(All Album Reviews by Sean)
After 1980's Drama album, Yes called it quits. Few would ever have expected Yes to return, much less in the form it was about to. Yet it can happen and it did. The year was 1983....
Nobody was looking to restart Yes. Chris Squire and Alan White had been left with the Yes name but were not looking to use it. Instead they formed a new band with South African guitarist Trevor Rabin. It was initially called Cinema. Many songs were demoed for 90125 in this Cinematic configuration.
Then they recorded the album for real. Jon Anderson came to town out of blue one day and heard the mixes and loved them. He wanted to sing on them, so he did and as they pulled the faders up, it was clear that this was not Cinema anymore, but a modern version of Yes. The suits at the label and Yes' management got excited and changes were quickly made.
Naturally Rabin was not pleased with the thought of Cinema becoming Yes. He would basically be stepping into Steve Howe's shoes and had no interest in doing that. Rabin was a Yes fan though to a small degree, and admitted owning Time and a Word and Fragile in his younger years. Regardless of Rabin's thoughts the record company's wheels turned and Cinema became Yes anyway. I suppose they had a much higher profile as Yes and sold more thanks to the name recognition.
The album turned out to be their best selling ever, spawning the #1 hit "Owner of a Lonely Heart". The sound was fresh, and even today doesn't sound too terribly dated. I think it aged better than Big Generator for instance, the album that followed it some four years later. 90125 was an engineering marvel at the time and is still one of the best sounding albums of the early 80's.
Musically this album was a shock to many old Yes fans. Indeed it did not sound like classic Yes and that was too much for many to take. This is true even to this day. But in the long run, Yes probably would not be around today had this era not happened. I am glad the era has passed, but understand it's importance.
Looking back it's clear this material is not of the timeless quality of the band's 70's output. But on it's own it's an excellent rock album, especially considering the time it was released and all the lame music that was the rage at the time.
Rabin's guitar cut through the radio like a knife, at a time when synths dominated. His sprightly pentatonic runs proved him to be as worthy a shredder as any of his 80's contemporaries like Van Halen and others of that ilk. I am sure old Yes would not have the fresh energy this band had, so it was the right move at the right time.
Progressive fans may be mostly left cold by 90125, but there are a few high points worth mentioning. The intro to "Changes" quickly comes to mind...or the sitar flavorings on "It Can Happen". The closing track "Hearts" is probably the tune that is closest to being epic. Though I'd call it epic-lite.
The instrumental "Cinema" is maybe the best cut. It segues into the acappella "Leave It", which is a tune that features the vocals of Squire and Rabin along with Anderson and Trevor Horn, the albums producer and the singer from the bands previous album Drama. "Leave It" is like a meeting of Yes' past, present and future. Yes was always a vocal group, and this continued with style on this album.
Instrumentally 90125 is very strong. I was always a fan of Squire's playing and 90125 was pretty easy for me to accept at the time because of that familiar sound. He was toned down a bit, but still had his distinctive style on display. Rabin played a lot of keys on this album as well as guitar. Most of these tracks were completely written by him long before so that explains why he was so involved, to the point of playing more than guitar.
Founding member Tony Kaye was brought back to round out the live lineup and give it more credibility as a Yes. He may have played a bit on the album, but it's hard for me to tell. Eddie Jobson almost became the band's keysman instead but was not a good fit. Imagine what that would have sounded like though!
My closing suggestion is to try 90125 with no regard to the band's past and it will be most enjoyable. It's turned into an 80s classic in it's own right.