Monday 18 December 2023

2023 in review: Yes, solo projects and more

I wanted to look back on 2023, a surprisingly busy year for Yes, its current and past members. But I wanted to do something different, so I thought to review the Yes members/alumni on four dimensions: workload, nostalgia, commercial success, and quality.

Some rules first. I'm just looking at new releases. I'm not considering archival releases here. I'm only considering active Yes members and alumni. Bruford has retired from musical performance. He did play on one song at the John Wetton tribute show, but that's all, so I'm not covering him. Tony Kaye is semi-retired. He is reportedly working on a new Circa album, but he's released nothing this year and done no live shows, so I’ve omitted him. Igor Khoroshev, last we knew, remains active doing sessions, but I’ve not seen anything from him this year, so he’s also excluded.

This is just looking at 2023, a snapshot. A musician may surprise us with their 2024 output, or be resting on their laurels after a successful 2022.


For workload or productivity, I'm considering live shows and releases.

Album releases in a year aren’t the best indicator of productivity in a year given the lead times to release. For example, Downes released Celestial Songs this year, but recording was completed in April 2022, with the release delayed. Likewise, Rabin released Rio, but he had been working on that for some years. He did very little work on it in 2023. Others (e.g., Oliver Wakeman, Jon Anderson) have been working on recordings this year that won't be out until later. Nonetheless, releases are the easiest thing to count, so that's what I've counted!


A recurrent discussion around older acts is the tension between playing the old songs and making new music. Thus, I suggest a nostalgia quotient. This is based on two factors. Firstly, did live set lists focus on old songs or new material. Secondly, did the artist release new material, or at least new versions of old material, or nothing at all. 


We sometimes pay little attention to commercial success. It can even be seen as shameful, a distraction from true art! And if you like an album or show, why does it matter how many other people do? Except it does matter. At least, if not enough other people like something, there won't be another album or tour.

I would like to consider album and ticket sales, but those are rarely available. We don't get data on album sales, but we can look at chart statistics, if the album charted. Likewise, we don't see ticket sales data, but we can at least track the size of venues booked.


This is, of course, wholly subjective, but I'm going to give you my opinions. You may have your own, of course. 

OK, everyone clear what we're doing? Then let's start. 

WORKLOAD, approximately from least to most

Patrick Moraz: 1 show, no material released. Moraz played a solo show at ProgStock 2023.

Oliver Wakeman: 1 show, 3 songs released. Oliver organised and played at the Other Coronation Concert with his dad Rick. He appears on 2 tracks of Carrie Martin's Evergreen and the "Lost in the Wild Wood" single by Rodney Matthews and Friends. I don't think this reflects a lack of work ethic on Oliver's part. He has recorded a new album, out in the new year, and I expect his live schedule reflects a lack of opportunity! He is not as well established a musician as others on this list. I suspect he would have been happy to play dozens of shows this year, but he’s not getting those kinds of offers.

Jon Anderson: 24 shows, 2 songs released. Anderson had two tours this year, a US leg with the Band Geeks (12 dates) and a European tour with the Paul Green Rock Academy (11 dates). There was also the Chagall student show, making 24 dates in total, but three different set lists. He had no album releases, but he did share some songs on social media. I think there were two new in the year: "We Are We Are" and "Realization Morning Temple". It appears he has been working on new recordings, on 1000 Hands: Chapter Two earlier in the year and an album with the Geeks later in the year, but I'm not counting chickens that haven't hatched yet.

Rick Wakeman: ~28 shows, 3 songs released. I'm counting A Gallery of the Imagination as a late 2022 release as it was available on a limited scale in 2022, albeit general release only came this year. In terms of 2023 releases, he's just got a few guest appearances: one track each with Ann-Margret, on Meddle Reimagined, and with the Fusion Syndicate. In terms of live work, he played two nights with the English Rock Ensemble (with different sets). He had one-off shows in April, May, July and November, and two in December, and appeared at the John Wetton tribute show. He had a US solo tour with 17 dates + a cruise appearance.

Jay Schellen: 27 shows, 1 album released. Schellen played 26 dates on Yes's tour (excluding the two cancelled shows) and played on Yes's Mirror to the Sky. He also appeared at the John Wetton tribute show.

Trevor Rabin: no shows, ~2 albums and 1 additional song released. Rabin released Rio this year. There was also National Treasure: Edge of History (Original Series Soundtrack) released back in January. That contains 30 tracks: 15 are credited to Rabin and 1 to Rabin and Paul Linford. He also did the theme tune for "Digman" and some string arrangements for a Joe Bonamassa live show in August. You can debate how to weight releases versus live shows in this list. Rabin is top 3 in releases for the year, but at the bottom for live work. One can also account for musician's roles in a project, e.g. Rabin doing almost everything on Rio, versus Schellen just drumming on Mirror to the Sky.

