Yes – The Quest (Album Review)

Review of the new Yes album – ‘The Quest’

by Geoff Bailie

I imagine that for the last 7 years virtually every interview with current members of Yes featured the question: When are you going to release a new album? Well, we now know that recording began in 2019, and in October 2021, the 22nd studio album from the band, The Quest, will be released.

Let’s be honest, when Heaven & Earth landed, following 2001’s Magnification and 2011’s Fly From Here, the fan base didn’t really take it to their hearts. The band did play some of the tracks live (Believe Again, The Game, To Ascend) but really it has disappeared without trace since then. Also since then, the band experienced the sad passing of founding member Chris Squire, replaced by his designated successor, Billy Sherwood, in what is now the longest line-up of the band without having had a change of member! So… the scene is set… 2019’s musical ideas began to be recorded by the globally distanced band members, with Howe, Downes, and a U.K. based Davison working together while the US-based rhythm section of White and Sherwood made their contributions across the Atlantic.

With all of that history, plus with possibly one of the most polarised fan bases of any group, how does The Quest fair?

I’ve three main things to say about the album:

(1) It’s a different sounding Yes, which is as it should be!

As a long-time fan, The Quest sounds like the work of a new lineup, with a new approach. A lot of the album occupies a lighter, less intense, and more reflective space than you might be expecting. Lead track “The Ice Bridge,” with its heavier sound and guitar/keyboard duel on the outro is a great opener – but it’s also the most “rock” track on the album. There is much more acoustic guitar than you might expect on this album, played of course by Howe but also by Davison on “Future Memories,” a track solely written by him. It’s one of the album’s highlights with Jon’s acoustic, Steve’s steel and Billy’s fretless bass, plus some light and organ backing from Downes and no drums, supporting the Davison/Sherwood vocals.

Howe’s 3 tracks on the album, similarly, don’t present Steve Howe electric shredder but include a lighter touch and beautifully rich guitar textures, similar to moments on his recent Love Is album. It’s clear that in his role as producer, Howe hasn’t sought so much as to make a facsimile of Yes-music Past, but instead has worked hard to produce an album of strong songs that sound great. Take Howe’s “Music To My Ears,” which has a great band feel, with a variety of acoustic and electric guitar tones, while Downes plays piano, synths, and a suitably prog Mellotron, on top of the White/ Sherwood rhythm section. Like all 3 Howe songs, it’s credited as a vocal duet (think “Hour of Need’ or “It Was All We Knew” on previous albums) with Davison, a combination that Howe’s own Love Is album showed us worked well together.

(2) It’s an album of diversity and unity

With tracks initiated individually by Howe, Downes, Davison,” and Sherwood, a variety of styles and approaches feature in the album. To contrast with the Howe tracks I mentioned above, “Minus The Man” and “The Western Edge,” the songs written by Sherwood/ Davison, have a different feel. If you’re familiar with Sherwood projects such as Circa and the Prog Collective, you’ll know how Billy doesn’t tend to write straight verse/ chorus and will often use less predictable meters and time signatures, which give the music a real prog edge. “The Western Edge” is one such example and is a very strong collaboration – perhaps fitting the sort of track and sound that many had expected from Arc of Life. It’s great to hear Sherwood’s vocals featuring prominently as the lead in places, as well as combining well with Jon. I also have to mention his bass style and tone – as a friend and fan of the founding Yes bassist, it must have been challenging to decide how to approach new Yes music. To my ears, Sherwood has decided to serve the song as is appropriate – that means it’s not clanging Rickenbacker-style tones throughout. Compare “Minus The Man” kicking off with a bass riff which underpins the entire track, to the second single, “Dare To Know” where the bass is firmly in its backing role with White’s drumming, but doesn’t take over in a “lead bass” style which Squire favored at times. Overall Billy brings a shed load of color and warmth to this album and should be applauded for keeping the flame alive while pushing Yes forward.

Equally diverse are the two Downes tracks, with Geoff’s songs opening and closing the album. “The Ice Bridge,” which I expect many of you will have heard, is one thing, while the closing “A Living Island” is reminiscent of some of DBA’s best moments, as this three-part track builds towards the superb “We Will Remember” finale.

