Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe

Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe

Arista Records, 1989



Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (hereafter ABWH) represents, for me, an updating of the classic Yes sound, mingling power chords and grand gestures with the syncopation and sophistication that Yes had been famous for, ten years or more previously.

The irony of this album is that, for many fans, it was more of a Yes album than any release by the official Yes line-up that existed at that time. So why wasn't it released by Yes?

Without delving too far into the politics of the time, it seems that the partnership of Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe were unable, legally speaking, to use the "Yes" name. Chris Squire, stalwart bassist and co-founder member of Yes, apparently vetoed the use of that name, which was reserved for the line-up that comprised other founder members Anderson and Tony Kaye, Alan White, relative newcomer Trevor Rabin, and of course, Squire himself. This incarnation of the band was releasing music that was, as far as some traditional fans of the band were concerned, little better than "Stadium Rock".

Thus was born this short-lived band, with Anderson's familiar vocals, Bruford's faultless drums and percussion, Wakeman's rather attractive keyboards and Howe's under-used guitar. Tony Levin provides bass guitar input. Perhaps this band would recapture former glories.

The piano and synth introduction to track one, "Themes", positively shimmers with a sense of anticipation. Uncharacteristically heavy-handed, Bruford bashes his way into the song and we're away ...

Wakeman's dominant piano and Bruford's complex drumbeat lead us forward. This early passage, called "Sound", makes the hairs on my arm stand on end - it is very powerful. Anderson's vocals announce the beginning of the next passage, "Second Attention". The lyrics commence, "Be gone you ever-piercing Power Play machine...", the meaning of which has been variously described to be a snipe at the "Record Companies" and their attitude to music, or just the usual Anderson "cheerful nonsense". My own opinion, not backed up by any evidence, is that Anderson is having a go at Squire. The third and final passage is entitled "Soul Warrior", and is instrumental. It sits slightly unsteadily with the rest of the track, but is every bit as enjoyable. All in all, this song rocks, but is in no way a standard rock song. My highlight of the album. The drumming, it must be said, is superb throughout.

"Fist Of Fire" sounds, I have to say, a tad pompous. It is also short, approximately three and a half minutes in length. Nevertheless, it is quite richly textured, and has that ability of remaining in your brain for days at a time. The prevailant synthesized horn sound is both its strength and its weakness, and can be the reason you either love it or hate it. I'm thinking "cheese", but, what the heck, I still like this track.

"Brother Of Mine", a longish track at ten minutes or so, hovers into view at this point. Split into three sections (like "Themes"), it begins unassumingly enough with "The Big Dream". Enjoyable enough, but not compelling, it is densely populated with Anderson's lyrics up to the point when we wind up to "Nothing Can Come Between Us". Your attention begins to be drawn back to proceedings, just in time for "Long Lost Brother Of Mine", the climax to the track. Interestingly, Geoff Downes, a former Buggle and Yes Man, has a writing credit for this last passage. The entire complexion of the track changes at this point - there is an anthemic feel to this section, which translates well into a live set (see comments regarding my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 An Evening Of Yes Music). In summary, "Brother Of Mine" is overlong, comparing musical ideas versus length. Or maybe short of ideas for its length. Possibly too much Anderson content.

Political commentary follows, in the form of "Birthright". This is a discussion of H-bomb testing in Australia and the effect upon the indigenous population. Naturally, the subject matter is clouded, not just by nuclear fallout, but by the customary Andersonian lyrical obfustication. That said, "Birthright" has a feel to it that pleases and it works, broadly speaking. Actually quite stirring in places.

A quiet intermission by the name of "The Meeting" sounds like pure Anderson to me, although ABWH is credited with writing it. Wakeman's piano is great and stands out, when not over-shadowed by the vocal element.

Another biggie follows, over nine minutes in four parts, called "Quartet". "I Wanna Learn" is the introductory piece, and Howe's guitar is allowed free reign (almost for the first time, it seems). This first quarter is very good indeed. "She Gives Me Love" is vocally driven in the main, but Wakeman's synthesised brass effect is effective. "Who Was The First" continues the melody in slightly altered form and "I'm Alive" completes the piece. Wakeman is allowed the occasional piano break, and these are welcome instrumental interludes.

I confess that "Teakbois" is completely unexpected. The track is subtitled "The Life And Times Of Bobby Dread" and it is indeed a concoction of Calypso and Latino themes. I don't think I have heard Yes (and I insist that this album is a Yes album in all but name) do a song remotely like this one. Half-way through the track, the "Bobby Dread" theme is picked up, and then another complete change of pace. Unlike other tracks on the album, in particular "Quartet", the changes in direction seem to work well. Exuberant is a word I would use to describe this track.

The serious business of producing progressive rock is resumed in the form of "Order Of The Universe". The instrumental "Order Theme" kicks off, setting the tone for the rest of this four-part, nine minute track. "Rock Gives Courage" is a hard-hitting piece of rock, and it works well as such. "It's So Hard To Grow" sounds angry, but for the life of me, I cannot tell why Anderson is so enraged. "The Universe" ends the piece. Overall, an energetic track and one of my personal favourites on the album.

"Let's Pretend" finishes things up in a quiet, introspective way. Nice enough tune.

Upon reflection, this album isn't nearly as good as it first sounds. The very act of reviewing it and analysing it for discussion has reduced it to component parts, and on that basis, the album is rather weak in places. Anderson dominates far too much, with too little of the other players over the album as a whole. A particular aspect that appears to be missing is Yes's bass guitarist. Whether a result of mixing, production or some otherwise unaccountable lack in Levin himself, this album cries out for the bass lines of Squire. There again, when the album hits the spot, as for "Themes", "Teakbois", "Long Lost Brother of Mine" and parts of "Quartet" and "Order Of The Universe", it is very, very good indeed. The best parts are picked out in the live release, An Evening Of Yes Music, or An Evening Of Yes Music Plus, the latter of which has a very good live version of "Close To The Edge," by the way.

For fans who were disillusioned by the music of the lineup of Yes that brought out 90125 and Big Generator, I think it's safe to say that ABWH represents a promise not wholly fulfilled. For fans of Yes in whatever incarnation (I include myself in this description), ABWH is flawed, but indispensable. A "C+" grading might have been indicated if it weren't for "Themes", whose presence alone is significantly responsible for the grade I have given it.

Rating: B

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