Billy Sherwood: 27 shows, 1 album and an additional 6 songs released. Sherwood's tally tracks Schellen's but with the addition of some guest appearances: 3 tracks on Kurt Michaels' Stones from the Garden, two standalone tracks with Cameron Carpenter, and 1 track on Laughing Stock's Songs for the Future.

Steve Howe: 26 dates, 2 albums released (plus a remix album). As well as his work in Yes, Howe also released Motif, Volume 2. While I'm not including archival releases, Howe did also lead on the Tomorrow release, Permanent Dream, that involved substantial remixing.

Jon Davison: ~61 shows, 1 album and an additional 3 songs released. As well as work with Yes, Davison also toured (33 dates + cruise) and recorded (2 tracks on Days of Future Passed – My Sojourn) with father-in-law John Lodge. He also guested on 1 track of Anyone's Miracles in the Nothingness. So, over twice as many live dates as anyone else yet in our list. You can see why he wrote "Circles of Time" now.

Trevor Horn: ~68 shows, 1 album and a production collection of sounds released. [EDIT: In a Jan 2024 interview, Horn says he did 80 shows in 2023.] Surprisingly, the busiest live player among the Yes members is Trevor Horn, the guy who gave up live performance after being in Yes. He did 28 North American dates as The Buggles opening for Seal and then playing with Seal as musical director and bassist. That was followed by 13 European dates with Seal, but no Buggles. There were also 39 dates with Dire Straits Legacy scattered over the year, which I think were all with Horn, but I'm not 100% certain of that, as the line-up can vary from show to show. (Horn is not on 2024 DSL live shows.) Horn also had a live TV appearance in Sep in Italy. He released Echoes – Ancient & Modern and there was also the 45Gb+ Jupiter production collection from Spitfire Audio.

Geoff Downes: 27 shows, 3 albums + 2 additional songs released. Downes played with Yes and co-organised the John Wetton tribute show. He was on Mirror to the Sky, he had another Downes Braide Association album in Celestial Songs, and he produced The Cold Blooded Hearts' The Cold Light of Day, on which he also performed on all but 3 tracks. He also did a song with Aaron Emerson and 1 track on Meddle Reimagined. So he didn't play as many live shows as Davison or Horn, but given 3 album releases in a year, I am declaring him the busiest Yes member of the year.

In terms of do-we-count-them-as-former-members, a note also for Tom Brislin, who played 52 shows with Kansas this year, although he wasn’t on any releases.

Tony Levin played 22 dates with Peter Gabriel and performed on his new album i/o. He has 5 Levin Brothers shows in Dec. He had 23 dates with Stick Men over the year and they also released a new live album. He was on 1 track of MEMEmusic by Unquiet Music Ltd. There appears to have been session work with various others (Tina Arena, Tania Doko, Marco Machera), but I've not checked the details. So, that's 50 dates and 2+ albums.

NOSTALGIA, approximately from most to least

Patrick Moraz: very nostalgic. I haven't seen a full set list for his one show, but it seems to have been familiar material.

Trevor Horn: very nostalgic. His live work was all old material. His album consists of covers.

Jon Anderson: very nostalgic. His live sets consisted purely of old material, although a few of the Rock Academy arrangements were newer. The Chagall show was a premiere, albeit all of the material dates back a varying number of years.

Rick Wakeman: very nostalgic. His live work mostly consisted of old material, although the US tour included one piece from A Gallery of the Imagination. 2/3 of his recorded work were covers, but he co-wrote a new piece, "IO", for The Fusion Syndicate.

Jon Davison: fairly nostalgic. On the anti-nostalgia side, he's got Mirror to the Sky and a song with Anyone, but the live Yes sets were mostly old material, and his 2023 work with John Lodge, live and studio, was all old material, although there may be new Lodge material coming.

Steve Howe: fairly nostalgic. Yes released a new album, but on most nights only played 1 song from it. Motif, Volume 2 includes 4 new pieces, but the rest of it is re-interpreting older songs, while the Tomorrow release was all remixing old songs.

Jay Schellen: middling. Live Yes (nostalgic) versus new Yes album (anti-nostalgic).

Billy Sherwood: fairly anti-nostalgic. Same as Schellen, except with a few more recorded tracks of new material.

Oliver Wakeman: fairly anti-nostalgic. I haven't seen a full set list for his one show, but I believe it was mostly familiar material. However, he has also been on releases of new material.

