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Monday, 18 July 2011

REVIEW: Yes - Fly From Here [2011]

The first thing I heard about "Fly From Here" was when I was looking up Yes tour dates, and I thought 'Wait what, Jon Anderson left? That sucks.' I then thought 'Huh, their current singer is from a Yes tribute band? That's weird.' And then I thought 'What, they're making an ALBUM with him? Oh dear lord.' It seems Yes truly have come full circle by getting members for their band from bands that were made to celebrate the music of their band. Yeah. Nevertheless, "Fly From Here" is a Yes album and I will review it as such, but expect my two cents on their vocalist situation a little later on.

"Fly From Here" is the first album by progressive rock gods Yes since 2001's "Magnification", an unexpectedly jazzy album which made use of a full orchestra. However, the big thundering trumpets have been dropped for their 2011 effort, and instead the title track is a largely reworked and expanded version of a demo track that was floating around in 1980, when half of The Buggles were part of the band. The reason this track has been used, though, is because those two Buggles - Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn - are back along with Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White, returning the band to what is essentially the "Drama" lineup. Well, "Drama" is one of my favourite Yes albums, so "Fly From Here" should pick up where that masterpiece left off, right?


As far as 24-minute progressive epics go, "Fly From Here" is far from epic. Yes, the instrumentation is very nice, the various choruses are almost catchy and the song sounds very good, but it just doesn't feel big. If I were to listen to, say, "The Gates of Delirium", it would be an experience that would take me on an adventure, leaving me mentally and emotionally drained at the end. "Fly From Here" on the other hand feels more like three 6-minute tracks bookended by an overture and an outro. And furthermore, certain parts of the song (particularly "Sad Night at the Airfield") are very tepid, and somewhat lack the trademark Yes energy that we've come to love over the years. I'm sure that could be attributed to the simple fact that Yes are getting old, but even as recently as "Magnification" the band have sounded youthful and energetic.

And speaking of energy, the singing. When "Drama" was released, most reviewers made a point of the fact that Trevor Horn sounded a bit like Jon Anderson anyway. And given that new singer Benoit David was from a Yes tribute band, it stands to reason that he will too. And he does. David is certainly a good singer (I've listened to live versions of older Yes songs and can attest to that), but his vocal performance on "Fly From Here" sounds somewhat uninspired. The only songs on which he puts any real "Oomph" into the vocals are "Life On a Film Set" and "Into the Storm". And in places on the album, his singing is almost drowned out by the backing singers, Squire and Horn.

Which brings me onto another point: Trevor Horn produced the album, as he did on "Drama" and subsequent releases. He contributes backing vocals to most tracks. He wrote about 8 of the 11 tracks on the album. He's even in the band photo in the liner notes. Why didn't he just join the band? In performing backing vocals, he clearly proved his singing voice was still intact, so why did the band feel the need to recruit a completely new singer for the album? Although I don't think David particularly harmed the quality of the album, he didn't exactly contribute much either (your writing skills are bound to be stunted somewhat when you've been singing other people's songs for 20-odd years).

As for the tracks I haven't mentioned, there isn't really much to be said about them. "The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be" is a rather un-Yes ballad, as is "Hour Of Need". Solitaire is a Howe solo guitar piece reminiscent of "Mood For A Day". "Life On A Film Set" is good once the chorus gets going (the backing vocals contributing a lot to the sound of the 'Riding a tiger' line), and "Into The Storm" sounds like a continuation of the title track (the central motif of 'and we can fly from here' even making an appearance.

Overall then, this 'new' Yes (except the title track is 30 years old) sounds like a much calmer version of 'old' Yes, but without the energy and simple craziness which made old Yes loveable. If you're a Yes fan, go for it. Otherwise, ignore.


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