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Yes - Fly From Here CD (album) cover




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3.41 | 1057 ratings

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3 stars For all of the strange twists and turns in the history of Yes, there is nothing, nothing more bizarre than the saga of Benoit David. To understand how we ended up with a Drama semi-sequel in 2011, we have to do a little rewind, and the best place to start is 2004.

After the 2004 35th Anniversary Tour (captured on the extremely entertaining Songs from Tsongas 2-DVD set, which featured a terrific 30-minute acoustic set in the middle: you've never heard "Roundabout" until you've heard "Roundabout" as a slow acoustic Chicago blues), I really believed that Yes was done, and I was ok with it. Everybody went off to do various projects that hadn't been a possibility while Yes was endlessly touring; Anderson did some solo touring, Squire briefly reunited with The Syn, Howe did some work with Asia again, and there was even a strange union of Alan White, Tony Kaye, Billy Sherwood and Jimmy Haun (the guy who subbed in for Howe a lot on Onion, not exactly the best thing to be known for). 2005 saw the release of the Word is Live boxset, but 2006 and 2007 passed with nary a peep from the band as a unit, and I was perfectly happy at the idea of the band, after such a tumultuous history, heading into retirement after having ended on such a freakishly high note with Magnification and the 35th Anniversary Tour.

In early 2008, though there were rumblings that Squire and Howe were cajoling Anderson to get back on the road as Yes, and plans were announced for the band's "Close to the Edge and Back" tour (with Oliver Wakeman replacing his semi-retired father on keyboards). Reading Anderson's descriptions of what he had in mind made me eager to see them again: among other things, he said that he wanted to maintain the presence of an acoustic set, and was thinking about arranging stripped-down acoustic versions of all four tracks from Tales. He also indicated that the band was working on new material specifically for the tour. I was so eager to go see this concert that I purchased a ticket for it for July 18th 2008: this date is significant because I was willing to go see Yes again rather than see The Dark Knight on its opening Friday, and I REALLY wanted to see The Dark Knight.

Then the unthinkable happened: Jon Anderson suffered acute respiratory failure weeks before the tour was scheduled to begin, and was told he needed to take six months off, which of course meant no touring. This did not sit well with the others: there were rumblings that Howe and Squire had been waiting on Anderson for a while, and they weren't ok with the idea of waiting on him more. The band was going to go out on tour somehow, and a singer was needed, Anderson's feelings be damned.

The band's solution for finding an Anderson stand-in was to scour YouTube for clips for Yes tribute band singers. Eventually they settled on Benoit David, a French-Canadian singer (who sounded like a cross between Anderson and Horn) with the tribute band Close to the Edge (and his own band called Mystery). With a singer in hand, the band prepared to tour, but they also seemed to recognize this as an opportunity. When I went and saw Maybe (my pet name for this version of Yes) in December '08, I was fascinated by the feel of the first half of the show: it had a bit of a scampish, "when the cat's away the mice will play" kind of feel to it (the second half felt more conventional, unfortunately). The band actually resurrected Drama material ("Tempus Fugit" in the first half of the show, "Machine Messiah" in the second, making it the only rarity in the second half, aside from a decent new Squire-song called "Aliens are Only Us from the Future"), as well as "Astral Traveller" (which was, uh, almost 40 years unplayed) and "Onward" (which, surprisingly, had only been played in the SLO shows prior to this). I was glad David was there: he seemed almost heroic, taking on the daunting task of filling Anderson's shoes, and I felt he would go down in history as a fine caretaker for the role that would be returned to Anderson some day.

Two things developed that left a sour taste in my mouth. The first was that, while I thought the band would take Anderson's opportunity to explore several nooks and crannies of the band's history that he didn't want to touch anymore, the band didn't bother to expand its setlist any further than it had in that initial tour. The second was that Squire announced the band would be going into the studio with this lineup, which meant that Jon Anderson had just been booted from Yes the same way Mike Pinder had been booted from The Moody Blues in favor of Patrick Moraz almost 30 years earlier. This was cold: at least Anderson had already left the band when the band recorded Drama. I was not thrilled, to say the least.

So the band headed into the studio, with Trevor Horn signed on as producer. In the midst of recording, a couple of other issues surfaced. The first was that the band decided to fire Oliver Wakeman and replace him with ... wait for it ... Geoff Downes. Yup, The Buggles were back together again! The second was that the band was apparently short on new material: according to the credits, one new track ("Into the Storm") was apparently written as a band (including credits from Wakeman and David), but otherwise, the material attributed to the Howe/Squire/White trio consists of a solo guitar piece from Howe ("Solitaire"), an okayish Howe ballad ("Hour of Need"), a ballad co-written by Squire and one of his Syn-mates (as well as another guy), and what appears to be a goofy chord sequence Howe had been messing around with (more on that later). So how on earth were they going to fill out the album? By mining old material, that's how. Serious Yes fans know, of course, that the title track comes from "We Can Fly from Here," which appears on the Word is Live boxset and was actually the song that Horn and Downes wanted to give to the band in the first place (Squire added some contributions to it as well). What they may forget is that Horn and Downes recorded a second Buggles album after Drama, and that there were a few unreleased demos floating around from the Adventures in Modern Recording sessions. Listen to the bonus tracks from the 2010 reissue of that album, and this album suddenly makes sense: "We Can Fly," "Sad Night at the Airfield" and "Life on a Film Set" all originate there, and apparently so does "Madman at the Screens" (though there's no recorded demo for that included there).

