” or even “Machine Messiah”, there is something that is catching: a melody line, an energy to the rhythms or the harmonies, a sense of mood or of power. None of that is present in “Heaven and Earth”. It’s been missing for some time, really. It was not there in “The Ladder”, it was not there in “Magnification”. It was there in part in “Fly from Here”, but I suspect that is the case because of the HUGE gap in time between it and the last time an album was released (Magnification, 2001, which was ten years). I submit that the gap in time helped the songs mature fully. Also note that the suite “Fly From Here” is actually from the late 1970s and that several songs had help from outside the band.
The songs on “Heaven and Earth” are OK. But there is nothing catching about any of them. The lyrics are a bit on the hackneyed side, speaking of things that you would typically find on a Yes album (think largely happy, positive songs that speak of ascending) . There is none of the sense melody, the power of tempo or rhythm. Howe’s guitars, Squire’s basses are present, but nothing in their presence is noteworthy. Howe meanders, Squire thumps. Davison sounds like Anderson, but there are times when I wonder if he should have done another take (he was flat) or if that was intentional. And none of it really soars.
So, do I like it? Well, yes. It’s an OK journey, if you want to just meander. Whether it takes you from Heaven to Earth or vice versa? Lyrically, perhaps. But just because you say you are in Heaven, does that truly mean you are?