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Subtle & Restrained
on 14 July 2015
It's weird. I bought this on its release a year ago (summer 2014) with eager anticipation. Played it three, four, five times, each time sounding more and more laboured on my ears, painful, tortured, terribly disappointing...
I let it rest nearly a year, and came back to it recently. It's the strangest thing. I am now playing it on repeat, enjoying the company of one whom I had, a little rashly, misjudged.
Is it simply the big adjustment you have to make to a new lead vocalist, having loved legend Jon Anderson since the '70s, and come to like the Benoit, Fly From Here, album more recently? This is certainly Yes in mellow-mode. It is avowedly not Close the Edge mk 2, nor Going for the One mk 2, neither Fly From Here mk 2. It is Yes in their (mostly) pensionable age! Heck, if I was in my upper 60s I think I would want to take a reflective, laid-back approach to life and creativity, too.
I still wonder whether Jon Davison's voice needs some extra dynamic in the mix: maybe more reverb (think Turn of the Century), maybe double-tracked, or something radical like a female backing vocalist in that unusual Anderson-esque mezzo-soprano register (after all Alan White's band successfully, to my mind, pulled off some live Yes material with a girl lead vocalist). But the fact that Davison's finished vocal is rather plain, and you might say lacking power, gives it a very human, accessible, organic quality.
This is humble Yes. And perhaps they deserve a bravo for that. The 'Earth' aspect is an honest, straight-forward approachability in the songs. The 'Heaven' is... I am now realising, subtle; four virtuoso instrumentalists playing with a kind of restraint that perhaps only comes with advanced maturity. Not showing off with the flashy stuff, instead opting for lightness of touch, and pursuit of the perfect tone. And I suspect JD, as singer and (usual, here) lyricist, displays his own kind of quietness that might emanate from personal spirituality - surely a requisite in the classic Yes tradition of Anderson's Cosmic Mind.
I must admit my new feelings about the album might be underpinned by the knowledge that Chris Squire is suffering from an illness and will pull out of the next Yes tour... you appreciate what you've got, and see (hear) it for what it is.
But a year on, I do now feel this album, after all, sit appropriately and appealingly as the latest chapter in the epic and extraordinary Yes saga.