Seminal Prog Rockers Yes deliver album #22 in a discography spanning over fifty years.
Release Date: 19th May 2023
Label: Inside Out Music
Format: digital / CD / vinyl
Longevity in the music business is a rare thing, especially in the current age of immediate self-gratification. Having been in existence for over fifty years, Yes has seen it all. The fact that they’re committed to making new music in 2023 is certainly commendable, but they have a certain legacy and expectations to live up to. Arguably an impossible task.
Guitarist and longest-serving current member, Steve Howe has talked in the recent past of how he considers 70s Yes as the embodiment of what the band is about. That’s a very long time ago. For many, 1972’s Close To The Edge proving the milestone (or millstone around the neck?) that’s inevitably brought up whenever new Yes music appeared over the following decades. The reason Bill Bruford quit the band as he thought they’d peaked. Maybe he was right all along all those years ago.
2023 finds Yes a long way from the edge; the lineup over the years having gone through regular shifts to the extent now that many see the current Yes as the Steve Howe band. Keyboard player, Geoff Downes has some history with a well-stamped passbook and with new drummer Jay Schellen making his debut and Billy Sherwood on bass replacing dearly departed members, there’s a fresh sheen about the current Yes. And while Jon Anderson plows his own furrow, performing the classic Yesongs with the crack Band Geeks, seemingly unlikely ever to be part of the touring Yes again, Jon Davison provides the distinctive tones required to at least make the words he sings sound like people expect Yes to sound.
Of course, Yes is all about evolution. As it would be with any band that’d lasted fifty-plus years. While most of us hark back to times when we had our favourite lineup – many opting for the Anderson / Howe / Squire / Wakeman / White period – but the notion of growing and moving forward has always been part and parcel. As the song itself says, perpetual change. Since their classic 70s period, the studio output has been a little on the patchy side, but at least there’s been a Yes to moan about!
New music for the 21st century hasn’t been kindly welcomed – the mixed reviews for Heaven & Earth and the Fly From Here/Return Trip pairing possibly influencing the lack of new material until 2021’s equally lukewarm reception for The Quest, but with the bit between their teeth, there’s a swift follow-up on Mirror To The Sky. Touring has focussed on ‘classic albums’ and the heritage; much the same one might argue for the Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited tours where his own continued solo putout is almost tolerated while the audience awaits his Prog Rock heritage.
Meanwhile, we have Mirror To The Sky. It certainly looks like a Yes album with the Roger Dean design and classic logo, although the title font is a little peculiar. A glance down the song titles sees several Prog Rock ‘mini epics’ for a modern age – ie, ‘longer’ tracks that brush the ten-minute mark plus the almost fourteen minutes of the title track. Seems the Yessers want to musically stretch themselves out again. It comes with the aim of countering the gentler, contemplative side of The Quest with a more aggressive edge as one album literally flows into the other in a generous burst of creativity. It’s these tracks that naturally grab the attention.
The shorter tracks have a light sprinkling of fizz and fire – some sharp and spiky lines jut out of Living Out The Dream while Circles Of Time is Jon Davison leading the way on an acoustic interval. Mid-paced is the order of the day, leaving the longer pieces to do the spadework of which Howe shines on the title track, conjuring up the sort of spirit that he might have channelled on a regular basis on Tormato or Going For The One in the opening instrumental flurry. You can picture him hopping about, head pecking style that threatens the front rows of the concert halls. Orchestral sweeps and stabs from FAME orchestra that might been at home on Magnification make their most significant contribution.
Some lush melodies lie at the heart of All Connected, the trademark Yes harmonies and busy percussion offering an alternative to Davison’s trademark gently cushy vocal. Luminosity has a seasonal (well, Christmassy feel). Maybe an edited version for the festive market – backed of course, by Run With The Fox. A cool pedal steel guitar part is a most welcome reminder of some of the similar outstanding slide work in the Yes canon and thoughts of a ‘Steve Howe’s best pedal steel parts’ feature). Unknown Place visits a place where the jazzy and funky feel comes with stabs of Downes’ Hammond sounds and an insistent riff that allows for the keys and guitar to duel away in a call-and-response treat. It may even harken back to the early days of Yes at some points
Special mention and gold star though to Billy Sherwood a man of the match performance with his bass playing, it being almost ‘more Chris Squire than Chris Squire’. The promised aggression might need some seeking, but his trebly and growling bass might be the source of what we seek.
If nothing else, the band has always been the subject of some sort of healthy debate. Do we need new Yes music? Perhaps proof that Yes is still valid and actually ‘can’ make new music. Maybe not essential, some might argue that Mirror To The Sky is totally the opposite, while reaching for their copies of Tales From Topographic Oceans. BUT – ever wanted to know what a band who’ve been going for over fifty years sounds like? A journey through the Yes legacy confirms that perpetual change, and whether it be for good or bad, no-one can argue that they’ve stuck to a formula.
Here’s All Connected: