Yes’ lacquered Big Generator dashed my high hopes after breakthrough with 90125

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.

Mark Saleski

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 originated several of our 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.
Mark Saleski
  • Charlie Ricci

    This album almost made me hate Yes and I was previously a big fan.

  • DwDunphy

    As for the Loudness Wars: the tail that wags the dog. Loudness and exaggerated bass are common now to compensate for the relatively low output from (then) mp3 players and (now) most smartphones. The music changed to adapt to the technology, not the other way around. I think the resurrection of vinyl is, in part, a reaction to that. Bass grooves take up a lot of space. Often masters have to be reworked to tone down exaggerated bass, mostly to accommodate the limited real estate on a vinyl side.

    As for Big Generator, I am one of its few fans…specifically of the track “Shoot High Aim Low.” Also a fan of Trevor Rabin’s solo Can’t Look Away. So there’s that.

    • roughjustice

      Shoot High Aim Low is one of my all time favorite songs….