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Yes - Big Generator CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

2.54 | 1249 ratings

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2 stars I can't blame Yes for falling into the trap. It was bound to happen. After years of earning adulation from the prog rock populace but still having the average man-on-the-street give them a brutally honest "I just don't get it" opinion of their art, the runaway success they experienced via their 1983 album "90125" with its #1 Top 40 smash hit "Owner of a Lonely Heart" was no doubt intoxicating. (Even a dedicated fanatic like me found a lot to like about its fresh boldness and figured that neo Yes was better than no Yes.) The group's inevitable collective attitude was "Wow! Look at all this cash! Let's do THAT again!" and anyone who says they wouldn't be sorely tempted to do the same is either naive or a bald-faced liar. Universal acceptance is a powerful, addictive drug and Yes got hooked on it pronto. Touring the record took over a year but it was their most profitable ever and pushed sales of the CD over the 6 million mark. The members of the band were on top of the pop/rock world and they liked the view from up there so their credo became "When in Rome wear a toga" as they started planning their follow-up record, wanting to make sure it'd be chock full of more of the same catchy fare.

Cindi Lauper had a song out about that time called "Money Changes Everything" and it certainly applies to "Big Generator." The story of the strife and conflicts that went on during the two years it took to finish the project is a soap opera so I'll just say that it got ugly and the details are out there if you care to investigate. The gist is that guitarist Trevor Rabin eventually emerged from the herd as the head honcho of the album (after many attempted coups and threatened mutinies) but he erred in steering the boat way too far into the commercial waters that looked so safe and warm. Instead of using the newly-found fame/attention that "90125" bestowed upon them to expand the horizons of the MTV virus-infected public by now rejuvenating their dormant spirit of adventure with a healthy dose of progressive rock, Yes took the road most traveled. I'll grant them this, however. The disc's sound quality is so remarkable that if you were to hear this record from a distance you'd be duly impressed. But a closer listen would reveal that it's no more than a hollow porcelain doll that lacks guts or substance.

"Rhythm of Love" has an alluring Beach Boys meets ELO beginning that's kinda cool but then they strangle the mood immediately with drummer Alan White's hard rock bass/snare pattern that makes the track indistinguishable from the horde of wannabe bands indigenous to that plasticized era in music. In fact, if it'd been any of those other outfits it would've been a breakthrough song but this was YES, for Pete's sake, and I expected more. Jon Anderson sings (as if to the group) "Your charms are frozen/no emotion falling through your arms" and I must agree. Trevor's monstrous guitar tone is compelling at the opening of "Big Generator" and the contrast they present between the airy verses and the heavy-handed chorus isn't blatantly formulaic but I can tell they were intent on injecting the same startling effects that characterized "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and it quickly turns into a tired case of been there, done that. Again the lyrics ring true. "Second nature sacrifice/even if you close your eyes/we exist through this strange disguise," Jon intones. "Shoot High Aim Low" is next and it's one weird booger of a tune. The fog machine-worthy beginning has prog potential but all they proceed to do with it is decorate the droning atmosphere with a lot of state-of-the-art electronic ornaments. Rabin demonstrates that he's got a bagful of fancy licks to whip out but to what end? The words are of the usual Yes roundabout variety but one line sticks out: "We looked around the open shore/waiting for something," he sings. This uninspiring song is significant not for where it goes but for where it doesn't.

The only one without a credit for writing "Almost Like Love" is Alan White and he should be grateful because this tune is foul trash. The pounding snare they had him play is more in the vein of The Blues Brothers than Yes and its "get up and boogie" vibe is beyond embarrassing. Someone should've told them that Anderson's wispy voice and R&B mesh as well as oil in water and saved them from themselves. This horrible mistake of a song is so patronizing it gives me the creeps. It blows. The chamber orchestra opening to Trevor's "Love Will Find a Way" sounds like another respectful nod to ELO and it does help to clear the odorous air. But soon it morphs into yet another riff-based number so predictable as to be indistinguishable from the vacuous pop/rock offerings of Night Ranger, etc. Guest James Zavala's brief harmonica flurry provides the cut's only interesting moment. "It's so hard for me to draw a conclusion," he warbles. Not difficult for me, pal, this is lame. Hard to believe this was a #30 hit single. Tells you volumes about the dank dungeons where musical tastes dwelt in those days.

"Final Eyes" starts optimistically as one of Jon's signature, madrigal-like ditties and then broadens expansively to a cavernous depth, giving the prog monster in me a ray of hope that these talented boys haven't been completely corrupted. You keep waiting for them to screw it up but, to their credit, they allow it to be the inoffensive power ballad it was born to be and don't overdo it. The intro to "I'm Running" is passably inventive and the tune has progressive elements aplenty. Yet don't get me wrong. It'll never be confused with "Heart of the Sunrise" but, all things considered, this is about as good as prog got in the MTV-shrouded 80s and these two cuts keep the album from French-kissing the coral. They end with an Anderson-penned, can't-we-all-just-get-along-themed tune entitled "Holy Lamb (Song for Harmonic Convergence)" that starts out better than it finishes because they stubbornly force the song to include the prerequisite "rawk" aspect that effectively drains it of any and all subtlety. "See the world we started/is it so low again?" Jon inquires. 'Fraid so, my man, 'fraid so.

To be a follower of Yes one must be willing to fly with their Fragile eagles Close to the Edge as well as suffer the humiliation of being soiled by the occasional rotten Tormato and this one leans heavily toward the latter. Despite sporting one of the most banal covers in the history of prog rock, "Big Generator" rose to #15 on the album charts and sold over 2 million copies, illustrating that slick production that made your stereo system sound good always trumped meaningful or challenging content circa 1987, thanks to the infernal "video revolution." Unfortunately, this wasn't to be the last hurrah for this particular version of Yes as they would circle their wagons once more 7 years later to compile the questionable "Talk" disc, demonstrating that the hit single sirens never stop beckoning once you've slept with them and even groups as revered as this one will risk destroying its sterling reputation in the effort to just get one more taste. A pity. One and a half stars.

Chicapah | 2/5 |


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