Rarely will the announcement of a new album have sparked so much anticipation as is the case with Yes’s new studio album, The Quest. At least with yours truly, self-proclaimed fan and, more latterly, critic of the British prog legends. This has largely been due to the band’s previous album, the weak Heaven and Earth from 2014 – already seven years ago. At the time, I looked forward very much forward to the new material, with the well-known result – quite a disappointment. ‘Once bitten, twice shy’ they say. Balancing between hope and fear, I place the silver disc into the device…
The new album opens strongly with The Ice Bridge, a Downes/Davison composition [now revised to include Francis Monkman]. A bombastic, albeit somewhat similar to ELP’s Touch and Go, keyboard intro is followed by an intriguing guitar riff by veteran Steve Howe. The song contains all the characteristics that make Yes what it is: the recurring theme, a surprisingly hard hitting Alan White, the driving bass of Billy Sherwood, angelic vocals from Jon Davison, the inventive keyboard contributions of Geoff Downes, and, last but not least, Howe’s guitar antics. It’s all there, in about seven minutes, the best of Yes in years passes by. An excellent start to The Quest.
Dare To Know is also unmistakably Yes. Steve Howe wrote the song, which is embellished with heavy orchestral arrangements. Howe’s clean guitar playing and multi-harmony vocals lead to an interlude that resembles a movie soundtrack. The fragile acoustic guitar miniature at the end actually makes you curious for more. Davison co-wrote Minus the Man with Sherwood, which is clearly audible as it strongly resembles the solo work of the latter. Swelling violins, again a considerable orchestral participation. The lyrics warn us of the influences of artificial intelligence. An interesting song.
Leave Well Alone is the longest track on the album, clocking in at eight minutes. The harmony vocals are reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel in their heyday. The second part sounds a bit like Würm from the iconic Starship Trooper. Not bad, but it lacks fire and especially pace. The Davison/Sherwood partnership is also responsible for The Western Edge, with the vocals shared by the duo. No orchestra this time, but Downes’ keys do the trick, and Howe’s brilliant steel guitar of course, he really should consider doing this more often.
Future Memories is written single-handedly by Davison. Crosby, Stills & Nash-like harmonies and an acoustic feel dominate. There’s beautiful fretless bass lines from Sherwood and shredding steel guitar from Howe, but all in all it’s a bit bland. Clean piano sounds appear during the intro of the Howe-penned Music To My Ears. A nice song, but also a bit dull and for the greater part in the same (low) tempo as most of the previous songs.
To close the first CD we are treated to another song written by Downes and Davison. A Living Island just barely touches the seven minute mark, starting once again in the low to mid-tempo that typifies the majority of the songs. Davison was inspired by Barbados, where he also lives and owns a recording studio, for this quietly meandering love song. It’s all (too) beautiful and sweet, Howe’s solo at the end managing to save the day somewhat.
The first track on CD 2, Sister Sleeping Soul, again written by Davison, is another nice song in a slow tempo. Violins are used again and it’s reminiscent of Wonderous Stories, but lacking the brilliance and tension. Two songs by the great man, Steve Howe, himself conclude the second CD. The short Mystery Tour is an ode to The Beatles, interspersed with song titles by the Fab Four. Barclay James Harvest have done this before (and better) in 1975. Then, as a final chord, we have Damaged World, on which Howe produces some lead vocals. His singing has definitely improved and, combined with Davison’s high notes, it doesn’t sound bad at all. Unfortunately, this is not the case for both these compositions, they are just boring and uninteresting, unfortunately.
Why InsideOut, in their infinite wisdom, decided to release the album as two CD package is beyond me. The playing time of CD1 is approximately 48 minutes, all three songs on CD2 amount to 14 minutes, so it could have easily been released on a single disc, right? Moreover, the three songs on the extra CD hardly add any value: this is material that would have been better suited for, say, a Steve Howe solo album.
On the plus side, the band is doing remarkably well; Alan White’s drums sound like cannonballs and are prominently present in the mix. Billy Sherwood once again shows that Chris Squire made a correct assessment when he designated him as his natural successor on bass. His vocal contribution is also worth mentioning, fortunately without using the autotune I so detest.