Geoff Downes: fairly anti-nostalgic. While his live sets were nostalgic, being involved in three albums of new material puts him high on this list.

Trevor Rabin: very anti-nostalgic. Almost everything Rabin did this year was new material.

COMMERCIAL SUCCESS, approximately from least to most

Based on what chart data I could find, I think the albums go in a decreasing order of sales as follows: Mirror to the Sky > Echoes – Ancient & Modern > Rio > A Gallery of the Imagination > Celestial Songs, and then maybe Days of Future Passed – My Sojourn and Permanent Dream, with others not troubling any charts. In terms of touring, I think Horn's tours with Seal and DSL probably constitute the most ticket sales when combined, then Yes and John Lodge are maybe about equal, followed by Anderson, and then R Wakeman. So, overall, my ranking of commercial success, from lowest to highest, would be…

Moraz, O Wakeman: nothing of note.

Jon Anderson: Both tours were relatively short, which affects total ticket sales. Venues with the Geeks were of moderate size. Those with the kids seemed to have been bigger. But no releases for sale limits his commercial success.

Rick Wakeman: I think Wakeman was playing to smaller audiences than Anderson or Yes in the US. Gallery didn't make the main UK album chart when it received its general release in 2023, but it was #11 on the UK Progressive albums chart, #18 on the indie chart, #37 on the physical albums chart, #39 on the album sales chart, and #97 on the paid download chart. It made #35 on the UK iTunes chart.

Trevor Rabin: Rio made #52 in Switzerland and #90 in Germany. It didn't make the main chart in the UK, but was #7 on the UK Progressive albums chart, #19 on the physical albums chart, #16 on the album sales chart, #52 on the paid download chart, and #5 on the rock & metal chart. It was also on various iTunes charts: US #24, UK #30, Australia #51, Germany #52, Canada #53.

Trevor Horn: Horn was the musical director for a significant tour by Seal, with good audience sizes in Europe and North America. Dire Straits Legacy also play surprisingly big venues. Horn also got an Italian TV appearance. Echoes made #81 in UK. It also made #47 in Germany and #68 in Austria. It was also on various iTunes charts: Brazil #3, Italy #8, UK & Germany #11, Australia #12, US #85. In addition, "Relax" made #81 and "Steppin' Out" #65 on Spanish iTunes, while "Slave to the Rhythm" made #51 in Italy and #63 in Germany.

Billy Sherwood & Jay Schellen: Both Sherwood's and Schellen's notable sales were just from Yes. Mirror to the Sky charted around the world: Switzerland #9, Germany #12, Japan #24, UK #30, Hungary #31, Portugal #35, Austria #53, Wallonia (Belgium) #55, Italy #61, Poland #62, Netherlands #84, Flanders (Belgium) #93, France and Spain #99. It did not make the main US chart, but was #4 in rock & metal and #22 in sales. It was also on various iTunes charts: Spain #3, Brazil #7, UK #10, Canada #13, US #17, Germany #18, Italy #19, Australia #23, France #36. Yes played to good audience sizes in the US. 

Jon Davison: As well as his work in Yes, Days of Future Passed – My Sojourn made #42 on Italian iTunes.

Steve Howe: As well as Yes, Tomorrow's Permanent Dream made #16 in the UK independent album breakers chart (albums of the week by an artist who has not yet reached the Top 40). It was also at #55 on French iTunes.

Geoff Downes: As well as Yes, Celestial Songs made #27 on the UK indie chart, #60 on the physical albums chart, #63 on the album sales chart, and #7 on the rock & metal chart. It did not chart on iTunes.

Among not quite Yes alumni, Tony Levin stands out. Peter Gabriel's i/o went #1 in the UK and #99 in the US. It was also top ten in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Switzerland. The tour, meanwhile, was in very large venues. You would think that would win, but, no, former ABWH keyboardist Matt Clifford was the runaway success of the year as he played on The Rolling Stones' Hackney Diamonds, which made #1 in the UK, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Netherlands, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland. It made #3 in the US. It has gone Gold in the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Austria. It was the best-selling album of the year in Germany.


Of the various projects mentioned above, my favourite was Mirror to the Sky. Was it the best album? Was it consistently good? Maybe not, but it's the album that has stayed with me the most. My next favourite project, as I am always a Trevor Horn fanboy, was Echoes – Ancient & Modern. I'd put Rio third: I think it is a really strong album, possibly in some sense better than the previous two. Horn is 'cheating' because his album is built around a bunch of pre-existing great songs, whereas Rabin wrote his material. But if you asked me which album I'd rather listen to right now, Echoes or Rio, I would choose Echoes.

