Yes, “Rhythm of Love” from Big Generator (1987): YESterdays

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Yes have had to come up with a “difficult second album” more than once. Time and a Word was the first, and featured the same line up as their eponymous 1969 release. However, changes in personnel began very shortly after this, which meant that second albums with new Yes lineups cropped up quite a bit.

Also, several “second” albums never saw the light of day at all. Material for Going for the One was worked on by Patrick Moraz but, when he was dismissed in favor of the returning Rick Wakeman, the Relayer lineup had only managed one record. Similarly, 1980’s Trevor Horn-and-Geoff Downes-era Yes produced Drama and then disbanded.

Later on, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe’s second record morphed (in rather unsatisfactory style) into parts of Union, and the musicians present on Fly From Here were never to create another record because of the departure of Benoit David. You can probably think of other examples.

So, when the Trevor Rabin, Jon Anderson, Alan White, Chris Squire and Tony Kaye version of Yes went back into the studio to create a follow up to the global smash hit 90125, they needed to make a record which sustained the commercial and critical success of its predecessor – while still pushing forward musically and keeping the band and fans together.

Unfortunately, looking at the credits on the sleeve of 1987’s Big Generator, the alarm bells immediately start to sound. For example, wonder-producer Trevor Horn is still there but his name appears fourth on a list after Yes themselves, Trevor Rabin and Paul de Villiers. The number of different recording studios used is also a worry. I make it six – in Italy, London and Los Angeles. If previous Yes recording situations are a guide, this proliferation of producers and recording locations doesn’t point towards a harmonious and efficient process.

So, how does the opening song actually sound? “Rhythm of Love,” to use Trevor Rabin’s expression, is “animalistic” in approach, rather than what one might associate with the classic uplifting and affirming Yes aesthetic. However, for 39 seconds, we could be forgiven for thinking that Yes have returned to their progressive roots – albeit in a modernized form.

Wordless vocals combine with washes of keyboards, woodwind and other assorted instruments. There are echoes of the opening of Close to the Edge, maybe. Then White tears in with a heavy rock beat, accompanied by Squire’s pounding bass and Rabin’s lead guitar and we know that, in fact, we are in full-blown stadium rock mode.

Anderson comes in brightly, but it does feel more like he is singing a Trevor Rabin song very effectively than the opening song to a Yes album. The verse is very much in an ’80s-rock style. The bridge gives us hints of prog rock with a high, soaring Anderson line brilliantly supported by the wide-ranging pitch of the backing line – but then the chorus catapults us back into the world of Trevor Rabin, despite being adorned with a great set of vocal arrangements.

Just to be clear, I like this music. I like Rabin’s style. I like ’80s stadium rock. This version of Yes make it their own and infuse it with more creativity and musicianship than the vast majority of their peers. There are much more interesting, progressive-sounding songs on Big Generator, but this opening number has, perhaps, moved too far away from the personality of the band – even its 90125 incarnation.

The song undeniably has a great, driving pulse, interrupted by effective passages like the bridge section, and the instrumental performances are excellent, as you would expect. The melody is catchy and Rabin solos in characteristic style, with lots of notes and lots of creativity. It’s a rabble-rousing opening to Big Generator but I’m not sure it’s really Yes.

Where albums like Relayer (jazz-rock/fusion), Magnification (full orchestral arrangements) or even 90125 (pop-rock/prog) could be said to have expanded the concept of Yes music, “Rhythm of Love” – despite being fun, exciting and worthwhile – risks stretching the definition to the breaking point.

YESterdays is a song-by-song feature that explores the unforgettable musical legacy of Yes. The series runs every other Tuesday.

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