Friday, July 25, 2014

There Are More Things in Heaven and Earth Than Are Dreamt of in Your Philosophy

The internecine battle among Yes fans over the rotational roster of lead vocalists has all the spite of Yankee fans arguing over the pitching rotation. Occasionally it becomes a hockey fight; all bluster and bravado born of frustration.

Cards on table: Jon Anderson is irreplaceable. Yes should have learned that by now. He is so much more than a lead vocalist with a tenor-alto range. If that were the case, either Benoit David or Jon Davison or even Tevor Horn would have done the job adequately. (Suggestion: Benoit David and David Benoit should do an album together. But I digress).

Jon Anderson was not only the lead vocalist and lyricist for Yes, he was the spiritual center of the band. He was also, as his nickname of Napoleon suggests, it's diminutive leader. Hand-in-waistcoat, Jon would be the one pushing the band to do more, to risk more. Now another Jon is mise en place to be the lead vocalist and, for Heaven and Earth, main lyricist. He is also, at 43, the youngest member of Yes with the rest in their 60s. This is your grandfather's Yes! Don't expect it sound like Yes of the 1970s. This is Yes of 2014.

"Believe Again" is the opening invitation to Heaven and Earth. Like any well-behaved opening track, it tells you what you need to know about what's to follow. After Steve Howe's volume-swelled intro, we hear Jon Davison sing a melody and lyrics that are very much in the Yes style, going quickly if briefly into his upper range. Chris Squire's harmony vocals are as good as ever, even if he's missing Jon Anderson's melodic phrasing to blend in and around. Howe's solo section, while not as fast as in the past, still has a lovely tone. While the lyrics are about a lover desiring to find the ability to believe in love again, the song is clearly meant to invite fans to believe again in this incarnation of Yes.

Next on deck, "The Game" sports a similar intro to "Believe Again", this time on keyboards.  While it works as a love song, it could also be about the game of the music business. "Step Beyond" could have stepped off the CD and not have been missed. Geoff Downes' toy synthesizer sound reminds me of something Will Farrell's Marty Culp would play, or an ice cream truck as it rolls through you neighborhood, or the Buggles. Fortunately, "To Ascend" puts us back in Yes territory with a slow ballad. (They may regret the line "as freed bird flies from the hand" when they play live, however). Many have put down "In a World of Our Own", but it has a jaunty rhythm and some funny lines--rather Beatle-ish. The moody and atmospheric "Light of the Ages" follows, written by a solo Jon Davison, who co-wrote all the others songs except for the Steve Howe penned "It Was All We Knew", a sort of English pastoral tune with the very catchy "sweet were the fruits/long were the summer days" melody.

Heaven and Earth closes with "Subway Walls." When I first saw the title, I expected it to be an odd-ball track. But it is one of the best on the album, certainly the most progressive, sounding reminiscent of "On the Silent Wings of Freedom" or "Shoot High, Aim Low." Given that Jon Anderson and Chris Squire were both big fans of Paul Simon, it seems apropos that this track, written by Davison and Downes, has some lyrical debt to "Sounds of Silence."

Heaven and Earth rewards the listener who is the owner of an open heart. No, it doesn't sound like classic Yes. It does sound like Yes, albeit a mid-temp mellower version. They lyrics don't rise to Mr. Anderson's (if I can get a bit New York Times-y) level of genius (Yes, I said genius!) , but they are well within the prog-rock template. The lyrics and melodies from Jon Davison are good but not quite surrounded by what Yes is capable of. From what I've read it seems that the recording time in between tours was too brief, the music isn't fully matured. For older fans who hold on to Yes of the 70's, let it go and, as Warren Zevon said, learn to enjoy every sandwich. And for the Heaven and Earth's new line-up, "as a stranger, give it welcome."


Tim L said...

"They may regret the line "as freed bird flies from the hand" when they play live, however."

Nicely done. :)

Stefano Mazzeo said...

Good and sensible review. I’ve been a Yes fan since 1972 and virtually every album since then has had mixed reviews, so it’s in good company. As a Catholic I’ve always been slightly concerned by some of the quasi New Age lyrics I put this down to an artistic fiction I simply love the music. I think Anderson may have been raised a Catholic so perhaps a few Rosaries in his direction might go amiss

Have a look at this link to EWTN’s trailer for the Crusades documentary we just finished for EWTN I got the idea for the end of the trailer music from the beginning of the South Side of the Sky – always one of my favourite pieces.

Stefano Mazzeo said...

Meant to say - I think Anderson may have been raised a Catholic so perhaps a few Rosaries in his direction might not go amiss