I am enjoying Celestial Songs: it's not clicked with me in the same way as Halcyon Hymns, but it's still a good one, so I'll put it fourth. Those are my standouts. Of the rest, National Treasure: Edge of History is not bad for a score album. The Cold Light of Day is a surprisingly good rock album, certainly the best album by a football player I've listened to. I like Motif, Volume 2, it does exactly what you would expect, no more, no less. I'll go with Cold Light fifth, Motif 2 sixth and National Treasure seventh.

In terms of the various guest appearances, Miracles in the Nothingness, Songs for the Future etc., nothing really jumped out at me, not that I have heard everything. Maybe "One of These Days" with Downes on Meddle Reimagined is the best of the lot.

I thought A Gallery of the Imagination was terrible, but if I'm counting it as a 2022 album, I can't blame Wakeman for it here! Days of Future Passed – My Sojourn was unimpressive.

In terms of live work, I loved the Jon Anderson + Paul Green Rock Academy show I saw. I was in the wrong country for the Geeks tour, but the recordings I heard were great. Likewise, Yes were playing the wrong continent for me this year, but I enjoyed the boot I heard and loved them last year. I saw the Seal show in the UK and had a great night, and I enjoyed listening to recordings of The Buggles set from the US. I also loved the stream for the John Wetton tribute show.

Put that all together and I think my personal ranking would be: Anderson (best live work), Horn (me = fanboy), Howe (for leading on Mirror to the Sky and Motif 2 is solid), Rabin (great work in Rio and not bad score output), Downes (3 albums and they are all good), Schellen, Sherwood, Davison, R Wakeman. (Insufficient data for Moraz and O Wakeman.)

In all, a great year for Yes-related music. I'm loving this late flowering of Trevor Horn's career. I hope he can get back to new music and not just nostalgia, but it appears he is constrained by record label interest and they want the nostalgia. Jon Anderson's recorded output was disappointing, hopefully 2024 will rectify that, but he has been performing fantastically. I am full of praise for Trevor Rabin's 2023. My highlight is a very enjoyable Yes album, but Downes and Howe deserve praise for so much work beyond that as well.

Rick Wakeman works hard, but it's been a while since he's done much of interest to me. Patrick Moraz does little and it's been a while since he's done much of interest to me. I hope we hear more from Oliver Wakeman and from Khoroshev in 2024.

Possible highlights for 2024? It is both exciting and somewhat worrying that Anderson has several projects that could be released next year: an album with the Geeks, 1000 Hands: Chapter Two, Zamran (or part one, at least). Maybe a bit more focus on finishing projects wouldn't go amiss? I look forward to seeing Yes live. I wonder how work on a new album is getting on? A new Circa album could be interesting. Might we get the new John Lodge project with Davison and Downes? Could the hinted-at Dave Kerzner/Jon Davison project come to fruition? Horn is touring with his band, but also, it appears, with a reunited Producers. Horn has said he's got another solo album recorded. Braide says another DBA album is already written.

Tuesday 12 December 2023

Poll: What was the best Yes-related release of the second half of 2022? Final

Voting in the final round for best Yes-related release of the second half of 2022 was way down, with just 29 votes (ignoring a test vote). I don't know why voting was so low. Was it fatigue over a four part vote, the decline of Twitter meaning people didn't see the vote, the new polling widget? Anyway, the final results were:

1. Rick Wakeman: A Gallery of the Imagination - 31% (9 votes)

2. Virgil & Steve Howe: Lunar Mist - 28% (8 votes)

3. Bill Bruford's Earthworks: Live at the Schauburg Bremen 1987 - 24% (7 votes)

4. Carly Rae Jepsen: The Loneliest Time (w/ Rabin) - 10% (3 votes)

5. Prog Collective: Seeking Peace (w/ Sherwood, Downes, Davison, Moraz) - 7% (2 votes)

6. Seal: Seal Dolby Atmos mix (w/ Horn) - 0% (0 votes)

So, a very close result between the top three, but congratulations to Rick Wakeman for winning.

Tuesday 7 November 2023

Immersive world premiere of The Yes Album

To promote the new super deluxe edition of The Yes Album, a small audience - whoever saw the social media announcement and answered quickest! - were treated to the world premiere of the immersive mix at L-Acoustics in Highgate, London (very close to where I went to school). There was a 6pm and an 8pm "performance" and I was lucky enough to get into the 6pm.

