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Yes - Heaven & Earth CD (album) cover

HEAVEN & EARTH

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

2.37 | 523 ratings

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AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
2 stars All bets are off, believe the hype? Yes opt for pure pop and AOR!

Nothing wrong with a bit of nice pleasant music, with nice pleasant harmonies, nice pleasant lyrics with a nice pleasant album cover. Nothing wrong at all. This is an album to throw on after a hard day's work, with your feet up and a cuppa Hazelnut Coffee. Aaah yes, this is so relaxing, so peaceful. Not much Prog to wade through, no complex musicianship to adjust the ears to, easy to comprehend lyrics, just a pleasant mind relaxing album that lulls you into a dream. Only problem is this is Yes we are talking about; the band that brought us complex Progressive classic albums such as "Fragile", "Relayer" and "The Yes Album" (Starship Trooper is still my all time fave Yes masterpiece), the band that brought us masterful conceptual treasures like "Tales From Topographic Oceans" (one of the most revered or maligned Prog excess albums, depending on your tastes), and epic music such as Close to the Edge. Even the last effort "Fly From Here" at least embraced some prog and had one colossal epic to indulge in (a great track heard live by the way, a genuine highlight of the 2012 Melbourne concert I attended).

Let's look at the content of this music that kind of blends in as one huge syrupy dreamy AOR excursion (even my wife who shuns Prog would love most of this and it would sit proudly in her collection alongside her other easy listening music such as Michael Buble, and Guy Sebastian, rather than all that "dreadful King Crimson, Hawkwind and Van der Graaf Generator rubbish that you always listen to!")

There are some highlights on "Heaven and Hell... er... Earth" amidst all the commercial music, but you have to open your ears wide to find them. Light of the Ages stays with me in a good way and Howe showcases some skilful guitar work, and the melody is a grower. The opener Believe Again definitely stands out as a gem with a gorgeous melody and lovely keyboards from Downes and excellent lyrics that are uplifting but still leave room for intelligent reflection. Yes, Yes, this is a great song, and one worth hearing for sure, so the album opens with a killer track; although not progressive I love the keyboard sweeps, Howe's awesome riffing, and Jon Davison's vocals are supreme.

Subway Walls is one of the definitive highlights with a touch of innovation in the time sig and Squire's bassline is totally cool. It sounds like the band have a spark of creative ideas shining through here with a wonderful instrumental break, and Jon's voice is excellent and the switch into half time feel works perfectly. Howe even shines with some really great guitar licks, and it has the feel of a majestic atmosphere in the likes of And You And I (though not a shadow of that masterpiece, mind you). But this diversion into innovative musicianship is actually an annoyance as it shows what the band could have produced on the whole album, yet the album closes with this track and it is too late to salvage the album with a mere three decent tracks.

The lowlights are many, oh so many, but they still grow on the listener, like fungus on a toadstool. I speak of dainty ditties such as the maddeningly sugar sweet saccharine strains of It Was All We Knew, sounding like a Summer drive down to The Partridge Family's mansion. It languishes lyrically in lala land with "Sweet were the fruits, long were the Summer days, it was all we knew" then the harmonised "all we knew" chimes in on cue; surely the band are capable of better than this. I could envisage this being played on the radio and competing nicely with anything by The Eagles, or Air Supply, except they have better songs. Heck, Asia came up with better than this, and I can envisage all the pretty ladies in the crowd dancing to these boilers. White's drumming is so restrained he sounds like a session musician, he hardly strays from a straight 4/4 beat from the get go. I know you can play White, I heard you once in concert.

Let's talk about The Game, so lovely yet so dull, I think if Rick Wakeman heard this he might laugh and say "these old codgers have really lost the plot". Yes can play no doubt, nobody can take that away from them, but here they have abandoned everything that made them stand apart as innovators and shakers of prog rock. The lyrics offer very little worth pondering, "I am standing here at your door with all my defences down, we all know the rules the game must fools still we play the same as if our days remain" and "the love we gave along the way, along the waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay". Cue the nice guitar music and harmonised dadadas and lalalalas. Oh, by the way bot fades out; can you believe it, a Yes song that fades out, how droll.

