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Thursday, 24 July 2014

YES, ‘HEAVEN & EARTH’ – ALBUM REVIEW

The opening notes on Yes‘ 21st studio album are like sonic comfort food: Guitarist Steve Howe teases an ethereal melody, his delayed notes conjuring the mystical waterfalls and hovering spaceships of any good Roger Dean cover. But the blissful vibe is temporary — moments later, Geoff Downes enters with a blaring synth pad, while new frontman Jon Davison stretches awkwardly into cosmic goo.

But just when you’re ready to write off opener ‘Believe Again‘ as a lukewarm retread, the chorus arrives, bassist Chris Squire anchoring Davison’s feather-light cries with an earthy warmth; then midway through, Howe unleashes a sinister guitar break, punctuated by Downes’ fusion synth squalls. In eight minutes flat, the track manages to frustrate and delight in equal measure — exemplifying the overall half-excellence of ‘Heaven & Earth.’

The high points here rank among Yes’ finest work in decades — but reaching those heights is never easy. ’The Game’ is as solid a straight-ahead pop song as they’ve written since ’90125,’ riding a wordless vocoder hook and a lovely guitar fade-out — but it’s marred by a vague, hippie-dippie lyrical style and a paper-thin drum sound that might as well be looped from a Casio. The acoustic ballad ’To Ascend’ wastes Howe’s yearning 12-string and lovely harmonizing from Squire and Davison, weirdly transitioning to a bouncy, anti-climactic new-age chorus (“Taking the time on a wing and a prayer / A wounded bird in the hand / With the eyes of a child / Come to understand“).

The songs — most of the time — aren’t the problem; it’s the way they’re captured on tape. Roy Thomas Baker, the man who once helped Queen realize their most grandiose sonic visions, doesn’t aim too high on ‘Heaven & Earth,’ offering the band a computerized sheen that doesn’t fit their organic, muscular strengths. The album was supposedly written and recorded on a tour-looming time crunch, and it often sounds like it: Alan White’s drums are often surprisingly loose, and a few sections (the timpani-synth intro to ‘Subway Walls,’ the chorus piano on ‘To Ascend’) feel stitched together and slightly out-of-synch, suggesting the players were never in the same room together.


Read on..

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