Album Review: Yes' Mirror To The Sky

It’s no secret that Yes’ studio offerings since the epic (and vastly underappreciated) 2001 release Magnification have mostly underwhelmed even the most diehard Yes fans. Founding member and bassist Chris Squire’s last album was 2014’s Heaven and Earth, their first in well over a decade. Produced by Roy Thomas Baker, the album - featuring guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Geoff Downes and drummer Alan White - was the first to feature vocalist Jon “Juano” Davison. A native of California, his previous work included Sky Cries Mary and Glass Hammer, before getting the nod in 2012 to replace Benoît David and again fill former Yes vocalist Jon Anderson’s mostly unfillable role. Yes’ 2021 offering, The Quest, was the first without Squire and featured longtime cohort Billy Sherwood now on bass. Another disappointment, it resembled an Asia album more than the epic, longform musicality that made Yes one of the great progressive rock bands of the 1970s. Since Yes’ last tour, the Royal Affair in 2020, longtime drummer Alan White passed, though that tour saw Jay Schellen fill in on drums and percussion for the ailing White.

In 2023, Yes is led by Howe and Downes, with next generation members Schellen, Sherwood and Davison rounding out the lineup. Much to the surprise of Yes fans, the band announced a new album, Mirror to the Sky, to be released in May, the shortest time between releases since the 1970s! The strong “Cut From The Stars” opens the album. Sherwood does a great job channeling his inner Chris Squire bass lines. Downes keys however never strike out, but rather blanket the soundscape, keeping it warm and covered. Davison’s tenor is to the fore, wrapping the song with words. It’s veritable Yes music. “All Connected” kicks off with Howe’s slide guitar. Why he favors this approach throughout the album is one of the big changes with Yes of old and this Yes of new. The old was equally loud, brash and full of vigor - Yes music may have been complex, but it was always rock music. The song charts a long and varied musical journey, but there’s something - like most Yes of new - polite about it. With its lilting sing-song melody, “Luminosity” certainly harks to the Anderson era. The latter half of the song turns instrumental, but Howe again favors slide guitar rendering his solo somewhat placid. “Living Out Their Dream” cops a little rock-n-roll vibe, but the slick production never lets the song really cut loose. Clocking in at 13:54, the title track “Mirror To The Sky” and its lush string arrangements give it that big epic feel of Yes music, but draped with melancholy; the song barely raises louder than a shout until the orchestra wraps things up. The gorgeous “Circles of Time” closes the first disc; I’m not sure the logic behind the six-track first disc and the so-called “bonus” three-track second; confusing to say the least. The short “Magic Potion” is particularly strong.

In this era of Artificial Intelligence one has to wonder how far off the album would be from something generated by MuseNet or Boomy. It has all the hallmarks of Yes of old: the crescendoing bass lines, the brilliant harmony vocals, shifting meters, layers of sound, etc. But what keeps Mirror in the Sky from ranking up with those Yes classics of yesteryear is the edge - that sharp, now distant aspect of Yes music that put the ROCK into progressive rock.