Next is Step Beyond with a torturous synth line that is akin to the 80s synthpop sound at its absolute worst. The lyrics are sung in a corny rhythmic time to the music "you told me so, if I don't let go, I'll never know, what freedom brings" then there's the cheesy chorus "beg, steal, run, and hide." Oh this is so sing songy its ghastly, and it has a dance feel; I can see the band bopping to this. I guess it is a happy song, but oh so hackneyed. Howe tries to save it with a cool guitar lick but it's not enough. It was at this stage on the album that I looked over at my HiFi system and saw globules of honey dripping down out of the speakers.

As To Acend began to play I swear I saw sugar raining down from the ceiling. This is the song to raise up the lighter to, or these days it would be an iphone, and we wave it as we all sing in unison. Ahhhhh isn't this lovely, so peaceful, so interminably clichéd and saccharine. Where is the innovative ground breaking thought provoking lyrics we have come to expect? On Starship Trooper it was "Sister bluebird flying high above, Shine your wings forward to the sun, Hide the mysteries of life on your way", but now on To Ascend it's "taking the time, on a wing and a prayer, a wounded bird in the hand, with the eyes of a child come to understand, I will open the book, raise the pen, let it reinvent my life again, take me from where I am, as a free bird flies from the hand to ascend, to asceeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeend". Of course a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, I get it. In that section alone there are at least 3 clichés and it just comes across as lazy song writing. In A World Of Our Own is not much better with "right back where we began, why can't we be like we were then, living in a world of our own, living in a world of our own, living in a world of our own, living in a world of our own". You get the picture, and it pretty much just locks onto that idea and the band seem content with that. Okay, that's' another one in the can, boys, next!

It is such a safe album, nothing innovative really to speak of, no power. It doesn't have enough power to knock the fluff off a peanut. Howe plays it safe, Squire plays it safe, White plays it safe, Downes is always safe so no surprises there, actually everybody plays it safe, and it has the unmitigated effect of alienating us old Yesaholics, and I am not sure how it will affect those newcomers to the band. If they heard "Topographic" after this their brain might go into meltdown. So Yes have gone the way that Genesis did in their final stages and it is not an experience that will please the older Yes fanbase.

Don't compare Yes to their past glories? Why not? They are Yes! Not some band rising up from the overcrowded AOR scene. Yes! Well, that's my take on this and the album will sit very nicely alongside other mediocre Yes projects such as "Union", "Talk" and "Big Generator". At this stage I had to think is it actually the worst Yes album? Let's see. Is it worse than "Big Generator"? On that album I had heard Rabin saying on the documentary that this was the most difficult album he had worked on, with a foot note to the fact that Anderson hated the changes in direction and musical differences were creating tension in the ranks. Okay, "Heaven and Earth" is not quite THAT bad. Is it then as appalling as "Union"? That album was a catastrophe, and album producer Jonathan Elias should be lynched by the prog community for deliberately replacing Wakeman and Howe's solo prowess with inferior so called session musicians, creating a hyper soundscape of saturated noise. Is it then as bad as "Talk"? No, cos at least Trevor Rabin is not on "Heaven and Earth". So it's perhaps the 4th worst Yes album, but that is no consolation. Nor is the awesome Roger Dean cover; which is false advertising; a promise of the great Yes of old which simply doesn't deliver the goods. 3 songs save it from a complete disgrace, but as an old Yes fan I was bitterly disappointed and I did not have high expectations after reading the reviews. However I expected something better than this. If I want to hear syrupy commercial easy listening music I will put this on, and it will remain in pristine condition as the CD will rarely leave its cover.

Ah well, it's only music. So let my passionate opinions rest at that, after all it's only an opinion, and I don't have to listen to this album again. I can always put on the 70s classics such as "Fragile" and revisit the glory days when Yes blew my mind and were the ground breaking movers and shakers of the Prog scene. Despite their pitfalls, Yes will remain in my heart as an essential brilliant band that I will always cherish.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 2/5 |

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