However the diversity of styles is underpinned by an overall unity: Davison’s voice is strong and plays an important part in making the whole album stick, while the common lyrical themes of nature (including how we don’t treat it as well as we should) and technology recur in places bringing a thematic unity of sorts rather than a straight concept album.

(3) It’s an album to be listened to as a whole.

Yes, I know… it’s a common reviewer comment but one I truly believe is justified in this case. Howe and Curtis Schwartz’s sonics mean the album has a consistent sound (including a surround mix which I’m excited to hear) and the sequencing means the album flows through its 45 minutes. People have questioned the inclusion of 3 tracks on a bonus disc, but a straight listen-through from “The Ice Bridge” to “A Living Island” without interruption shows how this has been crafted as an old-style 45 minute “album- length” release.

The 3 bonus disc tracks are, in my opinion, just that – bonuses that don’t really fit or didn’t make the new album. The strongest of the three “Sister Sleeping Soul” features Howe’s Portuguese 12 string guitar (from songs like “Your Move” and “Nine Voices”) and a really great blend of Howe and Davison’s vocals that work better than some of the main album’s duet combinations. The rhythm section also plays a key part in this track, with some great bass lines and emphasis on the breakdowns. “Mystery Tour,” a tribute to Liverpool’s finest, isn’t a song I expect to return to. The final track, “Damaged World” has prominent Steve Howe vocals and feels more like a solo song, and the closing section has a nice shift in style with a Downes Hammond solo – overall it’s not unpleasant, but fairly lightweight.

So in conclusion, this is a very well-produced album of really good songs that show the writing and playing skills of each of the band members. It has a unity and consistency of pace, not pushing raging, technical prog but tapping into many musical sounds and elements that mean that when you listen, you know you’re hearing Yes Now, as a debut album for the line up I really hope this begins to show the band taking their studio work seriously and pushing on towards the next one! The Quest is undoubtedly a strong release for this lineup and one Yes fans should enjoy as the band continues onward with a brand new label and hopefully more music to come!

Released on Oct. 1st, 2021 on InsideOutMusic

Key Tracks: The Ice Bride, Leave Well Alone, A Living Island

Pre-order now here: https://yes-band.lnk.to/TheQuest

The Quest – 2CD Digipak tracklisting:
CD1:
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

CD2:
01. Sister Sleeping Soul 4.51
02. Mystery Tour 3.33
03. Damaged World 5.20

PODCAST: Ultimate Yes Album with Billy Sherwood

12 comments

  • Thank you, Geoff Bailie, for your fabulously thoughtful and inspiring review of The Quest. As a longtime YES disciple (“fan” strikes me as a bit trite as the band and the music literally changed my life the first time I saw them live on the Yessongs Tour in 1972), it is especially refreshing, indeed an honor, to read your splendidly well-informed reaction to the group’s new album and lineup. I would be among the first to admit that the ever changing personnel “challenges” & squabbles that YES has somehow managed to endure over the past four decades often left me totally befuddled. However, no matter what the lineup or resulting album(s), these amazing musicians even in their occasionally “weaker” moments have NEVER failed to deliver masterfully conceived musical goods. Jon Anderson once told me that he truly believes that long after he has departed this mortal coil there will still be YES music – not just the more than substantial repertoire that already exists, but new works created & performed by new musicians under the banner of YES long into the future. I and many of my “progressive”colleagues agree unequivocally with Jon’s assessment. Why? Because YES music has and will stand the test of time. Like a Beethoven or Mahler symphony, YES music is eternal. And, judging from the messages of the first two songs thus far released from “The Quest”, all of us had better learn to get along with one another, work for the common good, and fully collaborate to save our planet or else there well might be few, if any, of us around to listen to any eternal music, YES music or otherwise.
    With all sincerity, thank you again for your most elucidating, insightful review.
    Kudos to all of you at The Prog Report!

  • Heard the first song released from the album a little while ago. It was awful. I hope the rest of it is better, but it is sad to see the “Yes” name on this.

