Heaven & Earth is the 21st studio album from Yes, a mark of an admirable durability that is especially impressive considering that half of those 21 releases have come since the punk tsunami that washed their brand of progressive rock clean out of fashion. Yes have survived the wave thanks to a revolving-door recruitment policy and the adaptability of the synthesizers that have always formed a hearty chunk of their sound (disco-pop anthem Owner of a Lonely Heart brought them their biggest international success in the 80s), but they haven’t threatened the charts since 1994s Talk. In 2014, with punk practically dead and Muse arguably the biggest band in the world, can a Yes album once again be a noteworthy event?
Opener Believe Again is, unashamedly, an old-school flares-and-perm prog rock song. Singer Jon Davison, appearing on his first album with the band, sounds a lot like original front man Jon Anderson (in high-pitched voice as well as in name). Here his yearning vocal blends with epic keyboards and a guitar solo that puts one in mind of Harold Faltemeyer’s theme from Top Gun.
When it targets the skies in this fashion, Heaven & Earth generally succeeds: Light of the Ages is a standout as an eight-minute swirl of multi-layered space guitar and piano, with Davison’s lyric telling of a “beacon shining across the cosmos”. Sadly though, there are as many duds as gems here. Misguided attempts at diversification fall flat when compared to the accomplished grandeur elsewhere. In a World of Our Own attempts a primal blues stomp, but falls unconvincing flat by paring back the trademark Yes range of sound. Similarly, the chirpy balladry of To Ascend makes it one to skip.
Thankfully the album closes big in every sense of the word. Subway Walls is what great chamber music would sound like if the chamber in question was on a UFO: a heady mix of off-kilter scales, pretty vocal harmonies, and virtuosic bursts from Steve Howe’s guitar.
Heaven & Earth shows that, when they stick to the epic sci-fi rock that’s been paying the bills for over 40 years now, Yes are still capable of making great music. But in its failed attempts at branching out, it also highlights why their 21st release is not likely to interest anyone who’s not already a committed fan.
Heaven & Earth was released on 21st July, for further information or to order the album visit here.
Watch a video for Light of the Ages here: