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, released on September 17, 1987. I used to wonder, “Uh … what happened?”
I don’t really remember what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. To be fair, Big Generator actually has some fun songs on it. Yes’ “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 had, of course, 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 1980s production: cavernous reverb, shimmery guitar textures, non-existent bass (I still 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 recent loudness wars (did anybody win?) 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 trying 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 ’80s 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. Remember when it seemed that every new band was 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 above Big Generator-era Yes video. Their Beach Boys-inspired vocals at the start are kind of cool, but after that it’s pure shiny, sonic lacquer. Vintage 1987.
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