Album review: YES – The Quest

Inside Out Music [Release date: 01.10.21]

Yes are a British institution. As much woven into the fabric of UK culture as many other artistic endeavours. An omnipresent rock band with a constantly changing line up, currently: Davison, Howe, Sherwood, Downes and White.
The Quest is the band’s first album of new material since Chris Squire died in 2015, and first recording of brand new songs in 7 years.

The muted fanfare that intros the opening track, ‘The Ice Bridge’ is entirely appropriate. Musically, it’s a glance in the rear view mirror, a reminder of past excesses, watching them receed into the distance. The song itself is very much of the here and now. Lyrically, Davison gives the song the sense of urgency you would expect… icecaps are melting and sea levels are rising around us.

And around him, the band is busy creating sonic images to reflect the message in the lyrics. This is soft prog, a socially aware sub genre. It’s the first of the two songs written by Downes that bookend the album,

‘Dare To Know’ and ‘A Living Island’, for all the stark difference in their subject matter, are dreamy exercises in moods. Acoustic guitar tones, jazzy keys and horns aim to capture the attention of fans on the periphery as much as the would-buy-it-anyway hardcore.

Sherwood and Davison join forces on ‘The Western Edge’ and ‘Minus The Man’. These are old fashioned, ‘a new way of living’ and ‘the key to our survival’ songs with a message (as with so many songs written during Lockdown).

The first lacks the urgency and tension needed to deliver. The second, buzzed by Sherwood’s melancholy bass riff and dancing orchestral elements, accelerates through the bridge to the payoff, reaching an unsettling sense of resolution.

At their best, this band turns pretension and pomposity into the most majestic of music. Like the 8 minute ‘Leave Well Alone’, a song that quickly picks up on a funky riff straight outta Philadelphia soul. The sweet cadence of semi spoken lyrics gives the song a jazzy turn. It’s a patchwork quilt of musical pieces, skillfully sewn together by a medley of percussive instruments. Davison’s own lightly frosted, delicately sketched love song, ‘Future Memories’ isn’t too far behind.

The maturity of the approach is reflective of a band that’s growing older. Plenty of the band’s signature sounds are present, and they form the backdrop to an unexpectedly wide range of styles and approaches. Yes stopped short of reinvention a good while ago, but The Quest breathes new life into an enduring manifesto. ***1/2

Review by Brian McGowan

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