The venue is a lovely demonstration studio for L-Acoustics, who do speakers for venues and high end clients. They had earlier done one of the listening events for Steven Wilson's The Harmony Codex here. They welcomed us with a nice selection of complimentary beverages. The listening room is equipped with 18 speakers in the walls, 12 in the ceiling and (playing the same channel) 24 subwoofers. There was seating for, I estimate, a bit over 30. Also present were some people from Yes management and YesWorld, Jerry Ewing and others from Prog magazine, and a special guest in the form of Bill Bruford. Steven Wilson had been meant to be there, but a last minute problem kept him away. (We saw Nick Beggs on the way out, there for the 8pm slot.)

We were plunged into darkness for the playthrough of the album, start to finish. Afterwards, Wilson had been to interview Bruford, but instead the lady from L-Acoustics chaired and Bruford took questions from the audience.

Bruford was delightful. He talked about enjoying listening to the album, but he wasn't certain whether that was the music, or the memory of its creation, or the memory of its performance. He talked about recording the album, but stressed how long ago it was and that his memories were vague in places.

He talked of recording on 16 tracks, of which Howe got seven, when he only got three! He talked of still being very new to the recording process, and of how the recording seemed to take so long, although he wasn't certain whether his memory of the time taken was of this album, or the one after, or the one after. They were aware that the recording was costing significant money. He described how the first two albums had flopped, so The Yes Album was both a new start and a last chance. Thus the presentation of The Yes Album, as if it were a debut. He said he had to record the drum parts first, as was the drummer's situation then, not knowing, having to guess, what would be recorded on top of that drum part later.

I asked a question about the very simple drum part on "Your Move", compared to what he plays on the rest of the album. He said he couldn't remember the decision making behind that, but he was glad he had chosen to do that as it left space for Colin Goldring's (four) recorder parts. He said they had initially tried a Mellotron and how in another band, they probably would have left it there, but Jon Anderson  was always pushing and so instead they got a real person. 

Bruford also talked of Keith Emerson recording downstairs, so there is a bit of Emerson's Moog used on one song. (I think he said it was on "Perpetual Change".) He talked about Kaye not speaking up and fighting his corner as Wakeman later would, and so his role in the music was more in the background.

In terms of promoting the new release, with its Atmos and 5.1 mixes, I don't know how useful an event like this is. Unless you have a room with 54 speakers in it, I presume the album is not going to sound the same at home! It definitely sounded fantastic for us. If we can presume that you get a reasonable approximation with a home set-up, then, yes, I can recommend the immersive mix. The instruments, the different tracks, are super clear. What the immersive mix brings is separation. That meant I was hearing details I had never heard before.

At the same time, the separation can also make the music sound less connected. For example, in "Yours is No Disgrace", Kaye's organ was to the side, which felt wrong to my ears, like it wasn't part of the music in the same way. Bruford commented similarly. He felt the drums sounded distanced from the rest of the performance, whereas he prefers a live jazz recording where you can hear the drums tight in with the other instruments.

As Bruford also commented, the mix would sometimes shoot the different guitar parts around the room. In places, I felt that gave an "impossible" effect. It makes you conscious that this can't be a live performance, because Howe can't be in two places at once. But one can always quibble over mixing choices. Overall, it's amazing how good a recording from 1970 can sound and I applaud Wilson's work. If you don't have a surround sound set-up, I'm not certain the boxset has enough new to justify the price tag, but there is a cheaper digital version that will be available.

Monday 29 May 2023

Poll: What was the best Yes-related release of the second half of 2022? Round three

There were 20 Yes-related albums released in the second half of 2022, so instead of a single poll, we're going through them in three rounds, with the top 2 from each round going through to the final. The final round covered everything remaining after the first two rounds. 33 of you voted, but because of a logistical problem, only the first 25 votes recorded! So the (partial) results were:

1. Bill Bruford's Earthworks: Live at the Schauburg Bremen 1987 - 9 votes (36%)

2. Seal: Seal Dolby Atmos mix (w/ Horn) - 7 votes (28%)

3. Dave Kerzner: The Traveler Singles (w/ Sherwood, Davison) - 5 votes (20%)

4= various artists: Synthesizer Classics (w/ Downes, Wakeman R, Moraz) - 2 votes (8%)

4= Flash: Live in the USA (w/ Banks) - 2 votes (8%)

6= Fernando Perdomo: Frost Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (w/ Wakeman R, Downes) - 0 votes (0%)

6= Munroe's Thunder: The Black Watch (w/ O Wakeman) - 0 votes (0%)

That means Live at the Schauburg Bremen 1987 and the Dolby Atmos mix of Seal join Rick Wakeman's A Gallery of the Imagination, Carly Rae Jepsen's The Loneliest Time, Prog Collective's Seeking Peace and Virgil & Steve Howe's Lunar Mist in the final, which will be held once I work out the problem with recording votes!

