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Yes - Heaven & Earth CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

2.36 | 582 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Like so many others, I eagerly anticipated the release of this album. I only became a Yes fan in June of 2011 (I knew of Yes ever since "Owner of a Lonely Heart" was a hit) but how rapidly my interest in their music took on. My Amazon order history shows that I ordered "Fragile" and "Close to the Edge" in mid-June as my first purchases of Yes albums, and before August was done I had wrapped up purchasing all the studio albums, including a five-disc digipak of "Keys to Ascension" and the non-Yes album by Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe. Ever since then, Yes have been my favourite band second only to Rush.

Unlike so many others who have followed Yes' career since their glory days in the 70's, or at least since the 80's, I acquired their entire studio catalogue in two and a half months and not only read the Wikipedia article on them, but also read reviews of each album and purchased Chris Welch's "Close to the Edge: The Story of Yes". So as I listened to all this "new" music, I also gained an understanding of the band's history and the general opinions of each album. I knew there were some like "Open Your Eyes", "Big Generator" and "Union" that were going to test my music enjoyment boundaries. Nevertheless, each album always had a couple of songs that I felt like listening to frequently enough.

I was disappointed but perhaps not surprised really to read all the negative reviews that "Heaven and Earth" had garnered. Yes fans tend to be extremely critical of Yes music, and where other lesser bands may receive more favourable reviews for more mediocre material, Yes are unforgivable for producing anything that doesn't live up to the "The Yes Album" to "Going for the One" period. So once again, disaster!

But I don't think so. "Heaven and Earth" is less "prog" than much of their previous releases, including "Fly from Here". It's gentler and softer than many songs in their catalogue, and the musicians rarely seem interested in showing off their skills as masters of progressive music. However, I find myself enjoying the songs for what they are, in spite of the fact that this album is overall more cheery and light that what I usually choose to listen to ("Heart of the Sunrise" is more like my style).

The focus on this album would seem to be melody and that supported wonderfully by Yes' trademark vocal harmonies. From the first track of the debut, Yes established themselves not as a band with a lead vocalist and backing vocals but as a band with a lead vocalist and harmony vocals. Three voices sharing the lead to create some wonderful harmonies to complement the melodies of the songs. This can be heard throughout much of "Heaven and Earth" with "Believe Again" being my favourite of the lot.

I had some concern about Jon Davison as the lead vocalist because on Glass Hammer's "If" I felt he lacked the emotion and depth of Jon Anderson (who it seemed he was intentionally trying to emulate). But I haven't felt that here, though that may be thanks to the strong harmony vocals provided by Squire and Howe. As non-Anderson line-ups tend to last for only one album, I would welcome a second album with Davison on the lead mic.

Addressing the issues of lack of prog or rock, it's true that traditional Yes moments are found only here and there and not up to full potential at that. The "prog" instrumental section in "Believe Again" sounds promising at first, but Steve Howe only repeats the same runs on his fretboard and Geoff Downes sounds ready for a wild keyboard solo but only lets of a couple of finger flashes across the keys. There's a bit of a rock section in the first half of "Step Beyond" which sounds great as the song's opening is very candy floss, and two of the most out-of-place-for-Yes songs "In a World of Our Own" and "It Was All We Knew" actually let Steve Howe play something that sounds almost like he's still got it. As almost everyone has pointed out, "Subway Walls" is where the music gets a proper prog treatment, and one wonders if Yes hadn't done that on at least two other tracks then would this album have scored a star or two higher.

I agree that this album is softer, more cheery, and makes the great musicians in this band sound a little tired. At times, especially Steve Howe seems to have run out of ideas, and Chris Squire doesn't really start moving until "Subway Walls". However, I also know very well that Yes albums from "Tormato" onward tend to disappoint before they reward. Many people who didn't like "Drama" at first now praise it and even "Fly from Here", which received so many unkind words upon its release is now seen more favourably by some.

Perhaps all the negative reviews helped brace me for what was to come, but I am enjoying this album so far. True, like with Deep Purple's "Now What?!" and Rush's "Clockwork Angels" the initial honeymoon feeling will wear off and only a few songs will be invited for regular additions to daily playlists. But for now I like it and I accept it as the latest chapter in Yes' history. As if to affirm this, I went ahead and ordered a ticket to see Yes in November. I hope they play a few songs from the new album. It would be a shame to have it brushed under the mat and replaced entirely by the nostalgic classics.

FragileKings | 3/5 |


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