Review Summary: Despite an obvious shift in style, 90125 is not by any means a bad Yes album. In fact, it is quite enjoyable.
It’s well-known the 80's were pretty rough on the prog dinosaurs of the 70's, being referred to as the Dark Age for the genre. Gone were the sweeping and complex arrangements, replaced by shortened, radio-friendly driven songs that cut the bands’ creativity: it was a time where the genre was about to become a legacy, as many pioneers of prog went pop or were swept away by new wave/punk era. Despite the fact that Tormato
(1978) had the classic Yes line-up, it was a pretty hideous failure. Yes had tried too hard to do something they were not good at; The band clearly were trying to transform their sound into a marketable way. Like most of the 70’s prog rockers, they failed in this task and were running out of steam and ideas. This brought the departure of front man Jon Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman, and so Yes had no other choice but to aim higher if they wanted to survive to the ruthless Dark Age to come.
In 1980, The Buggles
, futuristic art-pop duo Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn (Video Killed the Radio Star
was their big hit) were in a studio next door to Yes (both musicians were huge fans of Yes, but felt that the quality of their recent music had been slipping). Soon, bassist Chris Squire invited them to actually replace the two legendary pieces of the band, and become fully fledged members of Yes. This they joyfully did, in one of rock music’s more surprising shifts of personnel.
was born, and it was successful, making the top 5 in the UK. Despite the absence of Anderson and Wakeman, the record was very prog-oriented, daring and a major improvement over Tormato
. Yes did the unthinkable with Drama
, and that was putting out a very good, lively album with a certain 80's kick and yet 100% ‘Yes’ all the way through. After touring to promote the album, however, the line-up split up. Trevor Horn couldn't reach the high notes in songs sung by Anderson, and he couldn’t stand the negative comments of the traditional Yes fans. After this, Steve Howe and Geoff Downes teamed up with John Wetton (ex-King Crimson) and Carl Palmer (ELP) to form prog/pop supergroup Asia
. Bassist Chris Squire and drummer Allan White put together a band called Cinema
, mostly based on demos wrote by guitarist/ multi-instrumentalist Trevor Rabin, whom the record company had been trying to attach to various projects. Most of what would eventually become 90125
(named after the album’s number in the Atlantic records catalogue) was developed from songs he had been working for in Cinema
. Rabin never intended his songs there to become Yes songs. The guitarist may not be as classically-minded and sophisticated as Steve Howe, being much more of a hard rock guitar hero, but he's undeniably a more than competent songwriter.
Original Yes organist Tony Kaye was invited to participate as Squire felt that Kaye's textural approach to keyboards would suit the band. Trevor Horn was asked to be the singer, but offered his producing skills instead. Squire recorded some of Rabin's material and played it to Jon Anderson, who then decided he wanted to join them, very late in the recording, contributing vocals and lyrics to the mostly already-written songs. At this point, the record company decided it made more commercial sense to market the album under the name Yes rather than call the project Cinema
, despite the protests of guitarist Trevor Rabin, who now found that he had inadvertently joined a reunited band with a history and expectations, rather than helping to launch a new one. So Rabin was dubious at first as he did not want to be known as Steve Howe's replacement, but rather wanted to be the lead guitarist of a new group. Rabin changed his mind when Anderson added lyrics and his distinctive vocal style to the existing tracks. Besides, it logically would have more marketability under Yes. Needless to say, Trevor Rabin and Trevor Horn did contribute a lot to make Yes survive the 80's.
Steve Howe is nowhere in sight, and 90125
was not entirely convincing for the average proghead. Still, it was something interesting for the time and many songs stood the test of time well. It was released in the worst possible time for progressive bands in general and 70's legends in particular. Yes depended very much on Rabin at this point. Some people don't like his style, but he was doing his multiple jobs (guitarist/keyboard player/vocalist/composer/producer) very well. Some people made him responsible for the change of style for the band, but he was only doing his jobs the best he could to keep Yes alive and to please the record label. Rabin brought a wealth of musical abilities, as well as a talent for writing and arranging crafty pop songs, which, when mixed with the prog sensibilities of Squire, Anderson, White and Kaye, made Yes a household name again and helped them see successes they had never reached before. The new Yes would meet with critical and commercial success (selling over six millions copies and securing a new lease on life for the band, who toured a year to support it) though not without some harsh criticism from fans of earlier incarnations of the band. The 90125
tour was nevertheless the most financially lucrative in the band’s history.
The only one band's #1 hit on the main chart is the opener Owner of a Lonely Heart
. The song had massive airplay, and gave the album a lot of its appeal. On the other hand, the most progressive song is the (way) too short Cinema
, which is a pure ear candy combined with its follower Leave it
. It was undeniable that 90125
had introduced Yes to a massive new fan base (including a new and younger audience) and created new interest in their older material. Regarding the old Yes fan base, many of them were bashing the ‘Rabin era’ for the sake of bashing, many wished it would have remained a side project called ‘Cinema
’, rather than a revamped, poppy synth-rock Yes. Some had quit the Yes wagon, and few others actually accepted the MTV image.
represents a considerable change in the style of Yes. The band no longer has that progressive sound that it managed to keep even through the merger with The Buggles
is basically a collection of well crafted, edgy pop songs, with very little prog rock elements. The group went with a musical landscape that would be more in tune with the decade, and at the same time not completely oblivious to their past. Classic Yes fans went into this album with certain expectations, and of course they weren't met, but had Trevor Rabin gone through with the 'Cinema
' idea, maybe the response to this effort wouldn't be as negative on the whole. The only thing to tie the sound of 90125
to classic Yes is unsurprisingly the distinctive vocal presence of Anderson and Squire's backing vocals and bass. The record's strength lies in the instantly appealing melodies of the songs, and the stunning vocal harmonies throughout the album.
Owner of a Lonely Heart
It Can Happen