It's only been two years since The Quest, but Yes had already started work on this, album number twenty-three, before it had even been released, citing a strong creative zone. However, they went for a different approach and, to my thinking, it worked well. There are fewer songs, but they have the time to breathe, even though they don't bloat up to anywhere close to the levels of legendary indulgence they sometimes reached in the seventies. The longest song on The Quest ran a breath over eight minutes, but there are four longer than that here and three of them are highlights.
The result is that everything feels less rushed, even the songs that don't boast epic lengths. As an example, the opener, Cut from the Stars, is merely five and a half minutes, but it feels as natural at that length as All Connected and Luminosity do at nine and the title track does at fourteen. It simply does what it does, which is to be lively and playful within the framework of a song. Everyone shines but I particularly enjoyed Billy Sherwood's highly active bass. All Connected isn't dissimilar but it stretches out the fun. This is playful Yes.
By comparison, Luminosity is more of an exploratory piece. It's as if the two openers put the band onto the walkway in Roger Dean's cover art to gaze into the reflection of stars in such an expanse of water and then improvise music on the theme, but this third piece has them dive in and discover that the water is a portal so they're way out there. For a while, they're content to simply watch the marvels around them with wide open eyes but, by the halfway mark, they've become comfortable enough to join in and jam with the majesty of creation. Eventually, they have to sit back again and let it all wash over them. It's a real journey of a song.
Talking of the long songs, the longest is the title track and I'm not as convinced by it. Of everything on offer here, this is the one that falls into being background music at points, especially during the instrumental second half when it gets all orchestral and resembles a film soundtrack. It starts out well, with a southwestern feel, as if someone inverted the cover art and the ocean turned into the desert. It's outlaws waiting for a train music. There are southwestern touches in Unknown Place as well, combining a Native American sound with a dominant bass.
Oddly, Circles of Time, the sub-five minute piece that wraps up the first disc, feels more like a title track than the actual title track, because it's fundamentally calm and reflective. What elevates it is Jon Davison's voice echoing into Billy Sherwood's like pebbles skipping over a calm pond. I'm not as fond of the short pieces here, but they're still fascinating, especially the album's true closer, an odd throwback to seventies vocal music called Magic Potion. I caught glimpses of Copacabana and wondered how something like that could be translated into a dynamic prog framework. The other surprising short piece is Living Out Their Dream, which oddly sounds like Yes covering Hawkwind.
For me, it's All Connected and Luminosity, the early nine minute songs, and a second disc number called Unknown Place, which runs eight and is easily the most immersive song here. The opening is wonderful, from yet another iconic guitar flourish from Steve Howe, whose work is once again the highlight of the album, not in a grand sweep but in a thousand little touches, to Sherwood's power bass and some simple but emphatic beats from new fish, Jay Schellen. Last time out, the drummer was Alan White, as it had been since 1972, but he passed in 2022 after half a century with the band and was replaced by Schellen, who has been their live drummer since 2016.
Unknown Place isn't just its intro though. It finds one of those deceptively simple vibes that's full of quintessential Yes detail, but also moves into some of the best peaceful moments on the album. There are many of those, so this one isn't alone, but it has a few and they're exactly right. At other points, of course, it focuses our attention on little details that continue to elevate the song on the fifth or sixth listen because we suddenly catch something else that one of these musicians is doing for the first time, usually Howe but also Geoff Downes on a variety of keyed instruments and with Sherwood and Schellen contributing their fair share of wonderful touches too.
This is a much stronger album than The Quest for me, even though it arrives so closely on its heels. Other critics rated The Quest much higher than I did, but one fantastic opening song apart, I didn't connect with it much at all. I connect with this one much more, especially on the majority of longer songs that give a band of serious musicians the opportunity to let their songwriting breathe. I may only give it a single point more but I'm tempted to add another one. This is much more like it.