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Yes - Heaven & Earth CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

2.37 | 558 ratings

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Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
3 stars OK, so those expecting the new Yes album `Heaven and Earth' to be a prog-rock blowout are in for a disappointment. Great. Now that's out of the way, let's move on and see if this album does anything right or worth bothering with, which of course the answer is yes! What we have here is the most gentle work from the band to date. Oh sure, some smart-ass listeners will gleefully rip this album apart, happy to dig the knives into a defining progressive band that have mostly been irrelevant for the better part of...many years now (add your own timeframe to when Yes lost you as a fan!) and look on them as an easy target. Yes' time as a cutting-edge, experimental and artistic band may be long gone, but that doesn't mean they are incapable of releasing something worth listening to. At least they're writing original material all their own, not useless cover versions most older pop/rock artists are forced to rely on, and that even includes some dismal efforts from prog bands that should know better.

Accusations that this is more soft rock/pop than true prog are absolutely correct, but look back, poppier softer tracks have appeared on Yes albums right back when they started in the late 60's, and have maintained through just about every one of their albums since then. The band now works in a fancy AOR style, but thankfully they're still offering music that sounds better and more intricate than anything a band like Asia have done recently. The key to any enjoyment listeners will gain from this disc will come from how much they can stomach pleasing, melodic and tastefully played adult rock music. It's frequently polished and perhaps a little overproduced to within an inch of it's life in many spots (early Queen maestro Roy Thomas Baker ensures this is a very lavish sounding release, much more `full' sounding that previous album `Fly From Here'), but to it's credit, almost every track on `Heaven and Earth' has a strong chorus with clever layers of group harmonies, melodies that really grow after several spins, and subtle playing with many moments of true Yes characteristics on display. Glass Hammer ring-in Jon Davison also comes out more successfully and with more personality intact with his Yes involvement than previous singer Benoit David did (a usually great singer in Mystery who got to display none of his real character at all on the previous disc), so let's hope he gets another chance to prove his worth in further studio efforts.

First track `Believe Again' is a little too sedate for an opener, a slow-tempo tune with a slightly drippy vocal, bland unmemorable verses and only the briefest of instrumental passages in the middle that is more of a tease because it never really launches, but thankfully on repeated plays the positive chorus harmonies prove very catchy and hummable. `The Game' is a stronger overall tune, a foot-tapping melody emerging throughout silky smoth verses with a positive chorus, Steve Howe's constant little electric guitar fills very joyful. With a looped Moog pattern that may drive listeners crazy, the jaunty `Step Beyond' is probably a little too cute and very repetitive. Some nice jazzy flavours and fiery licks from Howe almost save `In A World of Our Own', a fairly annoying `political statement/protest' song with some truly cringe-worthy lyrics, but the groaning stop/start keyboard crunch in the middle is pathetic and uninspired. Despite some of the melody drifting a little close to the Beatles `Eight Days A week', `It Was All We Knew' is kept simple and therefore easily the best of the poppier pieces, nice fiery guitar bursts from Howe throughout, a sun-kissed reflective lyric and an upbeat chorus that is hopelessly romantic in the Jon Anderson/classic Yes tradition.

The fourth track `To Ascend' is the first sign of greatness on the disc, a lush and thoughtful acoustic ballad that works best when it remains a little darker, and there's a nice heightened drama that gradually builds throughout around exquisite and varied group harmonies. `Light of the Ages' then thankfully dials up the prog, an intricate and dazzling arrangement that slowly unfolds through grand orchestral rises, ethereal guitar strains, gentle piano movements from Geoff Downes and a stirring vocal from Jon, making it a real triumph for the album. The album then concludes on the dazzling `Subway Walls', the proggiest piece with plenty of open spaces for the band to privide their own unique instrumental flourishes. Nice drum tension and build from Alan White, Chris Squire's chunky bass weaving forwards and backwards throughout, rippling Hammond organ runs from Geoff Downes and slow-burn guitar ugency full of flare from Steve. It frequently hints at the inspiration and potential that this current formation of the band could offer so much more than nice Dad-rock, and is possibly better than anything on the previous studio album.

Here's the thing...Yes have nothing more left to prove. They're one of the innovators of the first wave of progressive music that got the ball rolling, and they're responsible for some of the defining releases of the genre as well as a bunch of other solid albums. Their importance to prog rock is cemented, and they no longer need to try to challenge themselves or listeners with anything truly groundbreaking. But, if you have a lot of love for the different eras of the band, you may enjoy what is simply easy to listen to music from a band that is slowly starting to wind down. It's now looking like `Magnification' was their last truly impressive swansong, but it doesn't mean forgiving and understanding fans can't enjoy a set of undemanding and pleasing adult rock that makes for a decent background listen, and if you listen closely...there's still little tiny traces of that classic Yes magic waiting to be discovered.

Three stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 3/5 |


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