Saturday 6 May 2023

Poll: What was the best Yes-related release of the second half of 2022? Round two

There were 20 Yes-related albums released in the second half of 2022, so instead of a single poll, we're going through them in three rounds, with the top 2 from each round going through to the final. Round 2 covered releases by or with Steve Howe, Billy Sherwood or Jon Davison. We had 59 votes, as follows:

1. Prog Collective: Seeking Peace (w/ Sherwood, Downes, Davison, Moraz) - 23 votes (39%)

2. Virgil & Steve Howe: Lunar Mist - 12 votes (20%)

3. Arc of Life: Don't Look Down (w/ Sherwood, Davison) - 8 votes (14%)

4. Glass Hammer: At the Gate (w/ Davison) - 6 votes (10%)

5= David Paich: Forgotten Toys (w/ Sherwood) - 4 votes (7%)

5= Dave Kerzner: The Traveler (w/ Sherwood, Davison) - 4 votes (7%)

7. Life on Mars: Shadows in a Jar (w/ Sherwood) - 2 votes (3%)

A clear win, then, for Seeking Peace, which out-polled the more high profile Arc of Life sophomore release. It's joined by Lunar Mist, Steve's collaboration with his late son. I voted for Forgotten Toys, a wonderful debut EP from Toto's David Paich, but I nearly voted for Dave "Squids" Kerzner's The Traveler. However, I can see most of you don't agree with me!

On to Round 3, which are all the remaining releases (including an alternative version of The Traveler as it seemed sensible to put it in a different roud). You can vote on the news website front page.

Sunday 30 April 2023

First thoughts on Mirror to the Sky

InsideOut kindly sent me the new Yes album. It’s a strong release. While recognisably the same band (almost) as on The Quest, Mirror to the Sky is a big step up. We have better drums, better vocals, better tempo, and no tracks you want to skip. The band sound more integrated; the long songs are more coherent. It’s an album I keep returning to with much pleasure.

This is a new incarnation of Yes. While it harks back to prior Yes output in places, they are doing their own thing. On one side, we have the propulsive Sherwood/Schellen rhythm section, on the other we have Howe’s steel guitar entwining with Joyce’s string arrangements. At the centre is Jon Davison, who is becoming more assured as a writer and arranger. We have big, twangy guitar sounds, frequently evoking the American West. We have lyrical themes about our connections with the stars.

It’s not a perfect album. I’d like to hear some more classic riffs and melodies from Howe; there’s a tendency towards simple ascending or descending motifs. Davison occasionally skirts cliché in the lyrics. Downes is rather absent, spending much of the album in the background.

I’m never certain what Yes fans want. Maybe we all want different things? But I think most fans wanted this: more rock, more oomph, more epic. Now, let’s go through the songs one by one.



You’ve all heard the two ‘singles’. I wrote about “Cut from theStars” here and “All Connected” here. I first heard the album as a whole before “Cut from the Stars” was released and it took me the longest to get into. I still feel it has a certain angular feel to it, but that works.

The two singles to date have prompted a few comparisons with Arc of Life. I think Sherwood and Schellen are shining in the Yes environment. I can hear similarities to Arc of Life, but there are multiple Sherwood-led albums since The Quest (via the Prog Collective and Arc of Life) and they all pale compared with the work he’s doing here. And while the singles have foregrounded Sherwood’s writing, it is Howe who is still the main composer on the album.



This is an album that ebbs and flows, within songs and across songs. Compared to the tracks before and after, “Luminosity” begins in a statelier fashion. The opening with guitar, orchestra and drums, keeps things slow, before we move into a jauntier section. The main theme is then introduced instrumentally, before Davison sings mostly unaccompanied. It’s a strong vocal line, with a Celtic folk feel. Wasn’t Davison living in Ireland for a period? The lyrics return to the stellar theme: “Like the stars, we are luminous”. We also reference extraterrestrial life, a common Yes theme (compare “Arriving UFO”). Sherwood’s backing vocals are strong again.

This was one of the first two pieces the band worked on, before The Quest was even released, and in some ways it sounds most like the material on The Quest (compare “Dare to Know” maybe). Both this and “All Connected” contrast Davison/Sherwood with Howe/Joyce/orchestra, with Schellen’s drums providing the important linking element. Howe’s playing is slow and heartfelt, Joyce’s arrangements add colour and variation, leading to an uplifting conclusion. “Luminosity” also stands out as the first time Downes comes to the fore.

“All Connected” and “Luminosity” are rather alike. I wonder whether moving one of the pieces to elsewhere in the running order would work better?



