Heaven & Earth

Yes

Frontiers Records, 2014

http://www.yesworld.com

REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/15/2014

Well, at least the album cover is pretty. Unfortunately that's about the only positive thing I can say about Heaven And Earth. Right away, I noticed how hollow and anemic the production was, lacking any bite or verve whatsoever. But that's only the start of the problems that plague this steaming pile.

Most of the songwriting is handled by new vocalist Jon Davison, which suggests that the rest of the band was so thoughtfully tapped for material that they had to rely on his ideas to fill the gaps (and there must have been a lot of gaps). As a result, these songs are about as lightweight as it gets. To quickly summarize some of them: “The Game” sounds like it belongs in a greeting card commercial, “Step Beyond” is dopey and disjointed, “In A World Of Our Own” is the wimpiest excuse for a “dance” number I've heard in a long time, and “To Ascend” is an astonishingly cheesy ballad with garbage lyrics. There are a handful of moments where an unexpected chord change or chorus almost brings a song to life (“Believe Again” comes closest), but moments like that are dwarfed by the unstoppable wall of bland. This album rarely ever goes beyond playing it safe. And since Yes is a band who built their entire legacy on not playing it safe, unflinchingly drab material like “It Was All We Knew” might as well be a huge middle finger to the band's fans and legacy. When Yes does take a few chances things just get weird. Awkward bridges are wedged in where they don't fit, tacked on instrumental sections come out of nowhere, and songs are stretched to unjustified lengths. These are some thoroughly clunky songs.

Not only does this record fail on the songwriting front, it's also immensely lazy. These tunes sound like they're being performed by a group of drunk grandpas. Each track limps along at a sleep inducing mid-tempo, as if they've never heard the word “upbeat” before. The rhythm section has no drive whatsoever. Chis Squire's distinctive bass sound is sucked into the background most of the time and Alan White's drums sound distant and muffled. The band's lead parts sound like they were played to a backing track without any reference to what the other members were doing. “Light Of The Ages” has a section that sounds like an elementary school band slowly attempting to play “Long Distance Runaround” for the first time. What possessed them to play this so slowly? The tempo picks up a little during “Subway Walls” but the song is such an inept piece of wannabe-progressive crap that I wouldn't blame anybody for not noticing.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Jon Davison's vocals sound weak and feeble. He has no lower register to speak of, and there are several moments where his voice quivers in an unprofessional sounding way. Surely these weren't the best takes of vocals they could have used? He sounded fine in the live performances I've seen from this lineup. What happened here?

Steve Howe is an even greater disaster. His parts sound like he came up with them on the spot. The solo at the end of “The Game” even has these weird tiny halts that sound like he's making mistakes! How could they have let this leave the studio? His lead parts sound like placeholders for where he would come up with actual written parts later but never did. During the bridge of “In A World Of Our Own,” Geoff Downes plays organ chords while Howe plays what literally sounds like random notes behind it. This is downright unfinished!

Speaking of Geoff Downes, his cold, awkward sounding string patches are an inescapable plague on this record. On the final track he even plays them as if they were a piano, which should just never happen. His regular synths are less frequent but often even worse, sounding like air being let out of a pinched balloon. “Step Beyond” is the worst offender by far, featuring a nagging line that anybody would come up with if they played a Moog for five seconds and discovered what happens when you press a key while another one is already pressed. The song goes through several baffling and jarring changes (including a brief “heavy” section that might be the single dumbest moment on the album) but it always returns to the same inane synth line repeating over and over, to the point where I want to throw the album out the window.

The ballads are horrendous, the pop songs are obnoxious, the progressive moments are awkward, the melodies are boring, the band plays like they're on tranquilizers, and the production feels empty and unfinished. Heaven And Earth is worse than a band just going through the motions. It sounds like a band that forgot what the motions were in the first place. It's an incompetent record on all fronts. I'd suggest that Yes be put down for making this album, but it's all so lifeless that I think I may have already been beaten to the punch.

Rating: F

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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