Yes is, if we are honest, in a kind of no-win situation with this new album, and with every album for ages.
Heaven and Earth, due in July 2014 from Frontiers Records, marks another iteration of the long-standing prog outfit, after the addition of current frontman Jon Davison. In keeping, “Believe Again,” released today as the first official advance sounds from the project, will be pulled apart in a way none of his earlier music has been. It will be turned over and examined with an obsessive vigor that’s out of proportion with any actual thing he and Yes might possibly be able to accomplish here.
But, that’s nothing new — even if it’s new to Davison. After all, Yes hasn’t put out another album like the career-making Close to the Edge since, well, Close to the Edge. That alienates a certain demo. They haven’t put out another album like the charttopping 90125 since … well, you get the idea. That bothers still another demo. They’ve put out albums that aspire to both, albums that vigorously deny the influence and importance of both. Albums that blend the two, and sometimes fail miserable in trying. Albums that resurrect old ideas, albums that seem bereft of any ideas whatsoever.
Uneasy lies the crown, and all.
But what of Davison, who wasn’t around for any of that — and has clearly (see tracklisting below) had a huge amount of input on Heaven and Earth? It will matter little. That various members of the current group were, or weren’t, won’t either. Yes is a brand, not a band. With the exception of bassist Chris Squire, every member has proven to be replaceable, or at the very least interchangeable. Guys come, guys go, guys come back and then go again, and Yes — always — goes on. Yet, these ideas about what their music should sound like somehow remain. It should be epic! No, wait, it should meld pop and prog!
And so, we have “Believe Again,” a song that sounds something like the music that co-writer Steve Howe has made over the years with keyboardist Geoff Downes in Asia — and something like the quietest moments of Davison’s tenure with Glass Hammer. Maybe, I don’t know, that placates the 90125 crowd. There’s also something, in Davison’s soaring vocals and consciousness-raising lyric, of early-1970s Yes to be found in this track — a salve perhaps for those who think there is no Yes without Anderson.
In the end, of course, it’s really not like any of that. But why, if we are honest, would it be? Even more particularly, why should it be? Those days are gone, as surely as is Anderson — and Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin, for that matter. Davison is only a part-time member of Glass Hammer now, and his tenure with the band was relatively short. The endless fascination, in the end, escapes me. Those albums have already been issued.
Forget all of that for a moment, and consider what the reaction to this new music would be, without the expectations. Without Topographic Oceans and Drama and Talk, and without Magnification. Without the name. Are these just the kind of uplifting, endlessly approachable post-prog ruminations that would have gained a whole new audience for some group called anything other than Yes? I wonder sometimes. I’m sure, about now, that Jon Davison is wondering it too.
Here’s the complete song rundown for Yes’ ‘Heaven and Earth,’ with writing credits …
Believe Again (Davison/Howe)
The Game (Squire/Davison/Johnson)
Step Beyond (Howe/Davison)
To Ascend (Davison/White)
In A World Of Our Own (Davison/Squire)
Light Of The Ages (Davison)
It Was All We Knew (Howe)
Subway Walls (Davison/Downes)