The dawn of the 1980s saw prog rockers Yes reach the end of a road.
A new line up, bizarrely including members of The Buggles, took the band’s music in a new, more commercial direction. Drama was the name of that album and it certainly came out of a drama, as long-standing members Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman threw in their cards.
Drama was successful, as a band of Yes’s standing would have expected.
Yet, disbandment came on the back of it.
Guitarist Steve Howe and erstwhile Buggle Geoff Downes went to form Asia. Long-time drummer Alan White, together with bassist Chris Squire and former keyboard player Tony Kaye had formed a quartet with guitarist Trevor Rabin. Anderson was quite happy charting a solo path and working with Vangelis and other high profile acts.
Yes had been consigned to the musical history books.
Out of nowhere came an album, brutal and beautiful, rock and pop combined in a perfect package at the perfect time, as the MTV era began.
Rabin had songs he wanted for the quartet, going by the name of Cinema, including an early version of Owner Of A Lonely Heart. Anderson was persuaded to come back on board, largely taken with the slew of new music and, to stave off legal challenges from other bands named Cinema, the Yes brand was taken out of suspended animation.
The year 1983 was to be a rebirth for Yes.
90125 was a triumph, possibly more by destiny than design. Owner Of A Lonely Heart was a stand out track despite failing to win favour among record company execs. It was picked up by MTV and became an instant classic, ushering the band to the top of the American Billboard charts. Alan White’s playing is stupendous, even if he didn’t like the sound, with electronic trickery imposed on the track by producer Trevor Horn.
Sounds apart, what you get on the opening track is solid groove, propelling it along, allowing the glorious riffs and bassline to steal the limelight. It’s the foundations of which houses are built. And the house of 90125 towered over many efforts in 1983.
Hold On has an at times stuttering drum pattern that suddenly swoops forward with majesty back onto a beat so solid it seduces you.
The art in White’s playing is that he keeps it simple in the right place at the right time, driving the music, but allowing his fellow musicians the limelight. He is a busy player when it suits the music. At times the drumming is frenetic, other times laid back, but you know every single snare hit and cymbal smash has been planned and delivered with grace and power.
Changes is a case in point. From no drums to solid beat to fills on the toms. It’s a performance for all seasons. A toe-tapper. Instead of ‘bet you can’t put a fruit pastille in your mouth without chewing it’, it’s a ‘bet you can’t sit and listen to this song without tapping along’.
And that, for me, is the draw of the album. Irresistible drumming, powering the music but never over-powering it.
90125 is a definitive standout long-player. For me, while they released some great stuff later, including a return to the classic Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe line-up, unable to use the Yes name, this was a game-changer. Who can tell the exact impact MTV had? But hand in hand the band and music channel took pop rock in a new direction with 90125.
Nearly four decades on, despite the very 80s sound on some tracks, the music still holds up.