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FLY FROM HERE

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

3.45 | 793 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
3 stars 'Fly From Here' (60/100)

At the time Fly From Here was first released in 2011, my Yes fandom had been largely restricted to their classics. I enjoyed Yes' first (and last) bout with singer Benoit David at the time, but admittedly, I wasn't versed enough in the band's lore to fully appreciate the weight of Yes releasing another post-70s album that wasn't crap. To be fair, Yes had only truly slipped on 2.5 albums (Union, Open Your Eyes and the first half of Talk) but they hadn't anything great outside of Magnification either. On a more subjective note, I never shared the enthusiasm most seem to have for the Jon Anderson-less Drama, so another album without him probably would have been met with apprehension, had I only been hearing about it now.

The comparisons between Fly From Here and Drama don't end with irregular vocalists. For one, it's virtually the exact same membership as it was on Drama; one-time keyboardist Geoffrey Downes reprises his role. Although Trevor Horn relinquished his vocal duties to Benoit David here, he returns here as the record's producer. Most importantly, the impressive prog-pop epic "Fly From Here" was largely written by Downes and Horn in 1980. While nothing on Fly From Here reaches the heights of "Machine Messiah" or "Tempus Fugit", it's a far more consistent record than Drama ever was. What's more, to hear a band releasing solid material across six decades is a rare sight. Fly From Here is never excellent, but it's plenty enjoyable.

The most obvious strength in Fly From Here's favour is the twenty minute title suite. Yes have never shirked away from the risk and rewards an epic potentially offers, and even during their otherwise weakest moments (such as Talk), they've managed to do some pretty great things with longform composition. Even compared to their other post-70s epics, "Fly From Here" is irregular. Whereas everything from "Endless Dream" to "That, That Is" and "In the Presence Of" aimed to create a singular, start-to-finish impression, "Fly From Here" is very compartmentalized- three of the parts within could be experienced as self-contained songs outside of their epic context. The upbeat, central theme "We Can Fly" stands as arguably being the most memorable and immediate single Yes have crafted since "Owner of a Lonely Heart". It's pleasantly contrasted by the more in-depth and melancholic "Sad Night at the Airfield" which, in turn, is sent up by the quirky pace and tone of "Madman at the Screens". The whole thing is held together by the overture and reprise, which draw ideas from the three central parts in a fairly satisfying way. The only part of the "Fly From Here" suite that seems out of place is the aptly titled "Bumpy Ride", an instrumental climax composed by Howe that seems intent on giving the epic a proggier flair, but lacks the tact and intensity to properly accent it.

Fly From Here's title piece is among the more impressive statements Yes have made in their post-glory days career, and while it doesn't have the challenging depth or ambition usually associated with a progressive epic, they make the poppier approach work really well in an epic context. Unfortunately- as it tends to be with albums who devote a side to a suite- the half with shorter songs is nowhere near as memorable or imaginative. Everything from "The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be" to the would-be "Tempus Fugit" pep-finale "Into the Storm" better-represents Yes as they are in the 2010's. There are signs of promise here, including another great Howe acoustic in "Solitaire", but the songs rarely generate enough momentum to make the music interesting. "The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be" has some strong vocal hooks, and "Into the Storm" has more energy in the performance than the song is probably worth, but ultimately, the second half to Fly From Here seems to be content with simple decency. No matter how many times I've listened to the second half of the album, nothing seems to really stick. It's as if that small part of my memory is wiped clean every time I finish listening to it.

Being the major fan of Jon Anderson that I am (I think his Olias of Sunhillow is probably better than any album of Yes'), I have a hard time imagining Yes without their perennial frontman- Trevor Horn offered a fair performance on Drama, but nothing could really replace Jon's space cadet antics. To date, Benoit David is the least compelling vocalist Yes has had, and I can see why they dropped him in favour of Glass Hammer's Jon Davison. Even so, the man's range is gracefully suited to Yes's music; his straight-laced vocals are probably closer to Trevor Horn's example than Anderson's, and from what I've seen of this era's live performances, Benoit didn't seem to have much of a stage presence. He fills the role without really being exceptional, although the relatively lower-register vocals and rich harmonies on "Sad Night at the Airfield" give me the impression that the Canadian singer could have lent a stronger performance if he hadn't been so aware of the boots he was meant to fill.

Fly From Here is Drama, Part 2. It's the simplest, most succinct way I could describe this album to someone, and expectations they would have towards the album wouldn't be far off. Nothing's as great here as "Machine Messiah", but nothing's as puzzlingly bad as "White Car" or "Does It Really Happen?". Whatever Yes' intentions were with this album, they created a solid release that should keep fans engaged for a few hours, before its immediate charms wear off. Compared to other progressive Yes albums, Fly From Here doesn't have the replayability I would hope for. Regardless, it's solid prog-pop fare, and is probably better than most of us were expecting it to be.

Conor Fynes | 3/5 |

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