The multi-harmony vocals are no doubt one of the strong points of the album. Davison makes it a habit to introduce some strange vocal inflections and twists and turns to his singing, which takes some getting used to. And I have to admit, Geoff Downes is increasingly coming into his own within the overall sound of the band, without coming too much to the fore.
Finally, we arrive at the man who single-handedly embodies the Yes phenomenon these days, master guitarist Steve Howe. He is without a doubt the nucleus of the group. His guitar playing is second to none, as ever. His signature style and sound is the common thread it always was, duelling/duetting with keyboards and vocals, with ripping solos soaring high above the band sound, with screeching dives back to earth, in the meantime sprinkling some acoustic notes. Just for Howe alone one listens to Yes.
It is all the more disappointing that he himself, Mr Yes, falls short in terms of composition. What is it with Howe? The quality of some of his songwriting is simply too mediocre for a band like Yes. Could it be because he is not sufficiently challenged to get the best out of himself? Wouldn’t the perpetual quarrels with Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman be a much better challenge and inspiration than the sluggish, friendly bond he maintains with his current bandmates?
The production is in the trusted hands of the very same Steve Howe, and for this he deserves a huge compliment: the sound is clear and transparent. The brilliant and colourful cover design is once again by veteran Roger Dean, on board since Fragile in 1971.
So the final verdict: a mediocre album by the icons of prog rock, although substantially better than Heaven and Earth, especially through opening track The Ice Bridge, but also Dare to Know, the harmony vocals and production. And Howe’s guitar, of course. But otherwise it’s mostly too many quietly flowing, medium tempo, easy-listening songs, without fire, without balls. It’s all too sweet, too boring and lethargic. Surely this can’t be the final chord of this legendary band?
01. The Ice Bridge (7:01)
02. Dare to Know (6:00)
03. Minus the Man (5:35)
04. Leave Well Alone (8:06)
05. The Western Edge (4:26)
06. Future Memories (5:08)
07. Music to My Ears (4:41)
08. A Living Island (6:52)
Time – 47:49
01. Sister Sleeping Soul (4:51)
02. Mystery Tour (3:33)
03. Damaged World (5:20)
Time – 13:44
Total Time – 61:33
Billy Sherwood – Bass, Vocals
Alan White – Drums, Percussion
Steve Howe – Guitars, Vocals
Geoff Downes- Keyboards
Jon Davison – Lead Vocals
Jay Schellen – Drums, Percussion
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 1st October 2021
– The Quest (2021)
– The Royal Affair Tour: Live From Las Vegas (2020)
– From A Page (2019)
– Yes 50 Live (2019)
– Live At Glastonbury Festival 2003 (2019)
– Fly From Here Return Trip (2018)
– Topographic Drama – Live Across America (2017)
– Like It Is: Yes at the Mesa Arts Center (2015)
– Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two (2015)
– Like It Is: Yes at the Bristol Hippodrome (2014)
– Heaven and Earth (2014
– Yes Acoustic [DVD] (2013)
– In The Present – Live From Lyon (2011)
– Fly From Here (2011)
– Live at Montreux 2003 (2007)
– 9012Live [DVD] (2006)
– The Word is Live (2005)
– Songs From Tsongas [DVD] (2005)
– The Ultimate Yes – 35th Anniversary Collection (2004)
– In A Word: Yes (1969- ) (2002)
– Symphonic Live [DVD] (2002)
– Magnification (2001)
– Keystudio (2001)
– House of Yes – Live From the House of Blues (2000)
– The Ladder (1999)
– Open Your Eyes (1997)
– Keys To Ascension 2 (1997)
– Keys To Ascension (1996)
– Talk (1994)
– Highlights – The Very Best of Yes (1993)
– Yesstory (1993)
– Yesyears (1991)
– Union (1991)
– Big Generator (1987)
– 9012Live: The Solos (1985)
– 90125 (1983)
– Classic Yes (1981)
– Yesshows (1980)
– Drama (1980)
– Tormato (1978)
– Going For the One (1977)
– Yesterdays (1974)
– Relayer (1974)
– Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973)
– Yessongs (1973)
– Close to the Edge (1972)
– Fragile (1972)
– The Yes Album (1971)
– Time and A Word (1970)
– Yes (1969)