The Friday Morning Listen: Yes – Big Generator (1987)

Photo by Al Ligammari

by Mark Saleski

I used to wonder, “Uh…what happened?” It took four years for Yes to come out with a follow up to 1983′s huge 90125 and what we got was Big Generator. I don’t really remember what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. To be fair, the record actually has some fun songs on it. “Rhythm of Love” and “Love Will Find A Way” did get some airplay, but “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “Leave It” threw long shadows, even if they were four years distant.

Yes completely reinvented themselves on 90125, so what they needed was a similarly bold statement. Instead, Big Generator was released, an album that was encased in an incredibly heavy sheen of 1980′s production: cavernous reverb, shimmery guitar textures, non-existent bass (I just can’t believe Chris Squire gave this album the OK), blasts from synthesized horns. It’s really a shame because the album did hint at things past with the suite-like “I’m Running.” Still, the sonics were a symptom of the time. Plenty of other records at the time sported that sheen.

How does that happen? Are certain effects processors and synthesizers popular across all major recording studios? This follow-the-leader kind of thing does seem to come in waves: witness the loudness wars (Has anybody won yet?) of modern rock music. Dynamic range? Who needs that? Oh, and then there’s the autotuner in pop music.

I don’t have the answer but it doesn’t take deep thought to see that the music industry has always thrashed around to follow the next big thing. So every modern rock album is super-loud. It’s got to be that way because, well, everybody else is loud too. The 80′s were no different. There were successes with a certain sound and then a whole lot of follow-the-leader.

We have follow-the-leader today too, though it seems to involve every new band naming themselves after an animal. For some reason, that doesn’t bother me nearly as much as having every other album sounding like it came from the same piece of software or the same rack-mounted effects processor. I suspect that this phenomenon will become less common as the majors fade out and a larger chunk of popular music is born of independent sources.

In the meantime, indulge in a little 1980′s nostalgia with the following video. The Beach Boys-inspired vocals at the start of kind of cool, but after that it’s pure shiny, sonic lacquer. Vintage 1987.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.

2 Comments

  1. Shoot High, Aim Low. C'mon, man, I totally inspired this one and we can't talk a little Shoot High, Aim Low? :)

  2. Mark Saleski says:

    as i drove in today, i realized that the vocals on nearly all of Big Generator remind me of the vocals on Def Leppard records. layers and layers and layers and layers and layers and…….

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