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When you hear Yes bassist Chris Squire sing the lyric “we have found ourselves anew,” on ‘The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be,’ one can’t help but apply the thought to what the band has accomplished with their new album ‘Fly From Here,’ the first with Benoit David on vocals in place of longtime vocalist Jon Anderson.
Certainly, David and producer/Yes associate Trevor Horn deserve the prog-rock game ball for helping to deliver the first great Yes album of the new millennium, and more than that, the best album from the group since the “classic” lineup reunited in the mid-‘90s.
Horn had the unenviable task of shepherding the complicated Yes machinery and navigating the inner workings to bring out an album’s worth of music worthy of the Yes name, something that many naysayers of the group would have told you couldn’t be done.
After all, regardless of who is on vocals, how reasonable is it to expect something remarkable from a band that is more than 40 years into their recording career? Horn, who worked previously with the group in two very different capacities on ‘90125’ and ‘Drama,’ helps to prove with ‘Fly From Here’ that some things are truly timeless.
Because of the involvement of Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes, two returning pieces of the ill-fated Anderson-less 1980 ‘Drama’ album, there have been comparisons to that era when talking about ‘Fly From Here,’ which does the album a disservice for anyone listening for the first time – it’s an unnecessary association. ‘Fly From Here’ is best described as simply an album that sounds like “classic Yes,” which is a huge accomplishment.
With ‘Fly From Here,’ Yes have successfully completed one of the most risky vocalist transitions in the progressive rock genre since Genesis unsuccessfully tried to replace Phil Collins with newcomer Ray Wilson. While Wilson’s vocals might have been a little bit too far removed from his predecessor, Benoit David possesses just enough of that Anderson-esque cherub-like vocal quality to sound comfortably familiar, but also brings enough of his own earnest youthful honesty to the vocals to make the songs on ‘Fly From Here’ distinctly his own.
David had a lot riding on his shoulders with this album, as the most musically visible member of the group, and he should receive huge amounts of credit for working through his relative inexperience in the studio to deliver a performance that exudes the confidence necessary to carry these songs and really make them feel like Yes.
Certainly, Squire, guitarist Steve Howe and drummer Alan White have plenty of experience in this area, but it really fell on David to bring it home and he accomplishes that and then some.
Spanning nearly 24 minutes, the ‘Fly From Here’ suite that opens the album really brings out a multitude of sounds and feelings that haven’t been heard on a Yes album in some time. Squire’s background vocals remain an essential component of the Yes sound. Throughout the suite, they pair with and compliment David’s work nicely. Midway through ‘Sad Night At The Airfield,’ the second movement of the piece, an ominously stark bass line from Squire punctuates the swirling mix of desolation and hope that runs throughout ‘Fly From Here.’
Late in the album, ‘Hour of Need’ lightens things up, laid against a pleasant bed of acoustic guitar from Howe, delivering a vibe that comes closest to the band’s sound of the ’80s, circa-’90125′ and ‘Big Generator.’ Barely crossing the three minute mark, it’s a somewhat unexpected and welcome piece of the album. (Interestingly, there’s alonger version available as a Japanese bonus track, that stretches out to nearly seven minutes.)
At 48 minutes, the album has good pacing, and even with the ‘Fly From Here’ suite taking up a large chunk of that, none of the songs overstay their welcome. Fans of both the ’80s and “classic” eras of Yes should enjoy this album equally. If you can leave your vocal prejudice at the door, you’ll find that David is a worthy addition to the group.