Review Summary: the Yes reboot makes the head spin.
The story of Fly From Here
certainly earns its prog-rock brownie points. It is, after all, a piece of ancient Yes history, no matter how insignificant: Downes and Howe put the “Fly From Here” epic to the band thirty-one years ago now, prior to Downes joining the band for Drama
, their last record as heroes of their genre. Lifting the track from the archives so late in the band’s existence seems like obvious prog-rock gratification, much in the same way no one really wants to see Genesis play Twickenham unless Peter Gabriel is present to bat Phil Collins' pop-rock to the side. Fly From Here
, instead, keeps its promise to the faithful by giving its crowd a categorically Yes piece of music. It’s got keyboard geekery to the left, Spanish guitars to the right, and twenty-five minutes of the same song split into parts because, well, the song makes no sense as a cohesive piece. That is about as Yes as “Starship Trooper” or “Close to the Edge” ever were, and even if the lyrics occasionally show what love-sick way Yes might have been with 90125
, this is a prog-rock record that keeps its unabashedly nerdy promises. So yes, weirdly enough, 2011 is a kinda classic Yes year: Downes is back to play keyboards, Howe is present to make true the concepts of their epic, and even Chris Squire hangs about to play bass, if only to maintain that he has played on every Yes album in existence. Fly From Here
certainly gives being Yes a good go.
Of course, that’s all it can really give. This isn’t Yes even if Downes and Howe are proudly digging up their musical venture, even if Squire is eternally present. This is, regardless of that, the Replacement Yes Act, created with some bizarre wish to replicate rather than develop. Any fan will immediately reflect on the absence of Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman, the arguable pull of what made Yes a cinematic prog-rock band in the first place: the iconic vocals of Anderson and then innovatively fragmented musical song writing of Wakeman is really the band’s legacy, so it feels both suitable and laughably weird
that for this record, an imitator of the former sings and the son of the latter plays keys. Benoît David, hired for his performance in a Yes tribute band of all things, gives a vocal performance that certainly plays near to his idol's styling, but as a result the record fails to update what was good about Yes to their new era, and also reads as a stupid move for a track that was proudly stamped as the work of Downes and Howe. This seems to kind of be the point in this demo- that it plays so obviously like “Close to the Edge” or even a less epic, shorter trademark Yes track, but the fact it has been revamped by Replacement Yes, or Yes 4 Teens, that it has started disputes between the new band (with Oliver Wakeman leaving during recording), suggests that Yes are attempting to make fresh music by remaking the tired and out-of-tune 70s. And not in the typical prog-rock way: this is a literal reading, given keyboard noises that make it sound as stupidly old as possible to offer a new (yet definitely old!) piece of Yes. Fly From Here
can’t help but feel built on a lot of head-spinning contradictions.
When all’s said and done, Fly From Here
occupies a very frustrating place in Yes’ discography, too cheesy and unarguably dated to grab any market for experimental music fans, even they unable to excuse the horribly whacky keyboard sounds of “Bumpy Ride,” but too obvious in its shortcomings to get a strong reaction from Yes diehards when you consider how “Fly From Here” is a cheap substitute for their greatest epics, not only for the absence of the two key players, but for its musical redundancy. There is little here that can grab the imagination of an audience as well as the obvious comparison in “Close to the Edge” would, and it’s obvious that Yes incorrectly recognise the virtues of creating a piece of music so rooted in their 1970s. Tracks from Fragile
had the same difficulty at serving as the pieces of narrative genius they were supposed to be, moving from piano rock ballads at one point to radical synthesizer hijinks at the next. The way “Fly From Here” manages to begin with “Sad Night at the Airfield” and end with “Reprise” feels completely inorganic, and yet it really is identical to how Yes would create their oldest records, and so for that, “Fly From Here” is definitely recognisable as a thirty-one year old track. This, incidentally, is its biggest problem, as Yes records can sound notoriously dated now where they may have been innovatively cinematic pieces when they came out. Down to the album artwork, this is Yes of the 1970s, and that is the greatest curse Fly From Here
Fly From Here
attempts to offer, amongst all this, an image of Yes that isn’t hampered by the past, with five tracks smuggled onto the end of the record but having no narrative relation to the ‘epic’ that sells it. This, again, is a classic Yes move, but one that wasn’t as popular as the conceptual pieces they kept pure. These tracks, as a result, feel newer just because they take a backseat on the unhealthy obsession of being the Yes of yore. “Solitaire” is a pleasant acoustic composition and even for its irrelevancy to the project probably acts as the most appeasing piece for the band in a while: it’s showy but not dated, and not elaborate enough to get anyone disputing it. The other tracks- “Life on a Film Set” and “Into The Storm,” suggest that a newer Yes can’t break old habits, and while they’ve spent a whole twenty-five minutes indulging those habits, these two tracks feel as much a celebration of the self as ever. And in a way, it’s hard to blame Downes and Howe for Fly From Here
: they’re part of the horribly eternal paradox that is Yes, and they kinda like it.