So here’s what happened: After Drama and its attendant tour, Yes broke up. Steve Howe and Geoff Downes joined Asia, but Chris Squire and Alan White continued working together. They formed the short-lived trio XYZ — which stood for eX-Yes-&-Zeppelin — with Jimmy Page, but never recorded anything beyond a four-track demo. Then they rounded up Tony Kaye, who’d been Yes’ keyboardist on the first two albums, and guitarist Trevor Rabin, and started a band called Cinema. When it came time to make an album, Trevor Horn stepped up to produce, but the label didn’t think Rabin or Squire were strong enough vocalists to carry the material, so guess who was brought back into the fold? That’s right — Jon Anderson, at which point it made sense to everyone involved to just change Cinema’s name to Yes.
Musically, 90125 (named for its catalog number) is incredibly, gleamingly ’80s. Howe’s galloping prog boogie is completely absent, as is Squire’s thunderous bass; the dominant instrumental voices are Rabin’s high-gloss guitar and Kaye’s bell-like synths, while Anderson’s vocals are soaked in reverb and echo. This is a big album — the stomping “Hold On” sounds like it’s being blared at you through a stadium PA, while “Our Song” sounds like a training montage from a Rocky sequel. The most fascinating elements of the album, though, are those that are most obviously Trevor Horn’s doing. “Leave It,” one of the big singles from the album, is stacked with massive drum machine thwacks and some of the very same Fairlight stabs that would pop up on Art Of Noise singles a year later. They’re present to a lesser extent in “City Of Love,” too, decorations at the margins of as dense a slab of corporate “hard” “rock” as has ever been recorded. 90125 is as un-Yes-like as it’s possible to be; it’s much more reminiscent of 1980s “supergroup” projects like the Firm and the Power Station than anything its members had done before. But approached in that spirit, it’s fascinatingly bizarre, and “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” remains a kick-ass single.