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Yes: Heaven & Earth

Have prog’s titans reached for the stars but become just a tribute act on album No.21?

In 1979, Yes went into a Paris studio with Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker to follow up the ill-received Tormato. A few bottles of wine, some diva-strop peanut-flicking and a broken ankle later the project was off and two members departed. Thirty five years on, Yes 2014 have “continued where we left off” (says Baker) and this is the result.

Named after Roger Dean’s comfort-zone cover art you’d hope for a dramatic recording worthy of the grandiloquent title. Instead we get The Great Yes Stop Gap Album.

As the only act in prog’s Big Five to still be delivering new music, and with Glass Hammer’s Jon Davison – vocalist number three, and at least 20 years their junior – nicely installed, it probably seemed like a good idea to do something new. It begins fairly favourably; Believe Again is a sympathetic canter through familiar territory, and you rally at Davison’s I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Anderson tone (as we did Benoît David). Steve Howe and Geoff Downes duel playfully in the mid-section, but the gist is a Top Gun-inflected call-to-arms to give Yes a chance on this latest collaboration.

Unlike his unlucky predecessor David, who wrote nothing for the group during his tenure, Davison has been encouraged to make his mark. Pretty songs like The Game reveal a shy romantic message and To Ascend shows he has a handle on the occasional codswallop of Anderson’s mystic bent.

Things pick up musically when Downes lets rip a soda-stream synth break on Step Beyond and Howe is restrained until a spirited burst on sun-dappled nostalgia-fest It Was All We Knew and in a jazzy stand-off with Downes on nine-minute closer Subway Walls. But as they rivet themselves to an assiduously mid-tempo rail through the rest of the record there’s none of the delightful quirk of 2011’s Fly From Here, or the confidence of 2001’s Anderson-fronted Magnification.

In short, Heaven & Earth is disappointing. A dilution of creativity has occurred, and it makes for dull listening. The compositions are very ‘solid’ (ugh!) and will suit being peppered through live shows next to more exciting songs. But where there should be invention there’s retrospection, safety usurps bravery and bland replaces band. Maybe Roy should have brought the booze and bar snacks out again.