Mirror To The Sky


Inside Out, 2023


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


For five decades now I’ve greeted every new album released by progressive rock titans Yes with a mixture of excitement and anxiety.

Excitement, because the band’s 1970-77 classic period will always stand among my favorite sequences of music produced by any band, anytime, anywhere. It was a group hitting on all cylinders, populated by five masters of their craft who challenged and demanded the best from one another.

Anxiety, because ever since that era, the group has struggled to deliver anything close to that level of quality, building and dismantling lineup after lineup in search of the old magic or some contemporary equivalent.

When the reunited classic lineup of Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, Chris Squire and Alan White shone brightly in 1995-97 and 2002-04, my optimism returned. When Wakeman left (again) and the others split with Anderson (again), I told myself it would be temporary (again). When the lineups kept shuffling, I told myself that change could be good. When first Squire and then White passed away, I told myself that nothing lasts forever and took solace in the fact that both men had hand-picked their successors.

And before another paragraph passes, let me pay due respect to the group’s current lineup. Steve Howe’s guitar work during the band’s ’70s heyday was absolutely tremendous and earned him every bit of recognition and respect he has enjoyed since. Keyboardist Geoff Downes has had a very successful 50-year career in Yes and Asia and is by all accounts a great bandmate. Jon Davison sings the Yes classics in concert as well as anyone other than Anderson himself ever has. Bassist/harmony vocalist Billy Sherwood is one of the big reasons Yes still exists at all, having helped to keep the flame alive more than once over his 30-plus years of involvement with the group, and remains one of the world’s biggest Yes fans. Finally, drummer Jay Schellen stepped in capably for Alan White in recent years and has demonstrated both the chops and the power to play Yes music with authority.

No doubt all five are excited about this album’s chart performance; in recent weeks it hit #4 on the UK Rock Albums chart and #7 on the US Current Rock chart. A performance that, after listening to Mirror To The Sky several times, I can only conclude has as much to do with the enduring value of the Yes brand as it does with the music this album contains.  

The group’s previous outing, 2021’s my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Quest, was an improvement over 2014’s dreadful Heaven And Earth, though that’s a low bar. The group’s 23rd studio album Mirror To The Sky attempts to build on that foundation with longer songs—three clock in over nine minutes—whose scope appears intended to hark back to the epic stylings of classic Yes. The results, however, suggest a band that is still struggling to define itself.  

As with its predecessor, Mirror To The Sky opens with its strongest track and first single. Davison/Sherwood composition “Cut From The Stars” features punchy “lead bass” from the latter, a Squire disciple, and solid momentum. That’s the good news; the bad is that Howe has sanded every edge off his guitar tone to the point where it’s positively antiseptic, and Downes’ presence barely leaves a ripple. Next up, the nine-minute “All Connected” opens in slumberland, bogged down by a tempo that remains painfully slow until its third minute. When the engines do fire up, Sherwood’s bass and harmony vocals are again the only really notable elements.

“Luminosity” digs the hole further with a ponderous cadence behind a tedious lyric on a track that feels the heavy hand of album producer Howe, who weighs in with a meandering, overlong solo rife with the same arcing, melodramatic sustained notes he’s been leaning on for a couple of decades now. And “Living Out Their Dream” is an embarrassment, a musically disjointed Howe/Downes composition whose Howe “duet vocals” represent still another lapse in judgment (sample couplet: “Romeo loves Juliet so much / It’s Hollywood in double Dutch”).

The 14-minute title track opens with a welcome dose of fire, especially when Sherwood comes in strong around a minute in. Davison doesn’t show up until the third minute and Downes might as well not have bothered; the keyboards here could charitably be described as basic. By mid-song we’re trapped in a vortex of blandness with the rest of the group plodding along behind Howe; when he begins running scales, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that a more accurate name for this lineup would be The Steve Howe Band. At 12:50 the core group musters for a brief jam that’s solid, but also too little, too late. The album closes out with Davison’s “Circles Of Time,” a pleasant but low-impact acoustic ballad.

Worth mentioning also is this album’s “bonus disc” of three additional tracks. It should surprise no one to hear that all three are Howe compositions that feature him on co-lead vocals and sound like they belong on one of his solo albums. They’re at least presented in order of quality; “Unknown Place” features solid ideas and playing, but “One Second Is Enough” is lightweight prog-pop and “Magic Potion” sounds like a demo with a handful of overdubs.

Still, the biggest problem is that there is barely a melodic hook to be found on this entire album. Whether a song is short or long, repetitive or evolving, its memorability ultimately rests on the quality of its melodic hooks, both vocal and instrumental. And hooks are as rare four-leaf clovers here; after multiple listens, the only musical element on this entire album that has stayed with me is Sherwood’s bass line on “Cut From The Stars.”

The not-so-secret ingredient of classic Yes was the way that world-class collection of players challenged and pushed one another musically; precious little of that tension and interplay is evident here. The current lineup sounds more like Asia—a group co-founded by Howe and Downes—than the classic Yes whose work secured the band’s place in progressive rock history. Mirror To The Sky is an album full of beige from a band that used to paint in rainbows.

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2023 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Inside Out, and is used for informational purposes only.