Album Review: Yes/Fly From Here

Posted: January 9, 2012 in Album review: rock
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The roots of the new Yes album, Fly From Here (2011) go back a long way – way past the release of their last, Magnification (2001), back as far as 1980. Even the cover art (a welcome return by their graphic artist-in-residence, Roger Dean) is a painting begun in 1970 and only completed prior to the album’s release. It is possibly this direct line to their past that makes Fly From Here the most satisfying Yes work in decades – which is surprising considering the absence of a key member, a member many long-time fans consider the spirit and soul of the band.

After the original 1970’s prog rock legends lineup split, Yes replaced their vocalist and keyboardist with new members Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn (of the ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ band, The Buggles). Prior to joining Yes in 1980, Downes and Horn had recorded a studio demo of the song ‘Fly From Here’. It is this song – now expanded to a 25-minute, six-part opus magnum (well, it is prog rock after all) that opens and names the new album.

It is ironic that Yes is chiefly known for their 1983 hit ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ – a single which was a complete departure from their earlier orch-prog sound, but one they had to make in order to survive in the arid, less fragrant landscape of the post-punk years. However, the tougher guitars and hooky pop smarts remain and rein in much of Fly From Here, keeping it on the rails.

Which doesn’t mean the rails remain straight, or even parallel – they never have with Yes. Odd time-signatures, tight and tough musicianship (check bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White for chops on chops) and tricksy contrapuntal riffing still abound. So do the lush sonic planetscapes that prog-fans expect from Yes in particular, and the genre in general. Check the 4/4-7/8-12/8 math-rock of ‘Part IV – Bumpy Ride’ or the rhythmic shifting sands of the long coda to album closer ‘Into the Storm’ (a piece that for the most part has clipped along in brisk pop-rock 4/4 – but good proggers like Yes just can’t help themselves).

In ‘Solitaire’, guitarist Steve Howe gives us another of his tasty classical guitar miniatures, recalling 1970’s ‘The Clap’ or Fragile’s (1971) ‘Mood For A Day’. These pieces are always a joy – jaw-dropping technically but always good-timey and folksy.

Vocalist Benoît David’s vocals throughout are perfect Yes – high tenor, spacey and angelic, as we have come to expect. But here is the very strange thing about this album: David is not Yes’s vocalist; he is a guy from a Canadian Yes tribute band, who for the past ten years has imitated Yes’s inimitable singer, Jon Andersen, for a living. Strange days indeed, mama.

Story goes: original Yes vocalist Jon Anderson has serious health issues prior to 2008 tour; management and band still want tour to go ahead; band recruits another Jon Anderson, albeit a tribute band version, in Benoît David; Anderson (kinda understandably) gets shits, leaves band; Fly From Here recorded in 2010 with Non-Jon Anderson.

The remarkable thing is Benoît David’s vocals are superb – where he needs to sound like Anderson he is pretty much perfect: tone, timbre, vocal idiosyncracies (he even finishes his ‘r’s with Anderson’s Lancashire-American-sounding roll) – and when he needs to sound like himself, he brings a deep clarity to his delivery, as on ‘The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be’.

However, as good as he is, David could never come up with Jon Anderson’s wonderful trippy-dippy lyrics – which to many fans have been one of the delight’s of Yessongs. Preposterous, spacy, loony and utterly transporting, lyrics such as “Bluetail/tailfly, Luther/in time, Suntower/asking, June cast/moon fast” (from 1972’s ‘Siberian Khatru’) have always been close to Yesfans hearts.

Yet, even with more workaday lyrics such as “Every day that you waste/Is one more that you’ve lost”, Fly From Here is a wonderful return to form for Yes – easily on the same level in every way as Relayer (1974) and their best work from the 70’s. And as with jazz, it is so nice to see a form such as prog still moving forward, its weighty legacy still light on its back.

Published August 2011 on theorangepress.net

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