Classic progressive rock fans can’t expect a cutting edge release from Yes this late in their career. The pioneering British rock band that formed in 1968 and helped spearhead the progressive rock wave of the late 1960s and early ’70s now releases an album every few years or so, as if dutifully doing their taxes.
The new album Heaven & Earth – my vote for the blandest album title of the year – is the first with lead singer/lyricist Jon Davison. He replaces founding member Jon Anderson, who has gone solo again. This latest full-length is so light and passive (dainty even), it is nearly void of any signature progressive rock musicianship, let alone any defining Yes flourishes.
Sure, Chris Squire’s anchored bass guitar still provides a solid platform for the band to work from, and Steve Howe’s flashy fret work still thrives with a seasoned confidence, but so lazily are these contributions offered, along with Alan White’s barely distinguishable drumming, the performances sound as if they were lap-topped in from the four corners of the globe.
Loyalists may have a challenge warming up to singer Davison’s freakishly spot-on impersonation of Jon Anderson, the ageless choirboy voice of Yes on such classic albums as Close to the Edge and Fragile. Davison’s vocals sound only like an accomplished enactment – he was the lead singer in a Yes cover band – and his cosmically light lyrics rarely invoke the striking imagery fans would expect from Anderson.
If pressed, one could kindly describe Heaven & Earth as a pleasant, if unadventurous album. Keyboardist Geoff Downes’ pretty and linear playing seems insistent on keeping this garden free of any progressive growth. Songs like “It Was All We Knew” and “In a World of Our Own” have a pop likeability unfortunately diluted by the drowning remnants of progressive rock. One wonders what might have been had the songs been more fully charged with a steeper degree of drama and flash.
Here’s hoping the next Yes album will be more creatively significant.
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