The Quest

Yes

Inside Out, 2021

http://www.yesworld.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/12/2021

The challenge in reviewing a new Yes studio album in 2021 is clear: do you try to assess it in isolation, or in the context of the five-decade history of the pioneering progressive rock band whose name it bears? Your mileage is likely to vary significantly depending on which path you take. So, what the hey—let’s give a try at doing both.

The Quest is the first studio album from the Yes lineup that has been in place since the 2015 death of bassist/harmony vocalist/cofounder/keeper of the flame Chris Squire, a figure many regard as irreplaceable. His replacement would likely agree; after all, by the time Squire hand-picked Billy Sherwood to be his successor, the two had been friends and musical collaborators for nearly 30 years. The iteration of the band Sherwood stepped into is now led by longtime guitarist Steve Howe, with longtime drummer Alan White, keyboardist Geoff Downes and lead vocalist Jon Davison filling out the lineup.

The album kicks off with considerable energy as anthemic synthesizer fanfare and searching electric guitar leads announce “The Ice Bridge,” a dystopian fantasy narrative about a group of people fleeing environmental disaster. The early verses are interspersed with a repeating synth/guitar motif as muscular, assertive bass burbles underneath. In the later going, the guitar and synths trade rippling solos over a steadily circling rhythm section. It’s a solid seven-minute slice of modern prog, with strong dynamics, lacking only a powerful resolution; the closing section simply until it exhausts itself.

If that energy and sense of dynamics had persisted, this would be a stronger album. Instead, it quickly dials back into an easy-going mid-tempo groove that rarely wavers the rest of the way. “Dare To Know” offers a gently lilting melody that repeats umpteen times, at times doubled by orchestration that adds dimension but little more. The verses offer nice three-part harmonies, but there’s no build to the song, just variations on the same until the track abruptly fades down to a 45-second acoustic guitar fugue that feels tacked on (“Oh, let’s stick that bit over here”) rather than like a proper coda.

“Minus The Man” slumbers along for five and a half minutes, orchestrations offering the only real flair in this appropriately cool but also rather faceless tune about the rise of technology. “Leave Well Alone” attempts a higher gear initially, but quickly downshifts. The vocals are mostly chanted in the early going, an odd choice that sometimes feels flat, until at 2:45 they return to the opening figure, which is appealing but carries little bite. The final third of this eight-minute Howe number features a long, fluid, at times rather Wes Montgomeryish guitar solo with Hammond and bass providing melodic color underneath—agreeably dreamy in places, though the tempo never exceeds “deliberate.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“The Western Edge” features a playful vocal arrangement with Davison, Sherwood, and Howe’s voices moving in and out of focus as swirling synth and slide guitar decorate the fringes. It’s more pleasant than rocking, but it works. “Future Memories” is a haunted acoustic ballad with pinpoint slide accents, pretty enough if rather plain. “Music to My Ears” is yet another mid-tempo number with slumbery pace, a sing-songy vocal melody, a bridge that feels like it was inserted from another song entirely, and producer/songwriter Howe making the unfortunate choice to insert himself on co-lead vocals. Closer “A Living Island” is an airy piano-and-acoustic-focused mid-tempo number that sounds more than anything like mid-’80s Christopher Cross. The lyrics explore a lockdown theme, espousing universal sentiments about the value of community and “everyday heroes unseen” before the song again ends abruptly, without any real conclusion.

Curiously enough, the album includes three bonus tracks on a separate disc. “Sister Sleeping Soul” is at least as good as several tracks on the album proper, a rather “Wonderous Stories”-ish confection with an appealing melody and chorus hook. On the other hand, “Mystery Tour” and “Damaged World” are easily the weakest numbers here, the former an affectionate but cheesy Beatles tribute, and the latter a Howe solo tune that should have remained such.

“More pleasant than rocking” in fact characterizes most of this album. For those inclined to meandering mid-tempo AOR, it’s fine—crisply produced and gracefully played. It just lacks any real fire; everything pulls, nothing pushes. 

As for reviewing this as an album by the five-decade progressive rock juggernaut Yes: well.

The Quest is better than 2014’s Heaven And Earth… but so are most things. Jon Davison sings the Yes classics well in concert, but where Jon Anderson’s free-form lyrics often felt like mystical poetry elevated by his passionate delivery, for the most part Davison’s lyrics and vocal melodies feel wispy and insubstantial. As for the band, once you venture beyond “The Ice Bridge”—easily the strongest track here, even if it does sound suspiciously like Asia at times—nothing on this album truly soars. Instead it ambles along, proving only that bandleader Howe is perfectly content to layer his fluid leads over one bland mid-tempo number after another.

It’s fair to wish people would weigh new music in isolation, but even measured only against itself, this album’s highlights are modest. And you can’t have it both ways; if you don’t want people to compare this album to Fragile, you shouldn’t call this lineup—which at this point features no original members—Yes. Using that moniker guarantees that any new music produced by this lineup will inevitably be measured against the likes of Close To The Edge, and on that scale, The Quest falls far short.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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