There are a handful of things that identify a Yes recording, and they are not necessarily what you would expect; one of which is the voice of Jon Anderson. The longtime vocalist is not, in fact, the only one in the group’s history. It would hardly be Yes without Chris Squire’s counterpoint harmony, and Trevor Rabin sang at least fifty percent on the band’s most popular offerings. Then we have a period some of the die-hard fans call the “dark times,” in 1979’s Drama album when Anderson and stalwart keyboard player Rick Wakeman were out, replaced by the Buggles, Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. With them came a distinct sound, edgy rhythms, and a healthy dose of pop and a bit of a nod to punk (see “Tempus Fugit” for details). For years, many in the fan club thought it to be inferior, rejected Horn as vocalist, and soon the two were out. At least they still had the success of a Buggles tune called “Video Killed The Radio Star.”
Time has been kind to Drama. Once the biases were crossed, it became easy to like the album, even love it. My brother often enthuses that, “It’s the closest Yes ever got to metal,” and in a way I think he’s right. Drama was propulsive and, sometimes, really quite heavy. Things happen for a reason though, and had the Drama lineup remained, we wouldn’t have seen some of the band’s best latter work, not only the obvious choices but the fantastic re-re-reunion disc, The Ladder.
We also wouldn’t have seen some of their weakest, the well-intentioned but ultimately unsatisfying Magnification, and the disc that still leaves me scratching my head, Open Your Eyes. Both those albums had Jon Anderson as lead vocalist, so it was easy to assume that the band would never fall into the trap of starting up again without him on-board. You were wrong.
And I’m happy to say that, as these things tend to be in Yes-land, it’s for the best because not only is Fly From Here the latest in this group’s long history of reunions, but it is an undeniable reunion of this particular lineup, the Drama configuration. The new element is the inclusion of lead singer Benoit David, who can hit those high, Anderson notes and sing in Rabin and Horn’s registers as well. As I am with all these sorts of decisions, I was wary about “the new guy” – is this going to be yet another instance of dropping in a clone to do the work of the departed member? David, while being tonally spot-on, sings like Benoit David and sounds to me not like he’s trying to copycat anyone. That is refreshing.
To certify this as a full-fledged Drama reunion, Trevor Horn is in the production seat and adds background vocals, and everyone else seems to have slipped right into place. Steve Howe remains one of the very best at what he does, and every now and then throws some crunch into the works, and Chris Squire’s “dirty” bass still holds it all down nicely. Alan White is Alan White, a drummer that deserves more credit that he often gets, likely because he is behind such respected show-offs.
The opening track(s) “Fly From Here” is a long suite as one would expect from Yes, but don’t let it fool you. These are mostly distinct song-sections and can be enjoyed in stand-alone bites. “We Can Fly” (which actually began during the Drama sessions all those years ago but was never recorded in the studio, according to Horn and Squire), “Sad Night At The Airfield,” and “Madman At The Screens” all have moments that let you know this is a unique and very particular identity, and that is the musical voice of Horn and Geoff Downes who wrote the majority of the record. The switch-up comes midway with “Bumpy Ride,” a Steve Howe contribution that sounds more like Tormato’s “Arriving UFO” but returns to the central theme of the “We Can Fly” melody.
Is this a perfect release? No, there are moments that don’t cohere as well as others, like “Life On A Film Set” which lyrically has little to do with movie sets. There’s a bit where the line “You’re riding a tiger” is repeated over and over, and it doesn’t make much sense, but when has a Yes lyric ever really made sense? What keeps the track from being a skip is that the band sounds really enthusiastic, and genuinely happy to be performing, but I’ll circle around to that thought in a moment.
The barometer of success with any of this band’s work is repeat listenability. Detractors of Yes would argue that none of their stuff bears repeat listening, while those with specific notions of the group would counter that their poppiest stuff is in direct violation to some unwritten rule. Anderson’s biggest supporters may balk because of his absence, and I can relate to them on some level. It is hard to just let go of one of the key figures of a sound.
But Fly From Here is extremely listenable, and highly enjoyable. It is mellower than Drama was, but that was also thirty-two years ago, and that sad reality has to be factored in. Even so, the record is remarkable in the sense that, had the Drama lineup been embraced by the core audience, this is the album they would have followed up with. Is it better than The Ladder? No, and the more I hear that disc, the more appreciative I am of it, but Fly From Here is likely the second-best album the band’s put out in twenty years, liable to be denigrated in the short-term, but equally liable to be rediscovered later on.
In terms of band reunions and reboots, Yes manages to stand tall with this one.
Fly From Here is available from Amazon.com
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