After a recent listen, I've determined that Yes's Big Generator has been slighted by history. A multitude of shots have been taken at "the album that didn't have another 'Owner of a Lonely Heart' on it," and it's completely unfair. Atlantic even flipped it off again recently by making it the only album Yes released on the label that was NOT REMASTERED, which is just a crime. Fuck you, Atlantic, because your 1987-quality disc barely scratches the surface of the excellent sonic and musical portrait painted here. This album deserves a REAL remaster, not just to be made "louder."
The recording of this CD tested the skill and patience of all those involved in its creation. Trevor Horn, producer extraordinaire, got axed (probably for asking Jon Anderson to do something), leaving Yes's front-of-house soundman (and Mr. Mister producer) Paul DeVilliers to mop things up, along with Trevor Rabin. Tension ran high throughout the sessions; Chris Squire was coked out; Tony Kaye was worthless as ever; Alan White was at his wits' end; and Jon Anderson quit the band shortly afterward. Why? Because they kept trying, in vain, to give the label another 90125.
When they stopped this process, Rabin and DeVilliers were able to polish the unfairly neglected gem that became Big Generator. Granted, the computer-generated cover, and familiar-sounding "Rhythm of Love" evoke 90125 to some extent, but for the most part, Big Generator is its own beast entirely.
As the title track reveals, clever writing from Rabin bolsters the record. With his producer hat on, Trevor also limits the occasionally Napoleonic Jon Anderson's twiddly floating to "Holy Lamb," which is probably one of Jon's most tolerable songs. Since he's not satisfied with being a top-notch guitarist and a solid co-producer, Rabin's keyboard work is sonically brilliant throughout this disc, and every once in a while, Tony Kaye hits a note on his organ.
The texture of Big Generator is a major part of its allure. The songs aren't bad, either. "Shoot High, Aim Low" has great contributions from multiple members. The layered point/counterpoint vocals of Anderson and Rabin are propelled by some brilliant percussion from White. Chris Squire's Motown pastiche "Almost Like Love" benefits from some blistering lead guitar work, which carries you to the string quartet that kicks off Side 2 with "Love Will Find A Way."
That song, written by Rabin, was the first single, and actually was a very tuneful, spirited 80s album-rock number originally written for Stevie Nicks (and in my head, I also hear a pretty good version, with Lindsey Buckingham singing some of Rabin's harmonies of course, I also hear Lew Zealand from "The Muppet Show" talking to his trained fish).
"Final Eyes" is another solid 80s Yes song that carries you to the challenging tour de force "I'm Running." With Squire and White clearly driving the bus, Yes take the listener on what Larry Mullen, Jr. would call "A Musical Journey." The journey's well worth it. Play loud, very loud, in headphones. Call audiologist. Repeat.
Big Generator, or "BG", to people allergic to lots of typing, has many highlights, minimal lowlights, and earns a solid score across the board, despite its now-legendary trail of studio carnage and/or critical neglect.
Review by Krelm Phlegman