This is the odd one out, which isn’t a criticism. I think its oddity fits well into the flow of the album, a break from the bigger pieces. At first, it’s quite a confusing listen. Structurally, it’s a straightforward tune, with a nice, plaintive Howe solo towards the end. It sounds almost like a Rolling Stones pastiche, with a hint of Americana. The vocals are much lower, with Howe and Davison in close harmony producing a “third voice”. It’s the lyrics that stand out. They are almost absurdist, shades of Zorbonauts, who Downes plays with. Davison has said the song is a critique of modern weddings, but I feel it goes further, lamenting the divisions of society caused by social media. There’s a line that reminds me of t.A.T.u.’s “Craving”. And then into a deliberately downbeat – musically and lyrically – ending.

I don’t think this is simply the short rocker on the album. I suggest the music is deliberately a pastiche to match the lyrics. It’s akin to “Money” or maybe “Countryside”. Possibly, the song needs just slightly more energy to pull off its message?



This is the title track, the centrepiece of the album, the one garnering most attention in reviews. It’s a statement piece and it works. All the ingredients come together. We start with a big, phat riff from Howe, evoking the wide open skies of the American West. Other instruments come in, including some tasty piano from Downes. Then the drums kick things up a notch. Howe brings a dirty sound on the electric guitar. Sherwood gets to state the bass part unaccompanied. The music builds into a groove, Howe wailing away. The whole thing builds to an early climax less than three minutes in.

Then we’re stripped right back to an acoustic guitar motif, and Howe sings one of two key vocal motifs, “Dreams of a sky without fire”. Davison then takes over as vocalist. He sings of the “currents of chance”, somewhat obvious lyrics, but nicely accompanied by an orchestral part depicting the “leaves in a storm”. The energy builds back up and we repeat the vocal line: we’re rocking, but we’ve also got the horns in the orchestra adding colour.

Around four and a half minutes, we get the second key motif, “you are my mirror to the sky”, introduced instrumentally on electric guitar first, then Davison sings. We repeat this motif with variation.

A bit after five minutes, we get what I hear as the centre of the song as we contrast our two lines: “You are my mirror to the sky / Still I dream of a sky without fire”. It’s anthemic, evocative, beautiful, aided by a certain mystery as to what it all means! Davison’s “mirror to the sky” seems to be romantic in intent, the words coming from something his new wife said, more personal than much of the lyrical content that has come before. But Howe wrote the “dreams of a sky without fire” line and there’s a certain narrative tension between this and “mirror to the sky”. Do we want some fire in the sky; why are we dreaming of its absence?

The orchestra comes more to the fore, and we’re in another steel guitar and orchestra section, something of a recurring pattern for the album. We get slow but emotional playing from Howe against fast, lively orchestrations.

We move into one of Davison’s lyrical islands and a sudden flurry of words when before they were used sparsely. Davison sings of metaphysical mysteries, before we re-visit the opening guitar part, Howe building the tension. Another vocal highlight as Davison sings, “We are star fire”, tying us back to “Luminosity” and “Cut from the Stars”. It’s a great moment, yet the line only occurs once. The song deliberately holds back on these moments of emotion when the vocals break in.

We go back to that stripped down acoustic guitar part to introduce the slow movement, guitar and orchestra. The song is in a contemplative mood, bringing us back down carefully. The acoustic guitar motif again heralds a final change, with the orchestra taking over for a recapitulation of the main themes, with swells of strings and rhythmic horns. The band re-join for an energetic coda.



This is the comedown song after the epic, a chill out room for the ears. A pretty song, lyrically it’s another “Roundabout”, a song about missing one’s lover while on tour. It’s a ballad, but with subtle backing from strings, extra guitar parts and moments when Davison double tracks himself.



When I first heard the album, I thought the bonus disc was fine, but very bonus track-y, a bit disposable. With The Quest and Heaven & Earth, there were a few songs that people felt belonged on a Steve Howe solo album rather than a Yes album (“It was All We Knew”, “Damaged World”). With Mirror to the Sky, had Yes gathered all those songs and put them on the bonus disc?

However, over the weeks, I’ve found myself listening to the bonus tracks as much as the rest of the album, more than some of the main disc. I’m not saying “One Second is Enough” or “Magic Potion” are going to go down in history as classic Yes songs, but they’re fun, they’re very listenable. “Unknown Place” is very good for much of its runtime. I don’t think now that they are disposable. I think this is just another side of the current Yes.



