At what point are Yes in their career? The long-running prog rock group has not quite become the triumphant stalwarts of their genre like Rush, nor have they become a parody of themselves through embarrassing late-career albums. The mark that Yes has left on the musical landscape is just as unsure; not quite the “dinosaur rock” that has become the ire of many a modern music maker, but it’s not like you’ve heard an artist cite Closer to the Edge as a major influence in the past five years. Perhaps the best place to look for Yes’s influence is in metal, but, if that is so, the genre only takes the general idea of the group’s music seriously; the subtle and more poppy elements that came to define the group’s best work has all but been forgotten. As far as modern music is concerned, it’s difficult to see whether the sway of one of the greatest bands of all time spans beyond just an ace catalogue.
It is for this and many other reasons why Yes’s first album in ten years, Fly From Here, sits so awkwardly with me. While I fully embrace the idea of a comeback from this technical pioneer, in practice, the advantage/disadvantage spread in the album’s layout is just as contradictory as those aforementioned qualities. Fly From Here’s central concept comes from a song that Rick Wakeman replacement Geoff Downes and producer Trevor Horn had been working on before each joined Yes the first time around for 1980’s Drama. Here, it is presented as a twenty-minute song split into five parts, a presentation that would befit a classic Yes mentality. However, Yes frontman up to this point, Jon Anderson, has bowed out due to vocal complications and has been replaced in the dubious Journey style of recruiting a singer from a Yes cover band by watching YouTube videos. While Fly From Here would indicate a return to form of sorts for the group, it also seems like it’s setting the stage for some serious musical stagnation.
And, unsurprisingly, the album’s quality ends up somewhere in the middle. For however interesting the first five “Fly From Here” tracks are, they do begin to sound like they’re going through the motions with only one familiar vocal melody to draw the listener in. While I appreciate the sentiment of these four tracks, much of them could have been spaced out across the album or just omitted entirely. Luckily, though, the album also features a second half of better, standard Yes songs. Benoît David, the new singer, sounds how you’d expect him to: an eerie Anderson copy who brings no new musical ideas to the table. Nevertheless he’s competent, especially in the group harmonies, which are dead ringers for the ones on 1983’s excellent 90125. Remaining members Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White all have their moments. White’s percussion is nimble and fresh throughout, Squire’s bass is particularly lush on “Life on a Film Set” and Squire puts in a moving acoustic performance on penultimate track “Solitaire”.
In terms of great, complete statements, though, Fly From Here is seriously lacking. It’s a very uneven album, so for every time you have a genuinely interesting vocal melody in last track “Into the Sun”, you’ve got David singing about riding a tiger on “Life on a Film Set”. The five-part “Fly From Here” series may center on a catchy hook, but I doubt you’ll walk away from the album remembering anything other than it. From the die-hard Yes fans to the ones that have never heard of them, Fly From Here will invariably come off as a disappointment, which again makes me ponder its existence. Hardly a comeback album, but hardly a debacle, Fly From Here shows a Yes that is giving it a harder try than most of its peers, but only coming up with just slightly better results.