    • I have the new one on vinyl and just can’t stop playing both sides through over and over especially the first LP. “future memories” is the stand out piece on here and one that’s going in my “Best of Yes” compilation listening folder. love the whole packaging including the artwork. Over 53 years of Yes – Seasons will pass you by – get over it 😉

  • I have loved Yes since Starship Trooper. Heart of the Sunrise is a song that I must hear often…
    This is awesome.

  • A very forgiving review. i found the entire album a most forgettable set of mid-tempo meandering nothingness.
    The Ice Bridge being the best of the lot.
    Mystery Tour borders close to Circus of Heaven for “Dopey Lyrics Award”
    …and this is coming from a huge Steve Howe fan.

  • Thank you Geoff, for this knowledgeable and helpful review. I’m excitedly awaiting the full release. An album isn’t just writing and recording music, it’s also the time, the technologies and the people involved. “Time and a Word” was mixed using (so I’ve heard) inadequate headphones causing the engineer to continue pushing up the bass. Without that happy accident Yes music may not have been what it became. “Close to the Edge” was created in pieces and fragments (sometimes lost in the trash bin, and recovered) edited together with sticky tape (as was common at the time) and later learned by the band to play as a whole piece. Having been in a band that attempted to be democratic and recognize the input of each member, I realize the difficulties of people management and coherent songwriting. It could be said that the talent wasn’t up to the music or that the songs were rubbish anyway… however, I give kudos to these guys for not being too egotistical to join the band.

    I’ve seen some good people suggest that Yes should just give it up, their heyday is over and they are a “tribute band.” To which I respectfully say, “bollocks!” This is art, not just a hamburger for common consumption. Lot’s of critics out there, none able to do better.

    The final and perhaps major point is: The Message. What are these artists saying or trying to say? A work of this kind is more than just empty pretty sounds for someone’s entertainment. There are other artists who do that very well. Yes has always been enlightening as well as engaging while working to be entertaining and keeping the public interested.

    I see “The Quest” as not the finality or an also ran, but rather a vision and endeavor to continue the effort to make more meaningful art. It’s wonderful to see Roger Dean back in the game as well. His work has always seemed (since “Fragile”) married to the intent of their work. May Yesmusic go forward well into the future regardless of who’s in the official lineup.

    • Hi Jian. I completely agree.

      I read a comment this week about the Genesis reunion shows which if I’d heard it when I wrote this Yes review I would have used. The person writing about the Genesis show encouraged those attending to “meet them where they are, not where you want them to be”. In the case of Genesis that applied to things like Phil’s health condition. In the case of Yes, I’d encourage people to meet Yes where they are in terms of line up and the type of music they are making now. It’s not … but it’s music with a lot of merits in my opinion and that I really enjoy as a Yes fan.

  • This is a hard pass for me. I’ve always respected Yes and some of their stuff I love loyally, but the past few albums are so hit and miss (although the From a Page EP is OK) that I couldn’t even bother with Heaven and Earth. I actually purchased this album based on the first single which, while featuring an utterly forgettable melody line, at least sounded like the band was still alive. The last part of The Ice Bridge even sounds a but Drama like, as if someone opened a window for fresh air. Sadly, the window must’ve closed there as the rest of the album is a total yawner and completely forgettable. I appreciate that most of my fave albums take some time to grow on me, but this one doesn’t seem even worth the effort. I can’t even imagine purchasing another Yes album from here on as this dud was a total waste of money and time.

  • To begin, one must simply stand in awe at the body of work Yes in all its many incarnations has produced through the years, the level of quality, artistic innovation and talent is simply unmatched anywhere and remains so to this day. I became a fan of Yes with Fragile, and remain so. I think the current lineup is very talented and cohesive. I know they all value creating good music. And it is a evident in this album, it’s in a bit of a different direction and tone but true art is. I have listened to most of the songs and they are ok. Give it a chance to grow on you. We are so lucky to still have these guys marking an effort to make new music in 2021 during a pandemic no less.

  • I’m sorry but I cannot agree with your review in any way. Apart from The Ice Bridge (which is highly derivative of classic Yes) the album is trite pop with barely anything to recommend it. Uninspired and boring.

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