Atco Records, 1983


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


It's late fall, 1983. I'm a senior in college, driving through the tree-lined streets of Davis, California with the radio on, having sort of lost track of my long-since-imploded favorite progressive rock band Yes, whose last really good album ( Going For The One) had come out six years earlier. Flipping through the channels, I catch the beginning of a new song… Hmm, decent opening guitar riff; kinda neato pseudo-symphonic synth effects; crisp, spacious, modern ('80s) commercial production; a beat you could just about dance to, and… the vocals… WTF? Is that Jon Anderson?!?

My reaction to "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" (the band's only #1 hit in its 35-year existence) was probably pretty typical for a fan of "Classic Yes" -- first shock, then fascination. What happened? And who's playing those fat, in-your-face power chords, because it sure isn't Mr. Fluid Elegance Steve Howe.

The story goes like so. After the 1980 Drama lineup of Yes broke up, guitarist Howe and keyboard player Geoff Downes linked up with Asia, while vocalist/producer Trevor Horn went back to producing, and bassist/vocalist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White forged on as a duo. For a few heady weeks, there was talk of a new band to be called XYZ (ex-Yes/Zeppelin), to consist of Squire, White, Jimmy Page and possibly Robert Plant. That idea didn't pan out, though, and some time later, Squire and White hooked up with South African guitarist/vocalist/composer Trevor Rabin. Their new unit was to be called Cinema, and featured Rabin as the main composer and singer, along with (eventually) former Yes-man Tony Kaye on keyboards. Trevor Horn was invited in to produce and recording ensued, but the label expressed concern over Rabin handling both guitars and lead vocals. Around the same time, Squire and former Yes lead vocalist Jon Anderson had gotten back in touch, and Squire sent over the Cinema tapes. Anderson was intrigued, the label was delighted, and the rest is history. Yes was reborn, albeit with an entirely new sound, dominated by Rabin.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

That sound was, simply put, prototypical arena rock. Big, flashy guitars, steady, thumping beats, sleek production and tight, poppy songs. On the one hand, it was a sound that served mainstream rock bands like Foreigner, Journey and Boston well in the late '70s and early '80s; on the other, it was a slap in the face for fans of the progressive, experimental vision Yes had been thrilling fans with since 1969. From whichever angle you approach it, one thing is undeniable, though; in the context of 1983, 90125's approach was fresh, modern and exciting.

Still, for long-time Yes fans like me, it was a challenge to sort out our feelings. Do you cringe at the commercial tone of the new music, or feel grateful that Yes is back and try to get with the new program? Are they sell-outs, or survivors? I have a colleague at my day job who, when presented with a dilemma of this magnitude, is fond of proclaiming "I feel strongly both ways." Which is about as fair an assessment as you're likely to get out of me about 90125. One Trevor Rabin supporter over on Amazon.com called 90125 "Yes's best album of the '80s." I agree wholeheartedly, even if it's sort of like naming the least homely dog in town the "best of show."

Say this for 90125, it's the best set of songs the Trevor Rabin version of Yes ever produced. "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" is a fine little ditty, perhaps a bit dated now, but full of energy and undeniable hooks. "Hold On" and "It Can Happen" rock out to similar effect, with the latter even having a bit of a prog edge to it thanks to the sitar. These tracks have a cohesive sound, as though Rabin's arena rock yin and Anderson's airy prog yang have found a happy medium.

Signs of trouble were there already for any who cared to read the tea leaves, though. "City of Love" and "Changes" were essentially Rabin solo tracks with some Anderson vocals added, and featured very un-Yes-like crunch on the thundering guitars. "Leave It" was another Rabin showcase, although its soaring multi-part vocal harmonies suggested a lighter side to Mr. Leatherpants (as Howe partisans would dub the usurper). Not to be outshined by Rabin, Anderson and his sunny sentimentality dominate both the soaring, rather pretty "Hearts" and the forgettable "Our Song."

Overall, the album works remarkably well for what it is -- the fusion of two very distinct and to some extent opposite approaches to music. Many critiques of this album are somewhat unfair; Trevor Rabin was right to have reservations about calling this band "Yes," even with four former members on board. It was a different band playing a radically different style of music from anything Yes had produced before. Placed in the context of other arena rock bands of the era, Cinema/Yes performs well on 90125. The songs are punchy and often memorable, and certainly feature more skillful/creative musical backing than any other arena rock outfit at the time could muster. It's just that, placed alongside a prog-rock masterwork on the scale of "Close To The Edge," they look like cheesy miniatures. Context is everything...

In closing, one last caveat. The thing we occasionally high-and-mighty Steve Howe fans must remember about the Rabin era, and 90125 in particular, is that while the Howe-less Yes was "tarnishing the band's legacy" (not my sentiment, but not an uncommon one), our man Steve was busy with Asia, cranking (wanking?) out some of the most awful top 40 prog-lite ever recorded. Compared to twaddle like "Only Time Will Tell," "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" is freaking Mozart.

It was the times, folks. It was the times.

Rating: B-

User Rating: B


Owner of a lonely heart was the jam. I don't know the rest of YES'S music, but that was the first 12 inch record I ever bought. I wore it out.

© 2004 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atco Records, and is used for informational purposes only.