Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe
Arista Records, 1989
REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/22/2011
The story of Yes is a twisted one that’s for sure, and the formation of Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe brought the band’s story to almost soap-opera levels of ridiculousness (and not for the last time). In a nutshell, Jon Anderson was tired of playing with the ‘80s pop-era Yes and decided to reform the old Yes. But because Yes still technically existed in the form of Squire, Rabin, Kaye, and White, this new band (which nevertheless had more “classic” members than the other one) couldn’t name themselves Yes. So instead, they named themselves after their four members and the band otherwise known as Yes found themselves in the midst of a bit of an identity crisis. One thing’s for certain though, while this may be 80% of the band that put out some of Yes’ greatest music in the early ‘70s, a lot had happened in those intervening years and this album hardly resembles those in the slightest.
This record mainly sounds like a Jon Anderson solo album and a Rick Wakeman solo album mixed together with a heaping pile of ‘80s production values, and by all respects that should be awful. Anderson's goofy hippy tunes make up the bulk of the songwriting, and Wakeman covers every track with a wall of bad synth-tones. Steve Howe pops up every once in a while with some interesting guitar parts but most of the time he is obscured behind Wakeman’s wall of synthesizers. Bill Bruford plays dopey sounding electro-drums the whole time, and Tony Levin covers Chris Squire’s former bass duties. Unfortunately, he has basically no presence whatsoever, which is a shame since he and Bruford made up King Crimson’s monstrous rhythm section only a few years prior, and little of their chemistry from that band remains.
All of that should spell disaster for this album, but darn it, these songs are really fun and energetic. "Screw subtlety!" this album says, "I've got a moderately catchy melody for you and I'm going to ram it home with the most obnoxious synths I can come up with." And like it or not, this album makes that approach work. When it comes to the playing, Wakeman may be at a career low in sound choices but he still attacks the keys with the same verve he had all those years ago, and that does a ton in making his tones more appealing. The same goes for Bruford, the drums may sound dumb but his playing is as intricate and propulsive as it ever was and it gives these songs of a ton of additional life that they might not have otherwise had.
Three songs crack the nine minute mark to varying degrees of success. “Brother Of Mine” is probably the best of the bunch cycling through its multiple sections quickly but memorably. A shortened version even ended up becoming a minor hit at the time. “Quartet” has some nice playing from Howe near the beginning which is one of the only places on the album where I really notice him. The second part of the song weirdly works the titles of a bunch of ‘70s Yes songs into the lyrics which is really dumb but the arrangement is quite nice, so I don’t mind too much. “Order Of The Universe” is the weakest of the three. Some moments of it are nice but it meanders far too often.
The shorter tracks are mostly all good in their own way. “Themes” is probably my favourite of these; I love how punchy the song feels once it gets going. Even the oft-loathed “Teakbois” is ridiculously cheesy in the most awesome way possible. Though, if there's any place on the album where the production gets too much in the way it's there (and boy, does it ever). There are some ballads too; “Let's Pretend” is insubstantial but decent enough. “The Meeting” is quite pretty, but it’s pretty the same way those ambient pan-flute compilations you can sample at gift shops are pretty. Somehow they manage to make it mostly work in their favour anyway.
This is a pretty difficult album to rate since while I certainly do like it, it's extremely cheesy and probably one of the most dated albums of its era. Nothing here comes close to scaling the prog-rock heights of many of its predecessors. But nevertheless, the songs are decently written, so if you’re not averse to cheesy, pop-based progressive rock you’ll probably find that you enjoy this a fair bit. Just be wary of that production.