Make It Easy - Yes
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.
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.
“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.