Yes, ‘Mirror to the Sky': Album Review
The pandemic offered a silver lining for Yes fans: It's the first time in decades the band has released two new albums less than two years apart. Mirror to the Sky, the British quintet's 23rd studio set, comes just 17 months after The Quest and is even better than its predecessor. The quintet, having adapted to the remote recording process, sounds even more assured and muscular throughout these six main album tracks (plus three bonuses), with the performances capably knitted together by guitarist Steve Howe, producing the band for a second time, and engineer Curtis Schwartz.
The Quest may have been a confident return to recording six years after the middling Heaven & Earth, but Mirror to the Sky boasts more of the genuine prog bravado of vintage Yes, up to and including the Roger Dean cover art. Just looking at the track listing should set any Yes fan's heart aflutter: Three songs weigh in at more than nine minutes, with the title track at a hefty 14.
Now, more isn't a guarantee of, well, more, but Yes has always had a deft touch with lengthy, meticulously rendered pieces, and Mirror to the Sky's epics - also including "All Connected" and Luminosity" - hold up to and uphold that grand tradition with symphonic ebb-and-flow arrangements, sweeping dynamics and virtuosic playing. And it says something that "Mirror in the Sky" breezes from one musical highlight to the next so deftly that you're wanting more, even as Howe and the FAMES Studio Orchestra, returning from The Quest, usher it to an end.
There's no question the current Yes is Howe's baby - which is fine. Even though The Quest was the first Yes album without any original members, the nimble guitarist (whose dobro and pedal steel parts are also prominent throughout the album) has been on board since 1970 and is certainly a qualified arbiter as to what fits Yes best. On Mirror (dedicated to the late drummer Alan White, who died in 2022) Howe fashions a fresh sound, something punchier and more spacious than the classic '70s work but that still checks off all the boxes that comprise a credible body of work for Yes. He's also smart enough to set that as a template that leaves plenty of his room for his compatriots to make their mark.
The surging opener "Cut From the Stars" was written by singer Jon Davison and bassist Billy Sherwood, who also joined Howe in writing "All Connected" and "Luminosity." Davison particularly comes into his own more on Mirror in all capacities: His singing is stronger than ever, and his lyricism confidently straddles a line between poetic and a metaphysical "What is he on about?" quality that makes for good prog. Davison's gentle "Circles of Time" is a genuinely pleasant rumination after the massive title track and determinedly plants a flag for his durability (11 years now) with the band.
Jay Schellen, who bolstered and subbed for White on the road during his final years, is solid in his full-time role in Yes as well. But keyboardist Geoff Downes feels strangely absent this time, co-writing just one song ("Living Out Their Dream," led by Howe's Stonesy riff) and serving more as a support player than a lead figure. It's not until "Unknown Place," one of the three bonus tracks, that Downes (also Howe’s cohort in Asia) steps into the spotlight, trading licks with Howe on Hammond organ and then switching to pipe organ toward the end of the song.
The bonus disc, meanwhile, puts Yes in new terrain with a contemporary jam band quality that wouldn't sound out of place at Bonnaroo. "Unknown Place" lets Howe (who wrote all three songs), Downes and Sherwood pass the ball for more than eight minutes, while the trippy, melodic flavors of "One Second is Enough" and "Magic Potion" could fit alongside the Zombies, Howe's pre-Yes band Tomorrow or even Phish. There's a lot to hope Yes will be open to exploring there, meaning Mirror to the Sky, even more than The Quest, gives us every reason to hope this is the beginning of a prolific new era for the band.