The obvious comparison for “Unknown Place” is “Mirror to the Sky”. It feels like a spare: in case you lost “Mirror to the Sky” down the back of the sofa, you could substitute in “Unknown Place”, with similar sounds and grand design. There’s a lot to like about it. I love the introduction, the playing, and a luscious ending highlighting Downes’ organ playing, his standout moment on the album. But the basic song at the centre of it just doesn’t do much for me; we lack the anthemic lines of “Mirror to the Sky”.

The opening twangy guitar part brings us back to the American West, while vocals evoke Native American rituals, and then we’re into the main part of the song. Over the album as a whole, Howe is less prominent as a vocalist than he was on The Quest, but a middle section here uses Howe the singer more. The piece turns more instrumental and we then have two significant sections, both with Downes to the fore. The second leaves the American West for a baroque and Gothic horror feel led by Downes, while Howe is doing Bach-like guitar exercises, making for a great ending.



A simpler song. A nice intro from Downes leads into the main part, which bounces along. Howe’s message is about the fleeting nature of happiness.

The chorus vaguely reminds me of “I’ve Got a Theory” from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical “Once More with Feeling”, which was written by Joss Whedon, who is a Yes fan, so maybe his writing was influenced by Howe and whatever my brain is picking up on all makes sense?

A nice Howe solo at the end and into a clock ticking as the ending.



“Love is a magic potion”, Howe tells us. We have similar lyrical themes to The Quest’s “Music to My Ears”. It’s all fine, if a bit forgettable. But it’s all worth it for a delightful, groovy bass line, written by Howe, played by Sherwood, and which Downes doubles on a couple of bars. Just extract that, I could listen to that on a loop all day.


To summarise, “Mirror to the Sky” is the best track, where the pieces all come together to make a substantial piece of music that can stand in the Yes canon. “Cut from the Stars” is a good single, a concise statement of what Yes can be. I enjoy listening to “Luminosity”, “All Connected” and “Unknown Place”: they’re close to capturing the Yes magic, but maybe they’re not quite there.

Living Out Their Dream” and “Circles of Time” are songs to themselves, doing something specific on their own terms. “One Second is Enough” and “Magic Potion” are cute, simpler songs – very listenable.

The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It flows well as an album, the lyrical themes draw the experience together. It’s an album to be savoured, headphones on.

The band are already working on a third album in quick succession. If they can keep up the momentum, who knows what they can achieve?

Wednesday 26 April 2023

All Connected - a second single

The second single from Mirror to the Sky is now out (depending on what time zone you are in). The second track on the album, it was the choice we expected. It's a long track for a "single" at 9:03. Jon Davison said in a recent interview that they considered releasing a single edit, but Thomas Waber at InsideOut felt the song should come out in its full form. "All Connected" is the first of the longer pieces on the album, and the first of two co-written by Davison, Howe and Sherwood (a writing contribution we never got on The Quest). So, what is the song like?

The opening perhaps does not inspire: a simple ascending motif. We could have done with a more interesting riff here to keep the energy up. But the song warms up around 78 seconds with some tasty Sherwood backing vocals and then into a great, bouncy melody performed by Davison. I presume this core song element is by Davison. It's almost like a little indie pop tune, something you would expect from Belle and Sebastian. The lyrics, "How can we break down walls", reflect similar themes to "Walls" on Talk, which of course none of the current band played on (ignoring rumours of Sherwood's participation on the album), but are perhaps not very original. However, we get into the next section and "karma chromatic" is a good line. (Echoes of Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon"?)

We then get some Davison/Sherwood vocal interplay around the "all connected" motif, which seems to be Sherwood's composition, before the song shifts into a new section around 3:35, I'm guessing maybe by Howe, although with a nice Sherwood bass part. There's another vocal section, it's a song full of ideas, before we return to the "all connected" theme. There's some nice instrumental variation on the themes. Howe, Sherwood, Davison and Schellen are all in synch creatively. We return to the "How can we break down walls" vocal theme and the following "karma chromatic" part, and then again to Howe's slide guitar as a coda. It's a good song that takes us on a journey, although it's not always clear it knows the way.

The lyrics are Apollonian, relating to universal humanist themes, perhaps particularly ideas we've heard from Sherwood before. Davison has talked about Sherwood's original lyrics focusing on the literal, technological sense of being "all connected", which he expanded to cover a more metaphysical take. The word "collective" jumped out at me, a word also appearing in "Cut from the Stars". While nowhere near to being a concept album, there is a certain continuity of lyrical themes across Mirror to the Sky.

In all, "All Connected" represents a more united and ambitious band than we sometimes heard on The Quest, full of ideas and good playing, but perhaps not quite there yet in terms of hitting everything fans want from a longer Yes piece. (But wait for the rest of the album!)