Initially driven by the vision of Jon Anderson, the seventies Yes helped to pioneer new developments in the usage of synths and sound effects in contemporary music and, in their pomp as grand overlords, helped create the template of progressive rock, releasing timeless albums like Close To The Edge, consistently voted as a prog classic. Recent years however haven’t been good to Yes, what with differing line-ups of previous members, the tensions between such line-ups, a singer sounding uncannily like the departed Jon Anderson and the sad loss of Chris Squire. Yes now comprise Steve Howe, Alan White, Billy Sherwood, Geoff Downes and Jon Davison and they’ve been together since 2015, with this line-up producing The Quest, the first Yes studio album without the presence of Chris Squire’s driving bass.
If all you knew about Yes prior to hearing The Quest was their reputation, and this was the first album you’d ever heard by the band, you’d struggle to comprehend how was it they achieved their elevated status as Prog overlords. At one time, Yes always at least tried to do something interesting, and they built their name playing music which could be said to be cerebral, complex and moving, but it’d be difficult applying any of these terms to some of the tracks on this album.
The Quest initially began controversially with The Ice Bridge, the story of a tribe attempting to survive, with the ice bridge being what has to be crossed to do so. The controversy arose from claims that the tune for this piece was a direct rip-off from some ‘Library Music,’ written by ex-Curved Air man Francis Monkman, which he developed into a piece called The Dawn Of An Era. Geoff Downes, though, insisted he wrote the piece back in 1977 when working on advertising jingles. The matter has since been amicably resolved between Downes and Monkman so all’s well there. What can’t be denied though is the impressive closing interplay between keyboard and guitar on this track, and more pieces like this would have gone some way to making this a better album.
The eight minute Leave Well Alone also contains several flashes of vintage Yes, with lively playing from Howe, and it’s tempting to think Jon Anderson could have done something with this. Similarly with Dare To Know, making use of orchestration, and Minus The Man, with its warning that AI has no soul, while the lovely Future Memories is a song asking what the future holds, with Davison showing his sensitive side singing, ‘I don’t wanna make another memory without you.’
But, for my money, I find it hard believing any Yes line-up containing Anderson, Squire and Wakeman would have released tracks like Damaged World, Sister Sleeping Soul, Music To My Ears and Western Edge, all of which are pleasant enough in an AOR way, and a couple could be Steve Howe solo tracks, but they feature little of the elements which made Yes a household name in Prog. Living Island, a tribute to Barbados, a ‘living coral island,’ is more Asia than Yes, and the jaunty Mystery Tour is a lively homage to The Beatles.
The problem with a band like Yes, with its stellar track record, is what happens when they release albums containing songs the classic line-up wouldn’t have touched? On The Quest Yes come over like a cross between Asia and a 1980s AOR band with prog leanings. Is this the destiny awaiting a once great band?