While the debate continues over who can call themselves a legal member of Yes, the band’s rolling version, with longtime guitarist Steve Howe at the helm, spent time downtime during the pandemic The pursuit, her first album in seven years and her first without bassist and founding member Chris Squire. This begs the question: can a Yes album stand on its own without original members? Removing the hearsay, speculation, and all efforts to discredit the album and its staff, which floats under a sacred and beloved banner, the answer is a resounding yes. Whether it is good is a completely different question.
Total, The pursuit is a calm and gentle record without much jas-like embellishment or grandeur, regardless of the orchestral improvements. Howe’s playing is consistently brilliant, and there are moments in songs like “Dare To Know,” “Minus The Man,” and “Leave Well Alone,” where certain lines, phrasing, and solos indicate the importance of the man’s place in Yes is. Geoff Downes also takes this opportunity by highlighting a synthesizer-infused riff to drive “The Ice Bridge” forward, while anchoring the influence of “The Western Edge” and “Music To My Ears” with a series of keys. The tempo is restrained, Alan White’s drumming is kept to a minimum, and there’s barely a paradiddle to shift the tempo (touring drummer Jay Schellen also helps).
Singer Jon Davison, who had the Herculean task of gaining credibility in Yes circles, approaches his own identity on this album. There are nuances in his tone that mark a superiority over its predecessors, which helps to redefine the overall sound of the band. On “A Living Island,” Davison finds his voice eloquent in a humble change of melody, especially when a few gallant masterpieces from Howe make him go deeper. “Sister Sleeping Soul” gives the singer plenty of room to move around in the driver’s seat, resulting in his best vocal performance on the album. Billy Sherwood, who did an admirable job for Chris Squire, also adds to the vocals. Although the harmony mix isn’t quite as distinctive as it used to be, there is enough freedom in the choruses and pauses to cover the politeness.
The pursuit is slightly tarnished by detours like “Mystery Tour”, a slight allusion to the Beatles that is only carried by Howe’s remarkable runs down the neck of his guitar. To his credit, the album aptly captures Yes, for better or worse, at the mid-century of an incredible career. Leisurely fans have already made a judgment based on the line-up and the standards of the 70s and 80s salad days. Yeah, on that damn-if-you-do-damn-if-you-not phase of their journey where creating a studio album comes with calculated risks and expectations. Recognize this eclipse Fragile, Close to the edge, and 90125 is unlikely at this point, is probably the best way to approach The pursuit. With no preconceived notions, it’s easier to judge this album by your own values than by what came before. After that, it’s all a matter of personal taste.
~ Shawn Perry