It’s May 2023 and the world of Yes has been busy with stuff, namely cancelling the previously, hotly anticipated ‘Relayer’ tour because of insurance issues and also the soon to be released second blast of creativity that began with 2021’s ‘The Quest’ album and short UK tour in the wake of the passing of Alan White! That album, ‘The Quest’, was an interesting one as it firmly established Steve Howe’s ongoing leadership and steerage of the band, of which he is now the sole link to the ground-breaking group he joined in 1970. Steve was also very instrumental in their achieving significant success with their golden age of Atlantic albums in the early to mid 1970’s with the classic releases ‘The Yes Album’, ‘Close To The Edge’ and ‘Fragile’.
‘Mirror To The Sky’ definitely has more than a touch of those halcyon days with it consisting of six longer tracks and three extra tracks on a second disc. All very promising you may say but is it any good or does it paddle previously visited waters and add very little of merit? Both good questions, I personally think that any new Yes music warrants a listen as, despite many folks dismissal of Yes now as a poorer version of the real thing, I actually see much merit in having the band still active. After all, with both King Crimson and Genesis calling it a day now and Deep Purple and Aerosmith possibly approaching their last days of existence, to still have these stalwarts prepared to go out and tread the boards is both heart warming and very worthy of seeing. The last time I saw Yes in Manchester, they played a strong set with Steve being on especially fine form, yes, notes may have been missed but the intent was still there and the fire still burned for sure.
This album opens strongly with the vibrant Cut From The Stars, which is about dark skies, light pollution and the beauty of being able to see the stars clearly without the disturbance of excessive urban lights. Many folks won’t have experienced the clarity that is offered when urban lighting hasn’t reduced the amount of stars visible to the naked eye. This song is a good one with strong vocals and Billy Sherwood’s bass lines being very reminiscent of Chris Squire and really grace the track. All Connected continues the trend with some graceful pedal steel guitar lines opening the track. This has definite nods to earlier Yes days, Jon Davidson having definitely grown into his role as lead singer and here he really convinces as his vocals certainly evidence the spirit of Jon Anderson while also retaining his own stamp on proceedings, a difficult task but one he manages with style. Steve Howe’s strong guitar work is very prevalent on this track, playing some great lines and licks throughout. Steve has always been a tasteful player who plays to support the song rather than to overpower it. His restraint is important and that knowledge allows the music to swell and pulsate in a pleasing and satisfying manner.
Luminosity is another longer song and these longer format tracks really suit the group as they allow the band room to improvise and explore musically, which suits and reaffirms their validity and raison d’etre. It also harkens back to their 1970’s heyday where longer tracks were their normal way of working. I feel this method and manner of working suits them best. It also makes for good listening, well it does for me at least and I think they have really made an important musical statement with this album saying in effect, yes we are still here, making the music we want in a way that you can hopefully want to connect with, appreciate and enjoy. Come and join us, judge for yourself we are not a tribute act and we do still have validity and worth. This album shows that commitment to me, Yes may have had their problems and issues over recent times but here we see a band still hungry for approval and not content to fall back on former glories. They are still keen to make good progressive music for the 21st Century and get out to folk and deliver that same quality of experience as they have previously done.
This album may not have the same strength and impact as ‘Close To The Edge’ but it certainly tries and plays to their strengths remarkably well, well that’s what this says to me anyway! I also must mention the albums longest track, the epic Mirror To The Sky which, at nearly fourteen minutes in length, is the albums centrepiece. The song opens with some solid guitar lines from Steve and a gentle acoustic guitar before being joined by Billy’s fine bass and strong drumming from Jay Schellen and more solid fluid guitar parts from Steve, all before a word is sung. This three minute instrumental opening section leads into emotive vocals from Jon Davidson, ‘dream of a sky without fire’ being the refrain. This is a moody soundscape that builds slowly and solidly and the song progresses well with its various sections combining to create an epic whole. It is a well crafted track that shows the sum is greater than the whole and that, only together, does the group really make sense. There is a great guitar riff that runs throughout that really elevates the track as it is very impressive and effective sounding. More clipped arpeggios lead to a mellow keyboard section in which atmospherics and harmonic touches add to the overall sound palette. This is all most impressive sounding with great bass playing holding it all together and a superb descending guitar riff with orchestrations from Geoff Downes before Steve Howe takes flight delivering a fiery solo which, along with Geoff’s elegant orchestrations, brings this satisfying track to a mighty fine conclusion.
The final track of the main album, Circles Of Time, is a gentle, mostly acoustic driven, track with more fine Jon Davison vocals and a gentle tambourine helping to deliver some rhythmic impetus. A suitably subdued Steve Howe solo also graces the track and this one really works for me as it is a gentle close to a really good solid set of tracks.
The bonus disc has three tracks, a longer piece called Unknown Place that is bass heavy and is a rather good, medium-paced, number yet is one that allows good guitar and bass interaction. It is quite punchy number and repeated plays reveal it to be a very strong track. Billy Sherwood really shines and you can see why Chris Squire wanted him to take his place in Yes. Also impressive on this track are Geoff Downes‘ commanding organ parts that sound great, very Wakeman-esque really and, overall, this track is really rather a good one. The other two songs, One Second Is Enough and Magic Potion are good but don’t really generate the same excitement for me, both are pleasant and well delivered but not essential for me, although I really do like that bass!
So there you have it, nine tracks over two discs and the vast majority is really great music. In today’s era, compared to some of the bland music being made, this will do very nicely thank you! It will be interesting to see how this translates to a live environment next year on the UK tour.
Released 19th May, 2023
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