Big Generator


Atco, 1987

REVIEW BY: Chris Harlow


My junior year in high school, I had a buddy who summed it up perfectly when he said listening to Yes' Big Generator album could be likened to a bad acid trip. It didn't matter that on declarations like this that I only lived vicariously through him; I identified that claim as a very apt description for the chaotic mess I was hearing. Today, I'm inclined to say the same thing (and they underestimate kids' abilities to know it all at such an early age. Hmmph!).

The fact that Big Generator had the unenviable task of following up the multi-platinum selling 90125 album, a release in its own right that sounded nothing like the Yes your older brother grew up listening to, had to have weighed heavily on the band. In my estimation, the band couldn't decide whether to forge ahead with the arena rock sound they had recently cultivated or fall back on their prog-rock roots. And from what I remember, the decision-making efforts weren't helped by the fact that their falsetto-pitched vocalist Jon Anderson and bassist Chris Squire, two of the band's founding fathers, weren't on good terms with one another at the time of the recording.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Enter lead guitarist Trevor Rabin, a find of Squire's back in the days after the band's 1981 breakup, leading to his inclusion in the reformed Yes of the mid-1980's. The sometimes keyboardist and backing vocalist either seized the day or found himself holding the band's reigns by default during the recording process -- I truthfully don't know which -- as he became the creative force behind an album that, at its best, spawned the feel-good track of the album, "Final Eyes," with its AOR/prog hybrid sound, and the salsa/prog work on the nearly eight-minute "I'm Running."

But damn if he didn't don the mad scientist's cap with whatever inspired him to write the title track. Putting words to this monstrosity is truly a struggle as it lends itself to musical experimentation in the worst way. First there are the robotic layered vocals that go nowhere, transitioning into an uncreative procession of guitar and bass blast beats. Bless Jon Anderson's soul for actually trying to develop something resembling melody during a couple of brief stretches in this song, but even he can't withstand Rabin's urge to sear a metal riff into the song two thirds of the way through.

Rabin also gets the sole songwriting credit for the cheese-rock love anthem "Love Will Find A Way," which surely sold a few copies of the album back in the day -- ok, a lot of copies. He also duets or tandems the vocals with Anderson. The song would have truthfully not been so out of place for the era it was recorded had it not been sneaked onto a Yes album, of all places. "Rhythm Of Love" is another single Rabin had his hands in that has held little traction over the years.

The sleeper track on this album could very well be "Shoot High, Aim Low," a song drummer Alan White gets the lead songwriting credit on. For the long-time fans of this band, this song lends itself more closely to the throwback prog-rock sound than anything else on this album, with Anderson nailing his storytelling vocals and keyboardist Tony Kaye providing the atmospheric backdrop that was all but forgotten on the 90125 recordings.

The tale of two songwriting approaches is what Big Generator will be remembered for. Much like the acid trip my buddy referenced, Big Generator is an album that will put a listener through a bout of initial confusion, while finding moments of exhilaration backed by panic. Lastly, the bouts of emptiness resulting in conscious thought make it no wonder that, after what would turn out to be the band's last commercial hurrah, it was time for Yes to move on.

Rating: C-

User Rating: B


© 2004 Chris Harlow and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atco, and is used for informational purposes only.