Yes

Heaven & Earth

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The first time Yes worked with producer Roy Thomas Baker was on 1979's ill-fated "Paris Sessions," a group of recordings that was aborted when Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman temporarily left the band. Different versions of some of the songs ended up on 1980's Drama, produced by Trevor Horn, while others appeared on various members' solo records. Heaven & Earth is Yes' first new recording since 2010's surprisingly good Fly from Here, helmed by Horn. Singer Benoit David, who replaced an ailing Anderson, has himself been displaced by Glass Hammer frontman Jon Davison. At least initially, the latter's voice is nearly a dead ringer for Anderson's. Listening to Heaven & Earth makes one wonder about what happened to the spirited playing and vigor of rediscovery displayed on Fly from Here. This is as far from prog rock as Yes has traveled; it's even further afield than the pop experiments on Talk or The Ladder. With Baker at the helm, what transpires is a slick, edgeless, badly executed attempt at adult-oriented pop, and for that, you need real hooks, and none exist here. Alan White's drums are almost exclusively used merely as rhythm tracks; their mix is ribbon thin. Chris Squire's fat, distorted, roiling bass, which has been a guiding signature of the band's sound since inception, is reined in so much it is nearly generic. Steve Howe's use of volume pedals and cross-channel shifting -- even in his fills -- shows little of his inventive playing acumen. Geoff Downes' keyboards are so soft, decorative, and "pretty," they displace whatever energy the arrangements might have called for. There are a few places where Yes does come across as something resembling its former self: the musical architecture in the (first) bridge in "Step Beyond," the brief crescendo-building in the middle section of "Light of the Ages," and in the longest and final track, "Subway Walls." On the latter, after a sleepy two-minute keyboard intro, Squire's bass reclaims some of its authority and drives White's syncopated beats as well as enjoyable head-to-head interplay between Howe and Downes engaging in knotty twists and turns, resulting in solid organ and guitar solos. But one track does not an album make. This set makes one yearn for (some of) the prog excesses of old; Heaven & Earth is the most creatively challenged and energetically listless record in Yes' catalog.

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