Saturday, July 16, 2011

Reincarnating Identity: Yes' "Fly From Here"

I was standing at the new release wall at Waterloo Records here in Austin with a Venti Starbucks drip in hand when I became aware of the store’s hipster ideology.  I accept that, from a certain perspective, Yes is a bit of a relic and, with a decade gap since their last recording, their new album would probably not warrant a prominent display.  In this mire of crafted trendiness, however, I began to think that it might not be realistic to expect a space to be reserved at all for a progressive rock warhorse like Yes.
Fly From Here
I looked at the new release schedule, and Fly from Here was not even mentioned.  With deepening concern, I began to wonder if I had the date wrong.  Walking back to the “Y” section, I saw a thin white-haired guy in a tie-dye shirt scanning through the “W’s."  Profiling him as a Yes fan and potential competitor for whatever might be in stock, I picked up my step to quickly snatch one of the two copies in the bin.

At the checkout, an incredulous frizzy-headed twentysomething informed me that I was the first to purchase the album that day.  This distinction was unsurprisingly dubious, though, because he seemed astounded that someone would buy it at all.  He surreptitiously glanced at the growing line behind me and threw me a curve ball by asking if I had been anticipating the release.  Reigning in an enthusiasm partially fueled by the sweet caffeine now flowing through my veins, I admitted that I was “cautiously excited” about the album. 

Cautious, indeed, because at this point in the game, ANY new Yes album warrants caution.  I am going to bare my breast to my prog audience and just come out and say it: Jon Anderson should be credited for building the sound of Yes, but later in Yes’ career, his hokey spiritualism began to rub me the wrong way.  Regardless, I still identify myself as a devoted fan of Yes’ adventurous musicality, which they have traditionally kept alive by transfusing fresh blood into the band (with varying levels of success).  Through all of their personnel changes, however, they have somehow managed to retain an identifiable “Yesness.”  If any band can survive the delicate, invasive, and somewhat underhanded process of installing a new lead singer, Yes should be able to.

In my opinion, the operation was reasonably successful, and Trevor Horn should be credited for a steady hand in the procedure as producer and co-writer on Fly from Here.  Like on the Drama album, Horn’s work (as it is realized by Yes) has a driving momentum and distinctly lush harmonic focus which he captured extraordinarily well in the recording studio.  Benoit David, the man in the vocal “hot seat,” does an admirable job of channeling both Anderson and Horn with equal composure, resulting in a more convincing reverence for melody than the lackadaisical babbling that sometimes appears on later Yes albums.

Before I continue, I have to interject on behalf of this video.  At the time of this posting, all of the live footage of this current lineup is cell phone quality, and unfortunately, Yes has never made a really good music video in their entire career.  The official one for the single edit of Fly from Here is particularly lame.  It is of interest, however, because although not a single performing member of Yes makes an appearance in the video, keep an eye open for Trevor Horn.  Here’s a hint: he’s the guy in the overcoat who ends up with a stewardess in his lap.  Being in charge has its privileges, apparently.

Obviously, the sound of the band has necessarily changed in this new incarnation, which will, of course, polarize their fans.  Granted, Fly from Here is not without imperfection – it’s no Close to the Edge, Going for the One, or even 90125, but it is far from the bottom of the Yes barrel.  Its certainly the best since Talk.  Personally, I don’t see how you could be too disappointed by the album itself, unless you cling so tightly to the past that you are unable to see the significance of the present, but that’s a heavy metaphysical rabbit hole to chase oneself down in search of musical value.  There are lots of places you can check out the full tracks if you are really curious.  If these examples interest you, poke around a bit for yourself and decide.

Unlike some of its predecessors, Fly from Here avoids sounding like an incestuous attempt to meet the expectations of the fans and public.  It is, instead, an excellent Yes album that only this particular lineup could make.  In this regard, it is an accomplishment.  Just between you and me, I'd like to see this as a stable lineup for a while, because I am cautiously excited about their potential to lift off on a new creative arc.  It would be unfortunate for us Yes fans to experience the thrill of a maiden voyage on the band’s final flight.

No comments:

Post a Comment