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Yes - Big Generator CD (album) cover

BIG GENERATOR

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

2.53 | 1099 ratings

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cfergmusic1
3 stars The 90125 success story has been oft-repeated, but for the uninitiated, the "new Yes" was a big hit with music lovers the world over and gave the band a new wave of popularity. Here we have a similar situation to Genesis in that both these bands met with great success in their second decade after re-inventing their sound, which was well-deserved for them (because it probably got new fans to check out the old stuff!). Anyway, this version of Yes (the Trevor Rabin edition) quickly garnered the nickname "YesWest," when the sweet smell of success necessitated almost the entire band moving to Los Angeles (with the exception of Alan White, who remained in Seattle). The follow-up to 90125, Big Generator, was almost two years in the making and was unfortunately produced amid endless courtroom squabbling and creative differences between Jon Anderson and the rest of the band (which may be why he has so little input).

For all those problems, though, I actually rate this album higher than 90125, strange as it sounds. Why? Because of an important point I mentioned at the end of my 90125 review: more consistent and generally concise songwriting. There are very few "prog" exercises here (with the exception of a couple of tracks), but there are also no significant, bloated missteps in the vein of "Changes" or "Hearts." It still sounds like an 80s Yes record, sure, but the band seems more sure of itself this time and Rabin just keeps getting better as a guitarist. Call this the Time and a Word of YesWest.

The leadoff track is "Rhythm of Love," probably not a favorite here but I've always liked this one. Opening with Beach Boy-esque vocal harmonies that echo the chorus, it soon turns into pretty much your standard 80s rocker. It may have the same drum beat and sound as every other 80s tune, but at least it has a good pocket. I've heard that the lyrics are sexual in nature, but damned if I can figure out whether that's true or not. It doesn't really matter, though, as the track rides a solid groove throughout, even in the more ethereal bridge. An unlikely winner.

The title track (which always makes me subconsciously think of Sade's "Smooth Operator") is basically a B-level rewrite of "Owner of a Lonely Heart" (it even has similar random production noises like that track does). The band keep it moving along, though, with some unusual twists including a Steely Dan-ish vocal bridge. Not exactly bad, but for the most part uninspired.

"Shoot High, Aim Low" is something of a Yes-style power ballad. One of the longest tracks here, it runs seven minutes, most of which are used wisely. The harmonic structure of the song is basically a pattern of three power chords that go into minor-key territory at certain points, and I would guess that the lyrics are about some sort of hunting trip. Though not transcendent, it's all done very effectively, helped out by appropriate "wall-of-sound" power (check out Alan's BIG drum sound!).

After the relative bombast and slowness of the previous track, "Almost Like Love" feels like driving a Porsche by comparison. It's the first real up-tempo song here, reflected by Anderson's rapid-fire lyrics which may come across as being too preachy for some. This track is also notable for being Yes' first to feature a horn section, which is probably buried in the mix somewhere behind the synth blasts. Overall, very musically exciting.

Speaking of outside musicians, "Love Will Find a Way" unusually enough opens with McCartney-style chamber orchestra?I'm pretty sure these aren't just Rabin/Kaye keyboards because they sound a lot like real string players. After about 15 seconds, though, the rock feel takes over, spotlighted by one of Rabin's best guitar riffs. Although the tune is generally pleasant enough, I do have a hard time with the pre-chorus lyric, "Here is my heart/Waiting for you/Here is my soul/I eat at Chez Nous," no matter how well it's delivered. The harmonica break is by James Zavala, who also played saxophone on "Almost Like Love." This is also the third and last track here to feature the word "Love" in the title. I guess the word really IS Love (OK, enough Time and a Word references).

"Final Eyes" is a great atmospheric track, parts of which strangely remind me of Tales, notably the 12-string guitar in the intro and clean vocal harmonies in the chorus (on which Squire can be heard quite well). Tony Kaye contributes a very nice organ obbligato in the bridge (at least I assume it's Kaye), and this part of the song is a journey unto itself, containing perhaps the most beautiful passages on the entire album. Fans of classic Yes should find plenty of like about this one.

For a change of pace Chris Squire is featured right up front on "I'm Running" (literally, as the first occurrence of the bass line is just him solo!). This is probably the "proggiest" track on the album, riding the aforementioned bass line in 11/4 for the intro and all recurrences of such. Parts of this tune sound almost Caribbean/tropical, due to the pairing of acoustic guitar and marimba in the instrumentals (great touch). Although this song shows Yes going back to the old prog days again, it does get a bit repetitive and has a definite "kitchen sink" feel to it?like they just threw in a bunch of stuff because they could. In that respect it's almost a more focused version of something from Tormato. It's mostly very good though.

The final track is "Holy Lamb," solely written by Anderson for (apparently) the Harmonic Convergence which took place in 1987 (the year of this album's release). Nothing much to say about this one, as it kind of comes and goes in about three minutes without leaving much of an impression at all. Maybe the whole "new age" thing turns me off to this tune, but whatever.

The bonus tracks on the 2009 Atco reissue (originally Japan-only, but later finding a home in the Studio Albums 1969-1987 box set) consist entirely of multiple remixes/edits of the same two songs and, apart from the single edit of "Love Will Find a Way" (30 seconds shorter and preferable to the album version), are not really worth talking about in great detail. Listening to 7-minute remixes of "Love Will Find a Way" and "Rhythm of Love" is not my idea of a good time, especially when the actual drums are replaced with obviously over-programmed electronic percussion and the whole mix has been drowned in flanger and phaser effects (I actually got a headache after listening to some of these on a good system).

But really, who cares about bonus tracks? The point is to review the actual album, and taken by itself and on its own merits, Big Generator makes its case quite well, even if most people didn't agree. Whereas this seems to be looked upon as a re-hash of 90125, I posit that the musical vision of YesWest was more fully realized with this album, and would reach even higher levels on my favorite Rabin-era Yes album, Talk. Both of these albums have stronger production values and songwriting than 90125 on the whole, and it doesn't seem like they're trying to re-do anything on these (with the exception of this album's title track), so I would recommend them for any listener who enjoys halfway well-made and complex pop/prog rock. 3.5 stars out of 5.

cfergmusic1 | 3/5 |

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