"Heaven And Earth" from UK prog legends Yes is unfortunately a major disappointment following the near-brilliant 'comeback' LP of "Fly From Here". What makes the stark difference between "Heaven And Earth" and "Fly From Here" is a mystery. It could be the producers Roy Thomas Baker vs. Trevor Horn. It could also be the lead singer; Jon Davison vs. Benoit David. It could also be the material itself or a combination of all of the above. One thing remains; the bass sound of the only original member of Yes; the late great Chris Squire.
For example, the song "Subway Walls". It starts with keyboardist Geoff Downes playing a very nice, basic layered synth intro. The bass & drums enter and the track becomes almost linear and not as exciting as it could have been. I am wondering if it's more the producer's fault more than the group itself.
Bonus track "To Ascend" is a nice acoustic based track, in which singer Davison sounds quite remarkably like original singer Jon Anderson.
All and all, the rest of the tracks on the CD musically sound more like the group ASIA, with a Yes tribute band singer. As a huge Yes fan, I found this LP sadly disappointing. Unfortunately, it's the last with Chris Squire. I think "Fly From Here" would have been a better CD to end your recorded works with, but the blame doesn't really lie on Chris Squire's shoulder. I think there is a lot of blame to go around.
This is the brand new studio album for Yes, their twenty-first. It's also the first for new lead singer Jon Davison. Personnel changes for yes are like anyone else changing their socks, but lead singers are always the trickiest. They can really change how a group sounds, particularly after a group has been around so long. I initially started to review this after only one or two listens, then decided that wasn't fair, and I have to say that this album DOES require multiple listens to really get an accurate grasp of what the group is doing.
Davison sounds very similar to Jon Anderson. At times, you might even think it was Anderson. The problem is, he just doesn't have the same power behind it. Anderson has always had this effortless strength to his vocals, and Davison is not there, at least not yet. There are many times in this album that felt like the music needed the vocals to kick into another gear, but Davison doesn't have it, and it really feels hollow. It's not that he's a bad singer, he's just doesn't sound ready...he's trying to be Jon Anderson, by would probably be better served creating his own style. He has potential, though, I would not be opposed to him returning for a future album.
Everyone else is a veteran of the group: guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire, keyboardist/"computer programmer" Geoff Downes, and drummer Alan White are all excellent musicians, and the "Yes sound" is certainly here. Sadly, there are no real set pieces here. There is no multi-track instrumental, there is no standout single...these are all fine album tracks that would fit into the last eight or nine studio albums with no problem, but nothing stands out. "Subway Walls" tries to come close, but ultimately it sounds like background music you might hear in an elevator. Fine, competent, unmemorable.
"To Believe" is a strong opener, with probably the best harmonies on the album. Downes' keyboards are fine on this track...I would have liked him to get a bit more out of his comfort zone, his playing feels very safe, almost contained. Yes is a very precise band, but it would be nice to hear them get a little louder, a little crazier, a little different.
A second version of "To Ascend" is the bonus track on the Japanese version, this one acoustic. It's a nice track, but I'm getting a whole lot more our of the acoustic version than the regular version, they are very similar, not something one would need to go out of their way to get.
One thing that I feel hurts the album is the backing vocals. Outside of the opening track, they generally strike hollow. They don't provide the pop that Davison is missing, and in need of.
Overall, this is a Yes album. It makes no effort to stand apart from the other twenty Yes albums, it doesn't try to emulate the best ones...it feels like a fill-in. It's fine, Yes-sounding music, but I was hoping for something more. Multiple listenings do help somewhat, but in the end, my attention wanders and I feel like I could be listening to something else, not the sign ofa great album. I will keep an ear out for their next effort, but won't return to this very often.