The album's big statement, of course, was to take a bunch of those old scraps and build a 24- minute suite, making it the longest Yes song ever if you count it as one track (and I guess it should be). In a way, I find the idea of making this into a suite a little bit silly; I really doubt that "We Can Fly," "Sad Night at the Airfield" and "Madman at the Screens" were originally conceived to go together, and the "binding" aspects of the suite (the "Overture" that's an instrumental version of part of "Madman," the reprise of "We Can Fly" at the end, the brief "See?!! We're still prog!!!" snippet of "Bumpy Ride") seem a little forced. Plus, for all of Geoff Downes' good traits (I may hate the bits of Asia I've heard, but I still love his Drama work, and I sure like me some Buggles), he isn't exactly the ideal keyboardist for arranging a suite that lasts more than 20 minutes. And yet, from having listened to these tracks in order so many times, I find they've become one in my mind, and I have to admit that I ripped them as a single track and only listen to them as such at this point.

I would have to say that I consider all three "main" parts of the suite good, though only "Sad Night at the Airfield" approaches greatness, mostly because of Howe's incredible pedal-steel work and some really atmospheric melody twists. I've always thought that "We Can Fly from Here" was good, but even when I considered it the superior of the two "new" numbers from the Drama shows (and I don't now: why couldn't the band have figured out how to work "Go Through This" into this album??), I felt it was a little underwritten lyrically ("And we can fly from here" is repeated too much in a way that makes it feel like a demo where Horn forgot to finish the lyrics and used this as a placeholder) and not quite as lovely as it intended to be. Still, it's got its rousing moments, and it sure is nice to have a clear recording of the track with Howe's nice rhythmic bits jumping out when emphasized. As for "Madman at the Screens," well, it's a little goofy, but it's goofy in the same quasi-romantic/nostalgic way that I find "Elstree" from The Age of Plastic, and I definitely like it. It's remarkable, if nothing else, how David is able to nail Horn's singing style from old.

So the suite is what it is: not great, but definitely good, and a fascinating attempt to make what is old seem new again. The second half is a little better for me, anyway. I'm not an enormous fan of either "The Man You Always Wanted Me to be" (the aforementioned Squire ballad) or "Hour of Need," but I wouldn't skip them either. "Man" is at worst a pleasant piffle, and while "Hour of Need" is a little too blatant in its use of the "Your Move" guitar sound and a little too tacky in its attempts at social commentary lyrics, it does have some nice singing and a decent melody. "Life on a Film Set" (formerly "Riding a Tide," almost note for note) is really good, though: it starts as a slow, majestic, acoustic ballad with keyboard underpinnings and turns into an up-tempo punctuated by repeated "Riding the tiger" vocal interjections. I'm not 100% sure that's David singing (though maybe Horn just has prominent harmonies/overlays), but whoever it is, I enjoy the performance.

"Solitare" is a perfectly enjoyable Howe acoustic piece: it'll never be as iconic as "Clap" or "Mood for a Day," and I can't say for sure I'd have noticed it in any other context, but it seems like a nice inclusion here. The band probably saved the best for last, though, and it's nice to hear a track that the whole band actually had a part in writing. "Into the Storm" almost starts off sounding like Free Hand-era Gentle Giant, jumping from a brief guitar/keyboard/bass line totally different from what I'd heard from Yes before, then heads into another keyboard sound I haven't heard much from Yes, before settling into the main song, centered around interesting instrumental textures and the best vocal harmonies on the album. There's just something really heartening about the use of David's voice in the "Armies of angels are leading me on ..." parts in the context of all the group harmonies, and there's enough going on underneath the "normal" song parts that, when it transitions into a mostly instrumental lengthy coda, it feels totally natural. Of course, I find myself rolling my eyes a little at the forced "epic sweep" of David singing "And we can fly from here" a few times over the coda, but this bothers me less than it originally did. And to think I once considered this one of the album's low points.

So for all of the craziness that went into making this album, the overall result is something that's definitely well above average compared to the rest of the world, but not especially noteworthy in the rankings of Yes albums. This isn't to say that there isn't a lot of good on this album: there are good songs, and David sounds just fine, and the instrumental parts seem perfectly fine (Howe doesn't force himself upon the sound much, but I don't mind that), and the production is ... fine. And yet ... if you're going to go through all of the absurdity that happened leading up to the making of this album, wouldn't it seem like a good idea to have some more new songs ready first? Plus, well, I'm disappointed that it undoes the possibility of Magnification serving as a terrific swan- song. Still, I definitely like the album far more than not, and I can easily see lots of Yes fans loving it. I would also say, though, that if you like this album but dislike The Buggles, you're a flaming hypocrite.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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