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Yes - 90125 CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

2.98 | 1502 ratings

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4 stars Shortly after the dawn of the eighties Yes as a cohesive band had scattered to the winds and was no more. They had mortified/ humiliated their faithful fans with their rotten "Tormato" album in 1978, then rolled out a revamped lineup with the ambitious but flawed "Drama" LP in 1980 that failed to generate much more than a ripple in the music world. Afterward bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White attempted to put together a totally new group called Cinema by enlisting the multifaceted musician/songwriter Trevor Rabin and original Yes keyboard man Tony Kaye (who ended up having very little input on this album) but the resulting studio sessions were less than earth-shaking. So Chris (in one of the smartest moves he ever made) brought in Jon Anderson to add his signature golden tones and considerable experience to the project. Voila! Yes was resurrected from the dinosaur exhibit just in time to deal with the MTV virus pandemic that had reduced the attention span of the global populace to no more than 4 minutes, killing all progressive sensibilities. What they were able to produce under the stifling conditions of that woebegone era is nothing short of remarkable.

Consider what was happening in music at the time. Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was thought to be an undisputed masterpiece and, therefore, worthy of worship by most citizens of planet earth. Punk was dead, Def Leppard was breaking through and creating a pop rock trend with "Pyromania," the Police were finishing their new wave run with "Synchronicity" and Duran Duran was labeled "cutting edge." In the decaying prog world the commercialized Genesis had shamelessly put out their namesake/worst album and the mighty Pink Floyd was riding off into the sunset with "The Final Cut." I daresay that if Yes had delivered their exquisite "Close to the Edge" to their label at that point in time they would have been summarily thrown into the traffic by the scruff of their necks. Cute videos with half-naked girls running around were what the kids were paying attention to, not symphonic prog. The band had no choice. Adapt or become extinct. The slick 90125 was the result.

Say what you will about the group's only #1 hit, "Owner of a Lonely Heart," but it's a near-perfect single. It grabs your attention from the first gated drum spasm, it's tighter than a carpenter's nail pounded into a 2x4, Rabin's synthesized guitar ride is one-of-a-kind and Jon's unique timbre has never been more appealing. Add a very dynamic arrangement to all that and you have the ideal tune for cruising. "Roundabout" it ain't but I have nothing detrimental to say about it. "Hold On" follows and its bluesy shuffle and "live" feel are irresistible from the get-go. The vocals are hot and crisp throughout, White cleverly teases the downbeat from time to time and the unconventional guitar sounds going on in the background give it a state-of-the-art aura. I like it a lot. A faux sitar effect starts off the next song, Squire's excellent "It Can Happen," that features a dense depth of field and inventive background vocals. It also has the album's most memorable lyrics in the piercing "it can happen to you/it can happen to me/it can happen to everyone eventually." I'm thinking "it" is enlightenment.

By now it's clear that this ain't your daddy's Yes and that makes the concept of "Changes" a case of understatement if there ever was one. It has the most proggy opening of all the tunes but it's ultimately a compositional step down from the first three cuts once they introduce the somewhat standard verse and chorus. However, its undeniable catchiness succeeded in getting it into heavy FM radio rotation and that helped sales. Mission accomplished. I never thought that Yes performed anything reminiscent of Genesis but I have to say that the two-minute instrumental "Cinema" comes pretty darn close. Kinda weird if you ask me. (Yet they did earn a Grammy for it so what do I know?) Which leads to the last great track on the album, the surprising "Leave It." The vocal work here is extremely intricate and engaging and may be their finest ensemble singing ever. The rhythm track is seamless and the gated drums fit the modern mood well. You gotta admit that it doesn't sound like anything else they ever did and I think it's fascinating.

Jon's "Our Song" is more representative of the direction music was flowing down at the time which is to say that bright, sterling production techniques still couldn't make a mediocre song all that much better. It has typically cryptic/silly words from Anderson like "there's method in the key of C/Toledo's got to be the silver city/in this good country." Right, Jon. Whatever. "City of Love" has a heavier motif that distinguishes it from the previous cut but it's really just more of the same mindset. At least it's interesting in spots. "Hearts" is a mix of Yes-style rock and sentimental schmaltz but somehow it works and provides a strong ending for the original album.

The extra tracks included on the reissue start with the single edit of "Leave It" that only pares a whopping 18 seconds off the original, proving my point of the unshakable belief held by the label executives of that day in the sanctity of the 4 minute limit. Stupid, really. Rabin's "Make it Easy" only goes to show what a nonentity Cinema would have been if Jon hadn't been brought in to the fold. Trevor's voice is ordinary at best and the keyboards sound a lot like the ones on "Stand Back" by Stevie Nicks and that's not necessarily a good thing. The demo-quality, Anderson-less rendition of "It Can Happen" also highlights Cinema's vocal shortcomings as Chris and Trevor come off like they're shouting the chorus. Not pleasant. Another Rabin original, "It's Over," follows and it sounds like an indistinguishable weak pop ditty from bands like Jefferson Starship or Loverboy. Decidedly underwhelming. If you're able to sit all the way thorough the extended remix of "Owner of a Lonely Heart" then you're a better man than I. In those days record companies like Atlantic had an ugly habit of taking any hit tune and making a long disco version so that the hip crowd tripping on Ecstasy at the local rave could dance mindlessly to something vaguely familiar in their altered state. It marks the low point in the catalogue of Yes recordings. Yark. Without a doubt the best and most listenable bonus track is the A Capella version of "Leave It" that ends the CD. The vocals are incredibly clear and accurate and, by leaving out the instrumentation, you get a rare chance to hear every nuance and countermelody that was buried in the original mix. Very cool, indeed.

The pristine engineering and overall sound production of this album is impressive. I was squeezing out a meager sustenance in retail audio/video sales at the time this was released and when it came time to wow a customer and convince him/her that those odd, shiny new CDs were the only way to go I would simply plop 90125 into the changer, crank it and stand back. Slam dunk. I sold a lot of stereos that way. Don't get me wrong, in no dimension does this album rate with their earlier landmarks of progressive rock but in its own way it more than entertains/involves me and it still manages to hold its head far above the banal crap that was being passed off as high quality in 1983. 3.5 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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