The next band I’d like to review has been in the music industry for almost 50 years, and has just recently released a new album. Containing some of the most renowned members in the classic rock community, the band Yes has made its footprint in history of rock music. With a varying sound throughout their lifetime, Yes has dabbled in the fields of progressive rock, pop rock, and synth rock. Even today, their music is a collaborative influence of everything they have learned from the past. The band Yes is definitely one of my favorite bands, one that has inspired my taste in music.
Though Yes has been through several lineup changes, the most consistent members comprise of guitarist Steve Howe and bassist Chris Squire. Additional support is given from longtime members Geoff Downes and Alan White on keyboards and drums respectively. The newest addition to the band is Jon Davison, lead singer of the band Glass Hammer, who replaces the talented and iconic Jon Anderson. Only recently has this lineup been created, but has already produced Yes’ newest album “Heaven and Earth.”
Before I begin this review, I have had the chance to read what others have said about this album. I was very disappointed to see mostly negative reviews of this album, criticizing the direction of the band while comparing this lineup and their musical style to Yes of the past. I would like to respond to those critiques that this lineup of Yes simply cannot be likened to Yes of the past. The Yes that has produced fantastic albums like “Fragile” and “Close to the Edge” has passed, even back in the 80’s when that lineup produced the album “90125.” Any argument over musical style is long overdue, because decades have passed since their dramatic shift in genre. With over forty years gone by since their inception, creating some great memories from Yes’ prior work, it is unfair to make a comparison between who they are now to who they aren’t. Comparing “Heaven and Earth” with albums like “Fragile” is like comparing apples with oranges; it simply doesn’t make sense to do so.
With that said, I first listened to “Heaven and Earth” without bias, as if this were the first album released by a new band. In doing so, I have thoroughly enjoyed this album. Considering this album to be a poppier version of progressive rock, the rhythm and beat is very catchy and gets stuck in my head very easily. The songs may be less complex than Yes’ prior work, but is easier to listen to, and can be more appealing to a wider audience. Remember, even Yes’ prior work contains songs that are less complex than others (ex. “Onward” and “Sweetness”) Using a groovy drum rhythm, White helps lay the groundwork throughout the album for each member of the band. He is best featured in “In A World Of Our Own” and “Light of the Ages,” with precise hits and harmony. The bass guitar, provided by Chris Squire, also complements the drum work and guitars, employing bass lines that act as a signature over the entire album. Although less complex as albums in the past, I feel the bass help set the stage for his band mates.
The legendary Steve Howe does it again, doing a tremendous job throughout “Heaven and Earth.” His presence is felt in the songs “Light of the Ages” and “Subway Walls,” using classic techniques that were present since the early Yes years. His sound and scales are so unique that I can determine he is playing just by listening to him. Lighter songs like “It Was All We Knew” and “To Ascend” bring the softer side of Yes, reminiscent of songs like “Turn of the Century.” Being one of my favorite guitarists, Howe fails to disappoint me as he shows his versatility throughout the album.
One thing I was surprised about in this album compared to past albums is the keyboard-dominated sound of Downes. This sound is established early in the songs “Believe Again” and “Step Beyond,” which uses an expansive selection of effects. The use of keys in this album is a nod to their prior work in the 80’s and 90’s, yet innovative enough to expand the sound towards a new direction. The song “Subway Walls” is an example of Downes’ ability, as the beginning of the song uses a symphonic sound to introduce their longest track. The song then shifts into a perfect amalgamation of old and new, of pop and progressive rock, and portrays Downes at his finest, especially during his solo halfway through the song. By far my favorite track on this album, “Subway Walls” shows each member at their finest.
The one member of the band that I was the most interested, yet most concerned with coming into this album was their new singer Jon Davison. Having replaced their previous singer whose tenure only spanned one album, I wondered how this would affect the band and the album. Even more, I wondered if Davison would even come close to the legendary Anderson in vocal and lyrical talent. After listening to this album, I believe strongly that if Anderson had to be replaced, Davison was a great choice to do so. His high falsetto voice is comparable to Anderson in his youth, but doesn’t necessarily mimic him. Davison’s writing style is unique, and even surpasses their previous singer Benoit David in ability. I enjoy listening to Davison’s vocals, especially in the songs in the ballad “To Ascend” and another one of my personal favorites “The Game.” I cannot help singing to “The Game” because of the catchy lyrics and range of vocals.
Despite much criticism, I am proud to stand against the crowd and state that “Heaven and Earth” is a successful album to me. Each member of the band shines in separate songs, only to show their brilliance in unison towards the end of the album. I highly recommend this album not only because of the recognition towards such an amazing and timeless band, but because this album truly is a unique and surprising listening experience. For lovers of Yes, along with fans of classic rock, progressive rock, and pop rock, please give this album a chance and support “Heaven and Earth.” In addition to buying this album, Yes is currently touring across the United States, and rumored to be playing their classics alongside their newest album. Please take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Check out this Youtube video featuring their song “In A World Of Our Own”: