CD Review: Yes – Heaven & Earth

CD Review: Yes – Heaven & Earth
Frontiers Records
All Access Rating: B-

Yes - Heaven & Earth 2014
Flashes of the old Yes,the one capable of grandiose symphonic brilliance and sublime pop artistry, appear throughout Heaven & Earth, the progressive-rock institution's uneven 21st studio LP, released via Frontiers Records.

One such display is "Subway Walls," 9:20 of delightful left turns, a jazzy instrumental passage that flexes Chris Squire's muscular bass lines and is gilded by Steve Howe's imaginative, stealthy guitar exercises, and a beautifully engineered chorus that sounds surprisingly fresh and vibrant.

So does "The Game," this bright, mellifluous river of flowing, flooding pop sounds barely contained by artfully constructed guitar puzzles and expertly woven vocals, and despite its inane lyrics, the rising swells of piano, strummed guitar and Jon Davison's impassioned singing in "To Ascend" are particularly affecting. Jon Anderson's vocal doppelganger is in fine form here.

Too often, though, Yes seems uninspired, even goofy, on Heaven & Earth. And producer Roy Thomas Baker, so instrumental in helping Queen soar to great heights, doesn't appear willing to edit them. "Step Beyond" is a strange gum ball machine of bouncy synth blips that could be playful and child-like, but instead, it comes off as unfinished and lacking sophistication, as if Yes needed to fill time. And the lukewarm "Believe Again," the inactive opener, has extended periods of flatness, blank spaces of subdued, aimless noodling that's content to remain in the background, where it belongs.

While their Utopian ideals, warm nostalgic thoughts and dreams of a world where love extinguishes hate and selfishness are wonderful and high-minded, the New Age sentimentality of Yes occasionally goes too far, snuffing out the enigmatic whimsy that made the Yes of the early 1970s more likable. But when they shake off their torpor and find that spark of uninhibited creativity that's served them so well lo these many years, as they do on the ever-evolving, wildly original "Light of Ages" and "It Was All We Knew," Yes shows it's still capable of blending accessible songwriting and instrumental complexity in ways nobody – not King Crimson and certainly not Emerson, Lake & Palmer – else can, somehow managing to match the effusive color and alien imagery of Roger Dean's cover art with visionary, dynamic keyboards, crisp drumming, motoring bass and Howe's bottomless bag of guitar tricks.

Were they rushed in completing this record? It feels as if they were. Heaven isn't too far away for Yes here, but then again, neither is hell.
– Peter Lindblad

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