In 1980, the progressive-rock group Yes did the unthinkable: It released an album without the soaring, distinctive vocals of founding frontman Jon Anderson. That album, Drama, features Trevor Horn of The Buggles on the microphone, and it’s become a footnote in Yes’ catalog. More than 30 years later, the band has released its second Anderson-free record, Fly From Here. Sung by recent recruit Benoît David—an Anderson disciple poached from a Yes cover band—Fly From Here seems preordained to suffer the same fate as Drama. If it does, it will have earned its negligible status.
Yes has always had a fluid lineup, but two of its longest-standing members—guitarist Steve Howe and bassist Chris Squire—appear on Fly From Here. They bring the goods; the duo’s playing is warm, organic, and relatively easygoing even as it flexes its virtuosic sinew, and Horn returns to offer some seamlessly sympathetic songwriting and production, even as his presence underscores Anderson’s absence. David’s voice has the needed tone and range, but it skimps on Anderson’s melodic inventiveness and unique alchemy of the emotional and cerebral. Just as lackluster is the album’s florid keyboardist, Geoff Downes—also of The Buggles and Drama—who sounds better suited to Mannheim Steamroller. It may not be entirely fair to measure Fly From Here against the Anderson metric, but when the Anderson-aping results merely tread water, it’s impossible not to.