Heaven and Earth appears to have divided Yes’ fanbase like no album since 1973’s Tales from Topographic Oceans

Share this:

“If you could see all the roads I have travelled
Towards some unusable last equilibrium”**

Yes fans can be loyal, and they can be passionately discerning. As moderator for the Yes Facebook fan page Notes From the Edge — spawned from the online Yes fan journal I led from 1993, which I put on hold when the NFTE Facebook page was created — I see the gamut of reactions to anything posted about Yes. This is due to the fact that it’s the major (and probably only) Yes Facebook page where fans can give opinions pro or con, and only risk getting banned for unwarranted posts, like personal attacks. Passion can have a way of bringing out the worst in people. But it can also bring out the best, resulting in many contemplative and well-reasoned posts.

One decision I made when I created the FB NFTE page was to not let fans post directly to the wall — and that turned out to be a very prescient choice, because if anyone could post then moderating the page would have become a full-time job, and a nightmare considering the severance of Jon Anderson from the band angered a lot of fans. But even with that barrier, certain users seemed to make a point of doing everything they could to derail any post, regardless of the content: “no Jon/no Yes” they would say, and while I could understand their passion their subversive intent was both randomizing and misguided. The original point of any topic would get lost as the thread degenerated into arguments and insults between fans on both sides about “no Jon/no Yes.”

While I could accept thoughtful comments where bringing up Jon Anderson was related to the topic, I loathed the fact that these people were driving others away. Depending on the day, I personally would be accused of being against Yes because I was pro-Jon (not true), or that I was anti-Jon and was pushing singer Jon Davison (also not true). Fortunately there are many out there who don’t filter posts through their agenda prism and can see the forest for the trees, and it their participation that keeps NFTE on Facebook alive.

“If you were there you would want to be near me
Innocence, you could hold the materials
And though nothing would really be living
It would shock your fall into landing light”**

Whereas the “no Jon/no Yes” topic still has a way of rearing its ugly head, it has dissipated somewhat. Anderson’s recent announcement of collaborating with Jean-Luc Ponty (his Kickstarter fundraising campaign reached its goal earlier this week) and the release of Yes’ Heaven and Earth, with Davison contributing songwriting and lead vocals, indicate that for the time being at least any screams for Yes to “get Anderson back” isn’t a viable option. All the yelling is simply wasted breath.

While original Anderson replacement (or, as Chris Squire had indelicately put it, “stand-in”) Benoit David’s main role was to sing, Davison plays a much larger part in that his musical ideas unequivocally shaped Heaven and Earth. With that deeper level of integration within the band, it will be difficult to replace Davison with yet another non-Yes member should he leave for any reason. That said, depending on Anderson’s activities at the time, bringing him back might be Yes’ only option — albeit one that in all likelihood would be driven by money, not artistry.

Regardless of anyone’s stance on Anderson’s departure, it was Benoit David’s joining the band that kept Yes going, and those fans who support the current — or any — lineup really owe a debt of gratitude to him. Ironically those who rued the day when David joined would later support him in the unfortunate way he was fired: like Anderson, he got sick, and was startlingly thrown under the bus when Squire revealed David’s demise in an interview, going as far as to almost gleefully tell his interviewer that he got the scoop.

“You were keeping your best situation, an answer to—yes.”**

However, early reaction to Heaven and Earth indicates that this album will be Yes’ most polarizing release since Tales from Topographic Oceans. From the posts on FB NFTE, it appears that the division is almost evenly drawn. I would give the edge to those who don’t care for the album, as those seem to outnumber the album’s supporters — but, in my estimation, not by a lot.

While the expected (and tiresome) “no Jon/no Yes” responses occasionally pop up in threads about the new album and current tour, many fans who don’t care for the album make it clear that Anderson not being in the band wasn’t a factor for them: Many enjoyed 2011’s David-sung Fly From Here, which a great many said they thought was better, and that they even like and support Davison as singer. Those fans felt vindicated when, in a recent interview, Davison (perhaps inadvertently) articulated the reason for fans’ displeasure for the new album: that Yes wanted to “ease back into some almost relaxing music.”

It’s true that Yes has produced calming music in the past. Good examples include stand-alone tunes like “Sweetness” or “Onward,” or pastoral passages in large-scale compositions including “I Get Up I Get Down” from “Close to the Edge.” While acceptable in that context, those who don’t care for H&E indicate having a hard time tolerating that much “relaxation” for an entire album. (One unfortunate but memorable comment is representative of those who go even farther in their vitriol for the new album: “To call it easy listening implies that it is easy to listen to.”)

