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Yes - Heaven & Earth CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

2.34 | 589 ratings

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1 stars I feel like I've just eaten 40 kilos of gummy bears.

Like quite a few people, I didn't actually think Fly From Here was that bad. Sure, a lot of it was down to Benoit David, and the titular suite had enough glimpses of those stellar melodies from the last two Mystery albums that I love so much, but on the whole I thought the album was okay.

Unlike quite a few people, I have never really liked Yes, ever. Now, a whole lot of you are going to be shouting "then what the hell are you doing here! Piss off!", and I completely understand that. Yes are a band that have been constantly recommended to me, but aside from "Roundabout" and those aforementioned moments on the Fly From Here suite, I have never understood any of the praise this band has gained. And yet here I am, reviewing this new album from them, which has had near universal panning from fans and critics alike. I guess I'm a bit of a masochist - I regularly come towards these sorts of albums knowing I will hate the hell out of them with no expectations, just ready to write a scathing review. It's therapeutic, in a way, writing my feelings on such complete an utter garbage. Admittedly, this is nowhere near as fun as the panning I gave Transatlantic's Kaleidoscope earlier this year (an album which is no better than this), since everyone seems to hate this (not just me). But after listening to this album a whole two times (!) I can't help but feel that the sick feeling in my stomach wasn't worth any form of therapy, and to answer the people questioning why I'm here - I don't need to be a Yes fan to know that this album is mind-numbingly bad.

What gets me the most about this kind of modern symphonic prog revival music is how utterly vapid and empty everything sounds. From the fluffy synths to the light guitar lines to the bouncy bass to the soppy AOR vocal melodies, everything just sounds so inoffensive. If saying the word wouldn't get me stoned to death, I might even call it "gay", in both the modern meaning relating to flamboyant homosexuality and the traditional meaning relating to saccharine happiness. Listening to this sort of music is like watching a show like the Teletubbies - everything feels so joyous and happy and wondrous and amazing, but in such a fake sort of way, that you can't help but feel there's some seriously dark shit going on. Are Yes all collectively on laughing gas? Is that how they can make music so lifeless and empty and somehow be happy with it? Honestly, it's a better theory than most. One of my favourite writers, Conor Fynes, noted in his review that it feels like Yes are an insane villain after a brain-altering lobotomy, and I can totally get that vibe. Aside from bits on "Subway Walls" (which has a bunch of other problems to pull it down), all of this album feels like it was written on some mind-altering chemical, but not one of the ones that does anything exciting - more like an anaesthesiac or a sleeping pill.

In terms of the vocalist change, I was actually happy that Benoit David left, if only for the reason that his fantastic voice is better suited with more competent songwriters, but Glass Hammer's Jon Davison as a replacement only made me even more expectant of this album's inevitable failure. Although I know some people who condemn this album and love Glass Hammer's work, I have always felt the same sort of disdain towards them as I do to Transatlantic or The Flower Kings. They're all competent musicians, but none of their music has any sort of punch, it just kind of floats around in the clouds being happy, with synth lines in 7/8 and long winded guitar solos coming along for the ride. Davison isn't a bad vocalist, but his voice to me is so utterly uninteresting that it just sort of meshes in with the uninteresting synth and bass and guitar and drums to make some sort of uninteresting soup. Benoit David has a real knack for a strong vocal hook, so even though the music surrounding him on Fly From Here was as soggy as half- hour old weet bix, he managed to punch his way through the clouds to bring some rather pretty and memorable melodies to the table. Davison has no such skill, unfortunately.

Most of this album just sort of floats by aimlessly without much really happening, all at the same level of emotion (read: none). But I think that when you have music that is completely flat, the terrible moments that come really, really stick out. The synth line that runs through "Step Beyond" is absolutely atrocious. It reminds me of the sort of "music" sounds you'd find in a children's toy, and it's kind of tolerable for a while, but when the kid starts pressing the sound button every five seconds, you have to resist the urge to grab the toy, furiously it apart, smash the batteries and make the child drink the acid from your bleeding hands. It's just that maddening. And it makes everything else in the song so much worse - like when someone does one thing to annoy you, and then you start getting annoyed at literally everything they do. The vocal melodies on it are just so cheesy and pathetic, like they're from a children's sing along show when the kids are learning the names of the colours. And then there are the guitar lines, which really just feel like Steve Howe is playing them because he's expected to as a guitarist. "Oh yeah what key are we in? Oh ok, I'll just play a scale at the end of every bar. Luckily I can still remember what a scale is!"

I think calling this music 'progressive rock' is an enormous push, and not just because it's really poor. There are longer tracks here, but most of them just feel like cheap AOR songs extended to nine minutes because "Yes are supposed to have long songs". There are no diverse or interesting parts here, no groove changes and no great song structures. This, to me, is exactly like those bands that call themselves "prog" because they have synthesisers and moronic concepts. Genre-wise, this album is like every terrible symphonic prog revival album from the last 10 years, but without any of the prog in it. Of the three "prog" tracks here, none of them really do anything other than go in one direction and keep going. There is no climax, no build, just a linear progression of lifeless to lifeless. The first minute of "Subway Walls" is literally the only time this album reaches out of generic AOR, but once that poor organ line comes in, it's straight back to nothingness. But it's not just the terrible prog - "In a World of Our Own" sounds like an 80's pop song, but it hasn't even got a super-catchy chorus to go with it. I recently did sound tech for a musical production of ELO's failed Xanadu album, and I can tell you that every single one of those songs beat this, because although they were cheesy as hell, they embraced it and used it to be super fun, but this is just so half-done, even as a pop song.

So is Heaven & Earth really that bad? I really want to say that no, it isn't, since it's just empty music, not the worst thing in the universe, but the truth is that this album does leave me feeling physically ill. It's is so basic, it's so flat, it is so uncomfortable. On the whole it's just there and it's inoffensive, but there are little moments like the "whooaa whoaa" in the back of "The Game" that turns that nauseous feeling into a little bit of bile at the back of your thought. I would compare this to adult contemporary, but honestly half way through this album I'd give anything to hear Celine Dion come in and put some damn life into it. When I picture this album being played, I picture a bunch of old men sitting down in their rest home waving their arms in sync to "whooa whoaa". There's just no punch to anything here, and in the little moments where we hear a guitar line with a bit of energy (there's one in "Step Beyond"), the rest of the instruments just do nothing to match it, especially Jon Davison's voice. While I can't exactly say this is the worst thing in the universe, I think that music that is so lifeless and so middle-of-the-road deserves such a low score, especially since this is clearly just a cash-grab album and an excuse to tour. Sickeningly soppy and worth every bit of the hatred it's getting.


Originally written for my Facebook page/blog:

Gallifrey | 1/5 |


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