Over 50 years after releasing its self-titled debut album, Yes is back at it with their new album, “The Quest.” While it opens with a pair of peak progessive rock jams in “The Ice Bridge” and “Dare to Know,” a handful of ill-fitting subsequent tracks hamper the otherwise fantastic work by lead guitarist and producer Steve Howe and his crew.
The aforementioned opening tracks feature the charismatic duo of Howe’s ever-transcendent guitar and the ethereal vocals of Jon Davison, a combination of sounds which feed the futuristic ambience that characterizes the best of “The Quest” and, more generally, the best of progressive rock.
The third track, “Minus the Man,” is where the album starts to fall off a bit. Although the strings try their best to compliment Davison’s vocals and the steady drumming of Alan White, “Minus the Man” simply lacks the creativity and drive that the better songs on “The Quest” make good use of. The explicitly transhumanist lyrics are not necessarily what kill the album’s energetic start, but rather the sudden change of pace and vibes between “Dare to Know” and “Minus the Man” makes for an unnecessary disruption to the listening experience.
“Leave Well Alone” suffers from similar issues, but the main critique of “The Quest” lies in the three tracks that close out the album. To put it bluntly, the three tunes on the second side of Yes’ first double-sided album since 1973’s “Tales from Topographic Oceans” sound like a completely separate work. The second of this trio, “Mystery Tour” is a neat, but ultimately out of place, tribute to The Beatles, with the acoustic ballad “Sister Sleeping Soul” and the cheesy closing song “Damaged World” on either side.
“The Quest” is not one of those albums that progressively gets worse, however, as bangers like “The Western Edge” and “A Living Island” are peppered in between the lowlights of the album. The latter of those two is particularly poignant, as the lyrical musings that transition from personal introspection to a wish for global well-being were inspired by Davison’s time in Barbados during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
All things considered, “The Quest” is a distinct step up from 2014’s “Heaven & Earth” but still exhibits symptoms of a band still figuring out the details of its new sound. With the passing of bassist Chris Squire in 2015, Yes is now without any of its original members. Of course, such changes were bound to happen eventually given the band’s extreme longevity. Going forward, there is hope that Yes can continue this upward trajectory further into the 21st century, but it will have to limit the swings and misses that kept “The Quest” from being a bona fide masterpiece.