After the detour of 1980’s Drama, another version of Yes emerged from the remains of the group.
The lineup for Drama was Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Alan White, Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. After the resulting tour, Howe, Horn and Downes left the band. Squire and White almost hooked up with Jimmy Page after the demise of Led Zeppelin, but instead began working with guitarist Trevor Rabin. Former Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye joined them, along with the return of singer Jon Anderson. Instead of forming a new band, they emerged as a new version of Yes. They also asked Horn to return as a producer. Did you follow all of that?
This version of Yes did not sound like your dad’s version of Yes. This was a turbocharged 1980s band. 90125 was their biggest selling and most successful album, and made them MTV stars. Gone was the 1970s long hair, replaced by shorter haircuts and stylish clothing, well, stylish for the 1980s. They even ditched Roger Dean’s art cover concept for a computer generated album sleeve.
Four charting singles including the mega-hit, “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, the band’s only number one single in America. The opening guitar riff sounded gritty and urgent and the synth fills announced a new sound had arrived. Trevor Rabin might not have been the technical virtuoso of Steve Howe on guitar, but he was pretty darn good. He understood the techniques being used and put them to use on this record. He brought what the 80s hair bands had, great expressiveness on guitar, a very different style than Howe, not better, just more in tune with Van Halen and other bands. The industrial synth and keyboard sounds, whether they came from Tony Kaye or Rabin, these embellished Yes’ music and set them apart from other current artist. Underneath, the album still sounds like Yes, but the stylings and attitude was squarely in the 1980s. Trevor Horn is to be commended for the vision he brought to these sessions.
“Hold On” continues the big sound, with the deep pounding drums and guitar riffing. Rabin is not a better player than Steve Howe, but he has a different sensitivity and it fit for this new decade. Don’t feel bad for Howe, he was enjoying great success in the supergroup Asia. The lyrics aren’t particularly enthralling, but the melody is right in Anderson’s wheelhouse. “Hold On” was the last of the singles from this album.
“It Can Happen” Originally written before Yes regrouped and Square/White/Rabin were going to start a band called Cinema. A rousing, upbeat pulsing song with a very positive vibe. Unlike the Yes of the previous decade, the lyrics here are more direct and forceful about change and taking advantage of life. Another single from the album.
“Changes” This album sheds the old keyboard sounds of Yes in favor of very contemporary programming. Drummer Alan White is credited for the poly rhythms in the early part of the song. Rabin takes lead vocals on the song and is listed as the sole producer.
“Cinema” Instrumental, this song came about when four of the musicians were going to called themselves Cinema. It sounds like a track from a Genesis album of the period. Short and sassy.
“Leave It” This song displays the vocal prowess of Anderson, Squire and Rabin. The bass line by Squire is amazing, almost as good as the vocals. This is better than I remember, great song.
“Our Song” A group collaboration, it refers to a show Yes performed in Toledo, where the inside of the auditorium was well above 100 degrees. Interesting, but not a great song, and not their most insightful lyrics.
It gives us a reason
That good remedy
Music has magic
That stuff of syncopation
“City of Love” Pretty generic song.
“Hearts” Lead vocals shared by Anderson and Rabin. This is the closest to Yes’ progressive-rock era, with several distinctive sections and Anderson’s other worldly lyrics, though the production freshens it with 80s drum echo and new synth sounds. This is a busy song.
Not only did this album become their biggest success of the decade, it would be very difficult to top. Over the next thirty-plus years, their lineup would continue to change, with former members coming in and out of the band, and competing versions of the band as well. Yes would never again be in sync with the current musical style as they were riding this album to MTV and Grammy success. The spandex concert wardrobe aside, these guys set the musical style, they bounced back stronger than ever after a couple of under-performing albums (Tormato, Drama).