Middle of the road reviews disappoint everyone. In a landscape where it either “rocks” or “sucks,” is “killer” or “filler,” that valley in the middle is hugely unsatisfying. What I’m saying is that I’m about to disappoint you.
“The Ice Bridge,” the first single from progressive rock lifers Yes’ forthcoming album The Quest is okay. It is not the sleepy, mid-tempo slog that the entirety of the previous album, Heaven and Earth was. It has some life in it, as well as some worthwhile performances, particularly from guitarist Steve Howe, now the senior manager of the enterprise, as it were. I don’t think anyone on board whiffs the ball entirely.
And yet, while ‘pleasant enough’ is a sub-definition of damning with faint praise, I can’t really get thrilled by “The Ice Bridge” either. The tune opens with what sounds like Emerson Lake and Powell’s “Touch and Go,” but thankfully does not linger so long as to be considered a ripoff. Point of clarification: Keith Emerson appropriated the melody of an old English folk song, “Lovely Joan,” for “Touch and Go” so the members of Yes were well within their right to embrace that if they chose to. That keyboardist Geoff Downes chose the exact toneprint patch for that as Emerson had strains things, but we’ll let that go.
Another minor annoyance was that the rhythm for the track has very little dynamism. Alan White, unfortunately, regularly sounds like constant, rolling drum loops with an occasional fill on every eighth bar. As the second most senior member, having joined for 1973’s Tales from Topographic Oceans, a lot of scrutiny gets put on his parts. They do not hold up.
Jon Davison remains a divisive newer member to the fold. He’s no slouch vocally. He can hit the high notes, as is evidenced by his many live performances over the years replicating the vocals achieved by original vocalist Jon Anderson. Yet it is extremely difficult to give him proper due, much as I want to. I don’t want to be that guy who says that, if you just swap out “Ander” for “Davi,” this is a clone meant more to sit nicely and not rock the boat. He sounds close enough to Anderson if you don’t listen too carefully.
If you pay slightly more attention, however, it is clear that Davison lacks the passion, the indescribable oomph that is required here. His high notes are a bit too airy, too clean and measured. He hits them, but one is hard-pressed to say he feels them.
But we go back around to the beginning. There is nothing in this song that makes me never want to hear it again. As a decent representation of 2021’s Yes, it is marginally successful. It keeps swinging but is comfortable with third-base line drives than potentially going for the fences, possibly failing but gutting it out to try. In the end, “The Ice Bridge” is not dreadful, but it is dreadfully safe. Given how bad that could have been, I’m grateful, but hardly inspired.