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Yes - 90125 CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

2.97 | 1476 ratings

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5 stars A drum crash, that smooooth, highly processed guitar and those infamous chord stabs: it must be the beginning of 'Owner of a Lonely Heart', a worthy candidate for the most maligned song on ProgArchives.

YES's return from the wilderness has divided opinion ever since it was issued. After 'Drama' and a compelling return to form, the band broke up, members going their separate ways. The world came very close to being graced with the ultimate supergroup: sessions with JIMMY PAGE almost led to the formation of XYZ, a band that would have featured WHITE, SQUIRE, PAGE and PLANT. Ooh err. Didn't happen, though, and in one of life's ironies, HOWE and DOWNES went and formed a supergroup of their own, ASIA, though I use the epithet 'super' under extreme duress. SQUIRE and WHITE put together a band called CINEMA with TREVOR RABIN and old YES teammate TONY KAYE, recorded some of RABIN's material and played it to ANDERSON - who then decided he wanted in. With his addition the band felt they should adopt their former name, even though the sound they'd come up with was different - and so YES was reborn.


Many old-time fans hated the new sound. The old YES was gone: the band had unashamedly closed the door on another 'Drama'-like reprise, nailed the door shut and burned the house down in which it stood. This was a new sound, combining the best of early 80s production (if that isn't an oxymoron - more of that later) with earnest songwriting to produce riff-heavy, catchy rock with some progressive tendencies. That wasn't going to satisfy those hide-bound proggers who, having been into all sorts of music in the early 70s, now refused to countenance anything outside their narrowing conception of 'prog'. YES were consciously exchanging one set of fans for another, always a difficult and controversial process.

The new YES owed a tremendous debt to the genius of TREVOR HORN. The vocalist on 'Drama' and a former member of THE BUGGLES, HORN had decided to pursue a career in production, but had not forgotten his former bandmates. His was the hand that added the crisp, artificial sheen to the sound. I've often wondered whether the dislike of the so-called '80s sound' is really more about the music: whether, like PHIL COLLINS or 90215, the 80s sound isn't another scapegoat for people to sound off at. For me - and I can't speak for anyone else - I thoroughly enjoy 80s production values, and TREVOR HORN was at the forefront of it all. His work with THE ART OF NOISE was sensational, and he achieved artistic and commercial succes with FRANKIE GOES TO HOLYWOOD, CHER, ABC, PET SHOP BOYS, SIMPLE MINDS and GRACE JONES, among others.

If those names send a shudder through you, I sympathise - but I have nothing more of interest to say to you.

So, back to 'Owner of a Lonely Heart'. This is an outstanding pop song dressed up in the most modern, spangly clothes the band could find. The high chord stabs were sampled by THE ART OF NOISE and became their trademark, one of the most evocative sounds of the 80s. And the mid-song break, where the chords were set against processed drums and the vocal screams, is genius. Of note is the seamless interplay of vocals between ANDERSON and RABIN, one of the album's highlights. Remember that the original reason for the formation of YES was SQUIRE and ANDERSON's desire to explore vocal harmony, and this strength is nowhere more evident than on this album. RABIN's outstanding contribution, in my opinion, was neither his songwriting nor his guitar work, but his vocals. SQUIRE even has time to roll out some impressive bass licks, though there is, of course, not a skerrick of jazz to be heard on '90125', the greatest loss of all. You don't like the song, you say? Fine. Up to you. But let me respectfully ask whether you dislike it on its merits, or because of what it stands for.

'Hold On' is a rather fine bluesy rock song - NOT a pop song, there IS a difference - that manages to capture the rhythmical magic of early YES and add a crunch of faux-metal. Again, the highlight is the vocal treatment: the odd vocalisations backing the verses almost go unnoticed, but they are certainly interesting. And note the mid-song break: yes, again it revolves around a vocal experiment. And you thought this album had nothing to do with the band formerly known as YES? You thought this was a commercial album with no experimentation? Wrong.

'It Can Happen' is a constant fight between ANDERSON and RABIN on vocals, backed by eastern-tinged sounds and SQUIRE's fabulous bass. Again, this is top-drawer rock with a risky edge: how this could be compared to the ultra-conservative material ASIA offered us is beyond me. 'Changes' finishes off side 1 with a roar: a complex, proggy rhythm leads into another rock number, a slow-building ballad that has at its heart real fire and drama. The chorus is masterful, a real feat of songwriting. The track is filled with riffs, breaks, tempo changes and that wonderful slow build leading to a satisfying conclusion. This is progressive rock, with emphasis on the rock.

How on earth can anyone call this a pop album?

Particularly given what is to come. The two-song suite leading off Side 2 is superb: the complex 'Cinema' - a stillborn band's entire history compressed into two spectacular minutes, entirely worthy of the Grammy it received. Just listen to it! And the segue into the fantastic, experimental, vocal rich, wondrous 'Leave it' leaves me gasping. Simply glorious. Now 'Leave It' is the absolute bee's knees. Sounds like this on the pop charts? How unlikely is that? It is great fun, and again I emphasise how vocal playfulness is YES's raison d'etre. It's telling that the remix of this track features an acapella version, a sure sign of what the band thought its strength was. There's some complex rhythms here - don't tell me you wouldn't prick your prog ears if something like this came on the radio. As a vocalist myself, this song always leaves me with a smile on my face.

'Our Song' is the nearest the band gets to their earlier sound, even choosing to check some of their old lyrics - see if you can spot them all. Another rock song, not the album's best, but I love SQUIRE's parts, with his trademark octave rises and some wonderful runs. Compact and full of energy, lasting not a moment longer than it needed to. 'City of Love' slows the tempo and hardens the sound to the point of heavy metal. Though it's a personal favourite, I'm not blind enough to miss the rather cheesy, 'try-hard' sound here - but the compositional craftsmanship gets me every time. Good on them for having a crack, and in certain moods it almost works. The problem, in the end, is ANDERSON's ethereal voice: a less likely candidate for a heavy metal vocalist I've never heard! To compensate, the chorus is beefed up with multitracked vocals. The mid-song break features a spectacular riff and solo, and a finale that leans heavily on the crunchy riff. OK, I'm a sucker for this sound, what can I say?

'Hearts' finishes the album in fine style, a lovely ballad that works its way slowly to a fitting climax. The vocal beauty goes unnoticed, which is a pity: there is some truly outstanding interplay between RABIN and ANDERSON, particularly at the beginning of the song. The complexity of the opening gives way to a wonderfully simple chorus, and this juxtaposition carries the song to its sweet conclusion. We get a heavy excursion on the way, along with some gorgeous swirly organ and dramatic vocals. This is clever stuff.

[Note: next paragraph edited after initial review posted]

'90125' deserved to be successful. It also deserved to be critically acclaimed. In one of the ironies that makes humanity so endearing - and so frustrating - the only people who weren't prepared to consider the possible merits of this album were a group of those most familiar with the band. YES moved on, successfully engaging with the new musical landscape, and - judging by the many arguments I had with my mates at the time - a small core of YES's 'trooper fans stayed anchored in the 70s.

You gotta laugh.

russellk | 5/5 |


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