Monday, January 16, 2012

Yes? Yes!

Make It Easy - Yes

Play a game with me, music lovers betwixt the ages of 26-76. Think back to your youth. Think of some band, some album, that you kinda liked but kinda didn’t. Some band or album that got critical acclaim or heavy airplay yet never won you over. Maybe you didn’t change the station when you heard it, but you didn’t hunger for it, either. It was... meh.

For almost a year now, once every month or so, I play this game. I’ve played it with Billy Squier and Triumph. I’ve played it with Exile on Main Street, Houses of the Holy and Dirt.

But today, let’s just say YES.

Which Yes, you ask? The latter one of the five digits. (If you didn't already know, there was this trippy '70s Godfather of Prog Rock version with hair down to their butts and kimonos and bad watercolor art, and there was the glitzy mullet and shiny instruments '80s version with skin-tight production.)

When it comes to Yes, you can love both, dislike both, or like one and not the other. Or you can simply not care about any of it. But then you’re not much of a music person.

Scientifically, you can draw a number of accurate conclusions about someone based on where they fall on the Yes spectrum. In 1983, the year 90125 took over the airwaves and turntables of more intellectually-ambitious teenage music lovers, I detested the old, and I mostly disliked the new, but I was afraid to admit it because my friends seemed to totally dig it. Besides, I was only 12.

It’s been almost three decades. I’ve grownsed up. Time to revisit the album.

First, in order to give the album a fresh and fair shot, you have to start with Track 2. You can’t start with “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” You just can’t. It’s got too much gravitas, too many preconceived notions. Whether you loved it or hated it back in the ‘80s, listen to that one last.

“Hold On” is a great introduction to The New Yes. Everyone who knows of Yes knows the words “Prog Rock.” Yes is arguably the penultimate Prog Rock band. (The ultimate would have to be Pink Floyd, no?) It announces Yes as a rock band, but one that aspires to modernize progishness.

As with most great albums, Song #3 is where the rubber meets the road. “It Can Happen” is my personal favorite Yes song ever. Five minutes off meaningless pseudo-philosophical babble. I dare anyone to authoritatively state what the hell this song means, but that lack of clarity doesn’t prevent the song from totally winning me over. It is the pseudo-intellectual’s “Trinidad,” to steal from Bob’s post last Sunday.

Look up! Look down! Look around! There’s a crazy world outside... we’re not about to lose our pride! …. What. the. f*#k. are they talking about?? I don’t know, but they sound so... so... certain!

It can happen to you. It can happen to me. It can happen to everyone eventually! …. WHAT? WHAT CAN HAPPEN??? Loss of pride? Death? Bad trips? Selling out? Loss of soul? I don’t know exactly, but you give me a handful of college kids, a long weekend, and a dime bag, and I guaran-damn-tee you we’ll come up with a million kickass interpretations.

“Changes” bats clean-up, and if I understand prog rock correctly, this is a brilliant ‘80s interpretation of the ‘70s concept. The band makes love to a xylophone for more than a minute to start.

“Cinema” was the first song they made. They were originally going to call their band Cinema, and this song is what you would expect their whole album to sound like. Prog Rock crammed into small microwavable doses. I see why they included it, but it’s the weakest thing on the album to me.

“Leave It” … you know this one already, so I’ll -- heh -- leave it.

“Our Song” and “City of Love” carry out the general vibe of what has been comfortably established. Neither are standouts, but neither are failures. They’re continuations.

They close with “Hearts.” I think it’s their apologia to all the dudes* who bought this because they loved Fragile or Yessongs. It’s the only 7+minute song on the album, and it dances naked in its proggy glory. It’s still poppy, but proggy poppy.

The Two Trevors -- Horn and Rabin -- were supposedly the masterminds behind much of this album’s sound. If so, they have my respect. Balls and/or insanity were essential to take this kind of leap. It’s like that scene where Neo is supposed to leap from one building of ‘70s prog all the way across the city block and land in the ‘80s, and he’s like, “whoa.” Well, Yes is the Morpheus character that actually makes the leap.

90125 might well be the closest thing to a Rock Phoenix ever heard and certainly one of the most successful. Yes emerged from the ashes with just enough of its old characteristics and characters in tact to claim its rightful name, but with so many new components and philosophies as to be an entirely new creation.

It’s the best kind of comeback and precisely why it was so successful. They weren’t trying to recapture former glory but came out with something completely unexpected and carefully crafted.

* -- "Make It Easy" is from the expanded version that includes original "Cinema" versions of "It Can Happen" and a few other nuggets. Trevor Rabin, who was slated to be the main vocalist, was apparently dissatisfied with the role and dragged Jon Anderson back in. I like Trevor Rabin, but it was still the right call. You can see why this song didn't quite make the cut.


troutking said...

Great post, Billy. 90125 is one of my top 5 most listened to albums of the 80s along with, probably, three Huey Lewis albums and Robert Cray's Strong Persuader. What stands out most about 90125 for me is the sound. It is just so clean, especially with Jon Anderson's crisp high voice. It definitely wouldn't be the same. Everything is just polished to a high-gloss shine. And the songs are catchy with, as you say, enough lyrical opaqueness to make you wonder what they are about, but not so much that you don't care. Kind of like a good Dylan song. Let's just say that 25 years later, I'd much rather listen to this album than they Hueys. Still like Strong Persuader a lot, though. Too bad they could only sustain it for one more song (Love Will Find a Way) on their next album...

Billy said...

One of the key components to most modern prog rock acts seems to be a fixation on production values. Rush is beloved, in part, because their concerts seem to be an attempt to prove that everything done so tightly in the studio can be duplicated in a live setting. Reverb or muddied sound and prog rock rarely mix. I don't think Bob likes this treble-friendly sound, but I've always had a soft spot for it due to being Raised On Rush.

Big Generator, with which I was more familiar at the time, is the sound of a talented but unstable and uneasy arrangement. Apparently Horn quit early on; Anderson pined for the '70s, and Rabin wanted pop glory. Dissension killed the radio star.

Bob said...

I love treble, especially when it's paired with bass.

troutking said...

Also the fact that the 90125 album cover was conceived on an Apple II computer gives it another soft spot in my heart.

cinderkeys said...

Love this album ... now. When it came out, I didn't see what the big deal was about "Owner of a Lonely Heart." A few years later, "Leave It" would win me over. A few years after that I would listen to the entire album and recognize its genius.