Asked to name his most underrated project, Jon Anderson immediately points toward Yes’ Talk, issued 20 years ago now and still widely dismissed — when it’s not being ignored all together.
The 1994 album memorably featured Yes’ return to episodic compositions on “Endless Dream,” a track that reconnects with the band’s artistic triumphs of decades before. (In fact, Yes hadn’t done such long-form work since “Machine Messiah” on 1980’s Drama.) Meanwhile, for fans of their more recent successes, “State of Play” was powered along by Trevor Rabin’s crunchy guitar. And yet Talk became the first album by Yes not to crack the Billboard Top 20 since its seminal period at the turn of the 1970s.
The sad fate of Talk had nothing, it seems, to do with the music. Instead, it was bound up in misguided expectations, a fracturing lineup and a label teetering on financial ruin.
“I never like to blame anything else for a record that doesn’t do millions of copies,” Rabin tells us in an exclusive SER Sitdown, “but that was one where it was a perfect storm of the wrong record company at the wrong time. The band was starting to drift apart, although ironically Jon and I were drifting further together.”
Issued on the defunct Victory Music, after Yes’ 1980s-era association with Atco came to an end, Talk followed 1987’s overcooked Big Generator — which found the group trying fruitlessly to replicate their earlier chart-topping hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart” from 1983’s 90125. Fast forward more than a decade, and Talk could be found spinning off “Walls,” a Top 15 hit on the mainstream rock tracks charts co-written with Roger Hodgson of Supertramp fame. Still, it was hardly the No. 1 smash every label executive now wanted from Yes.
Those pressures were coming to bear on Yes. Anderson had done a separate project with Vangelis in the time after Big Generator, then had reunited with former Yes members Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe. There’d also been an ill-fated combining of both Yes camps with 1991’s Union. Interest in their brand of old-school prog, or even their updated prog-pop amalgam, was badly waning. And that appears to have doomed Talk before it even arrived.
Oddly enough, however, the Union era saw Anderson and Rabin finally clicking, despite the pair having already been part of two previous Yes projects. As the subsequent sessions for Talk commenced, they found themselves happily collaborating. Neither appears to have considered the fact that no one would be listening, much less that no one has since.
“In those days, it was a question of making of making good music, so much as making a hit record again after 90125,” Anderson tells us. “Big Generator just didn’t happen. It was overblown, and overdone. I really had no part in that project; I just went in and sang. They wanted to keep me out of the way, so I went and did an album with Vangelis. I kept myself busy. But then after that, I did Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe — and then got a really good energy with the record company at that time. They just wanted me to do what I wanted to do. With Steve and Bill and Rick, it was so easy, because they just wanted to make music. So, the album worked. Then the next step was, we all got together, of course, and did Union — and then me and Trevor started to really bond at that time. We hadn’t really bonded before, so it was real interesting time. Trevor asked if I would come stay at the house, and work on some music — and that became Talk. The album ended up having so much of the classic style of Yes, and that’s something very unique about it. But the record company went bankrupt, and the album never got any promotion — so, it was on the next project.”
Rabin wouldn’t be a part of that project. Talk, in fact, marked the end his decade-long run with Yes. Having taken the group to the pinnacle of chart success, Rabin left with the lowest-charting album of his tenure. Talk still hasn’t gone gold, after Yes sold more than four million copies of the earlier 90125 and Big Generator in the U.S. alone.
That ugly end makes it difficult, Rabin admits, to put his legacy with the band into perspective — that and some fans’ misguided idea that he — and he alone — led Yes into more commercial waters.
“I think I have an understanding of what it was that maybe is different from the outside. It’s an interesting question. That’s never been posed before,” he tells us, then pauses. “I knew who I was and what I did, but I’d have a little chuckle reading articles where it said: ‘He’s ruined Yes. He’s brought this silly pop, plastic element to the band.’ When we finished 90125, we were so excited. Chris Squire was really holding the flag, saying: ‘This is the new sound. This is what we’re about now.’ I was really proud and happy, however we got there, with both 90125, and “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” We all were.”