“And the moment I see you
It’s so good to be near you
And the feeling you give me
Makes me want to be with you”**

At the same time, there appear to be a large number of fans who either enjoyed the album when they first heard it, or found that it grew on them after multiple listenings. That’s another link to TFTO, in the sense that when it was released in 1973 the album separated casual Yes fans from the true believers. Those who support and even defend H&E accept a change in pace, a more easy listening album that they enjoy for what it is — even if it did thwart their expectations.

But to be fair, TFTO was somewhat of a natural progression from the Close to the Edge album, while Heaven and Earth was a more marked departure. More to the point, Tales from Topographic Oceans was released only a few years after Yes formed while H&E faced fans who had followed the band for literally decades, with a great many hungering for the challenging compositions with recurring themes and melodies that made them devotees in the first place.

Many on FB NFTE speculate that the “relaxing” tone may be specific to this album, and the next one might be altogether different. This could very well be the case but, if Yes’ output is any indication, that might not happen from a historical standpoint. Looking over the entire Yes catalog it appears that for the last few albums — even those with Anderson — Yes hasn’t rocked out as much as it did in the classic years. Singer aside, this is the lineup that created 1980’s Drama, and that album had its share of rocking.

Even the two unrecorded songs performed on the Drama tour rocked. The introduction to “We Can Fly from Here” may have started off more “relaxed,” but the song built from there to some real rocking. To these ears the idea of expanding it to a suite (for the album Fly from Here, of course) wasn’t successful, and there are hints that in retrospect even Yes (or certain members at least) weren’t enamored with the end result. These include their comments in interviews, and the fact that they haven’t often returned to material from that album since.

Consider that FFH could have easily been one of the albums on the “three album tour,” and if Yes strongly believed in it, then its inclusion would have been a no-brainer. But recording music is fragmented process while rehearsing/performing isn’t, and it was probably far easier to revisit what they’ve played a gazillion times (even if played in order) than it was to rehearse the entire album anew — and heaven help those who would have experienced the entire Fly From Here album at the beginning of that tour as Yes has a history of not allowing enough time to rehearse, ironing out the kinks at paying customers’ expense.

But by not including FFH as one of the albums, Yes lost a plum opportunity to arrange each of its songs for live performance, which they could have included on future tours. (Perhaps the fact that FFH featured David on vocals gave them an easy out for eschewing those tunes, though to be fair I personally haven’t seen any band comments that support this notion.)

Perhaps Yes should consider bringing back “We Can Fly From Here” with the original arrangement intact. Legend has it that this is the song that the Buggles wrote for Yes, which in turn led to their joining the band when Anderson and Rick Wakeman both quit. Yes should forget the suite, and perform the original, great piece of songwriting intact — and inject some fresh energy back into their set.

The other unrecorded Drama-era tune is one of the rockiest songs Yes has ever done: the high-octane “Go Through This.” It’s appropriately short, there are no softer passages (it does quiet down at one point but is far from “relaxed”), and ultimately it speeds through like a supersonic jet. Yes would surprise and delight fans if they resurrected that one as well. But it leaves the question unanswered: can Yes create new music that truly rocks as they have in the bygone days of the past?

“Run like an athlete and die like a dead beaten speed-freak.
An answer to all of your answers to–yes”**

With regard to the songs that appeared on Drama the one that rocked best start to finish was the closer, “Tempus Fugit,” I have no insight into what the lyrics mean, but upon inspection they could be interpreted as relating to the band in transition after Anderson and Wakeman left — and on reflection could also apply to producing the more laid back Heaven and Earth. Rather than connect the dots here I’ll let the reader determine if they too can see some correlation, or if it’s a stretch.

Either way, Yes again find themselves standing at a crossroads. One can hope that this excursion into a less challenging album is just the band exploring a different side, and next time they’ll come roaring back with an album that both rocks and rocks a LOT — as well as revisits the level of excitement their compositions have generated in the past. On the other hand, if Yes thought Heaven and Earth was successful on any level — be it popular, artistically satisfying, or whatever — it might encourage them to continue along this same path, possibly losing some fans while gaining others.

What will happen next in the Yes story? It might be a while before we see a new album, but the polarization created by this album should keep fans posting on forums like FB NFTE busy until then. And before you know it — well, as the saying goes … time flies.

“If we wait for an answer
Will the silence be broken
Should we wait for an answer
Do we leave it unspoken”**

** Lyrics from “Tempus Fugit” (Howe, Downes, White, Squire, Horn) © Island Music Ltd., Topographic Music Inc.

Article ©2014 Mike Tiano. All Rights Reserved.

Mike Tiano

Mike Tiano

Best known for his work with the Yes-related fan page Notes From the Edge, Tiano launched the official website YesWorld and has written liner notes for several of the group's reissues. The Seattle resident is recording tracks for his upcoming album 'Creetisvan,' and is an expert on movies, TV, prog rock, and the Beatles. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mike Tiano
Share this: