Yes. And no…

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Heaven and Earth, or Himmel und Erde is a traditional German dish of potatoes mashed with apple sauce, served with black pudding or fried sausages. What’s missing from Yes’s recently-released album of the same name is the meat (Linda McCartney onion and rosemary for me, thanks 🙂 ): several listens in, I’m quite enjoying the flavours but I’m still hungry, the latter being more than one can say about the cast of players on the album.

It’s a fine line between joy and mere contentment that divides H&E from its predecessor, 2011’s Fly From Here. I listened to FFH just today, and its fresh, vibrant melodies resonate in my mind as strongly as they did on first listen. It would be a mistake to suggest that the latter was a spiritual successor to Drama but it was undeniably a product of the same chemistry. In particular, the fingerprints of Trevor Horn are all over it in terms of the smooth production and emphasis on memorable melody. H&E is altogether a more restrained, low-key affair in the main. On the one hand, I salute Yes for, as ever, refusing to repeat themselves; on the flipside, I have to say I miss the passion and commitment that they so rarely failed to muster. Even during the ‘pop years’ with Trevor Rabin, one never doubted that the band were unwavering in their dedication to a revitalized, AOR vision of Yes, even when the results were not always to my taste.

The ‘no Jon, no Yes’ brigade will probably be quick to pin the blame on latest recruit (singer), Jon Davison; but that would be unjust: he does his utmost to get his ‘Jon‘ on and carries it off well enough- more so than Benoit David, if anything. The problem here is an overpowering whiff of complacency in the musical department. The closest the band come to old-school Yes is on closer, Subway Walls, which is a Davison-Downes composition, ironically (they’re the group’s two newest recruits). Much of the rest veers uncomfortably close to Asia at their ponderous, soulless, prog-lite worst. What we miss is depth, detail and cadence that, even if not immediately memorable, resonates and draws us back to listen again and anew. This is something that Yes mastered early on and that more recent exponents of ‘Art Rock’ from Opeth, to Fair To Midland, to Sweet Billy Pilgrim, to Everything Everything have done much better since.

H&E isn’t as bad as some critics might have one believe: it’s a pleasant listen and many Yes fans will enjoy it. But if this turns out to be the band’s swansong, it can scarcely be said that they’ve left on a high.

Is a far cry from:

And it’s the difference between applying cleverness to bolster a weak idea and enhance a strong one; albeit both simple.

More meat; less potatoes thanks…

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