The fourth album from Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes and singer/composer Chris Braide, 2021’s Halcyon Hymns, was their most recognisably prog-inclined. Despite its evocative title and instantly recognisable Roger Dean cover art, this follow-up is something of a retreat to the classic, 80s/90s-focused sound of their earlier work, albeit one that makes the occasional nod to prog.
Built upon loose themes that revolve around life, death, love and nostalgia (a common DBA thread), Celestial Songs sees Downes and Braide joined by mostly the same band that played Halcyon Hymns, including guitarist/keyboard player Dave Bainbridge and poet Barney Ashton Bullock, who provides narrative introductions to some of the tracks.
Opener Look What You Do has keyboard strains that misdirect the listener for a moment, bookending a sunny, mid-tempo love song that doesn’t sound a million miles away from something ex-The Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft might turn in during one of his more positive moments. Whether by accident or design, it’s entertaining to identify possible influences here: Heart Shaped Hole has a late-70s Genesis ballad feel to its verses (along with one of Bainbridge’s tasty, soaring guitar breaks), while Goodbye To You (Sister Shame), although co-written with XTC’s Andy Partridge, could have come from one of Paul McCartney’s later solo albums.
And the nod towards Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill and the 80s pop styling of On The Run is entirely deliberate, with Braide putting a positive spin on the idea of demons that we should all be trying to escape from.
Those familiar with the work of ex-It Bites frontman-turned-solo-maverick Francis Dunnery should find Keep On Moving particularly satisfying. Co-written with Dunnery, the chord structure and melodic progressions carry his unmistakable DNA in a song that grieves for lost love while treating the past with equanimity and acceptance.
Anyone hankering for a hit of prog should head to Will To Power, with its sequenced keyboard patterns and deliberately life-affirming message, or the substantial closing track, Beyond The Stars. It isn’t a major stretch to imagine Yes’ Jon Davison (or, indeed, his predecessor Jon Anderson) delivering the vocal for both.
Celestial Songs isn’t the edgiest, most dramatic or experimental album released so far this year, but that’s really not the point. DBA are less about virtuosity and serving up musical pyrotechnics and more interested in communicating mood and texture; for them, the musical arrangements are at the service of the song and never a distraction from it.
Celestial Songs is available in multiple formats from Cherry Red.