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Anderson - Bruford - Wakeman - Howe - Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe CD (album) cover


Anderson - Bruford - Wakeman - Howe


Symphonic Prog

3.22 | 357 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars If there's a more dysfunctional progressive rock band in the world than Yes I have yet to run across them. This group takes the grand prize and the blue ribbon. The fact that the various members are extremely talented has never been in question but we proggers can't help but wonder what musical heights they might've reached had even one of their lineups been able to remain intact for longer than three or four years in a row. Yet if wishes were nickels I'd be independently wealthy so there's no use in contemplating what could've been. They are what they are and they did what they did so be it. I'll spare you the sordid details of their entire career and just recap the years leading up to this fine album by Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe. After Yes figuratively took a dump on their fans in '78 with the rotten "Tormato" Jon and Rick took a hike. Chris, Alan and Steve snatched up two of the dudes from The Buggles and put out the half decent "Drama" LP in '80 before folding up the tent. The Yes legacy lay dormant for a while until Chris patched it back together with alums Alan, Jon and Tony along with newbie Trevor to assemble the slick but definitely above average "90125" record in '83 that put them back on the music industry's map. The disappointing follow up in '87 was the weak "Big Generator," after which Jon left and the esteemed ensemble went AWOL again. The MTV-ruled eighties decade wasn't exactly conducive to prog so the band's struggle to survive in that woebegone era is understandable. However, when four of the members responsible for creating the greatest symphonic progressive rock album in history (the still-astonishing "Close to the Edge") decided to co-create once more they were barred from using the hallowed Yes moniker by Chris (the only member to appear on every "official" Yes disc) who held the patent and wasn't in the mood to share. Rather than stooping to sarcastically naming the group "The Affirmative," (something they actually considered briefly) Jon, Bill, Rick and Steve hired respected bassist Tony Levin to fill the bottom frequencies and went into the studio using their well-known surnames as their calling card. This one and only album was the result.

They kick things off with the triple-tiered "Themes." The initial section, "Sound," begins with a delightful shower of cascading notes and then Bill's piercing drums blow the doors open to the funk/rock exposition that is "Second Attention." Within minutes they've established the infectious aura that only this unique cadre of prog legends can conjure up and I'm smiling. The third movement, "Soul Warrior," sports a marching cadence that encourages some peppy interplay to arise between Steve's guitar and Rick's synths. All in all it's six minutes of prog bliss. "Fist of Fire" follows. It's a compact, thud-heavy song dominated by Wakeman's keyboards and Jon's passionate but surprisingly aggressive vocals. It's not as cool as the previous cut but enjoyable. The 10+ minute, three-part "Brother of Mine" is next. "The Big Dream" starts it off with a cavernous soundscape that stretches into the ether behind Anderson's sweet-as-candy voice and Howe's beautiful guitar runs. Other than the memorable namesake chorus of "Nothing can come between us," the second segment is more of the same coloration. At this juncture I must comment that, as much as I admire Levin's craft, I do miss Squire's adventurous bass lines that always add an exciting unpredictability to the band's tracks but I guess with this group you can't have everything. The third section, "Long Lost Brother of Mine," pushes the tempo upwards and Bill gets to throw in some intriguing percussive syncopation to spice things up but it's Rick's stirring, grandiose finale that steals the show. "Birthright" is a highlight. Growling synths and acoustic guitar licks set the stage brilliantly for this dynamic tune but it's the transcendent middle segment that truly thrills and satisfies. It fires on all cylinders.

"The Meeting" possesses a lovely piano intro that's a heavenly display of how sensitive and stratospheric Wakeman's artistry can be at times. The song is a gorgeous example of exquisite arrangement and tasteful delivery. The four-division "Quartet" has lofty aspirations but it doesn't achieve all its goals. On "I Wanna Learn" Steve's delicate guitarisms back up Jon's folksy singing and harmonies suitably. Rick barges in with choppy piano chords to elevate the atmosphere for "She Gives Me Love" while the lyrics pay clever homage to classic Yes song titles. "Who Was the First" has a strong feel rolling underneath but Bruford is relegated to a supporting role to the piece's detriment. "I'm Alive" only confirms that this whole number is basically a Jon Anderson- inspired love fest. While I personally don't find his over-the-rainbow poetics overly wearisome I can sympathize with those who might. "Teakbois" is next and it's an eyebrow-raiser. Its viable Caribbean vibe is not something I ever expected from these guys but it does show they were willing to step out of their comfort zone to see what would develop. It's a fun detour that shines a light on the versatility of Bill and Rick in particular. I especially dig the abrupt changes in the groove they pull off without a hitch. If you're looking for an epic, "Order of the Universe" will do the trick. "Order Theme" is a grand-scale overture that's sure to please any fan of symphonic prog. "Rock Gives Courage" is a driving rocker wherein Jon succeeds in getting up in your face with curious lines like "You don't need anybody in this complicated life!" "It's So Hard to Grow" is a continuation of that forceful mien energized by the number's powerful chorus and strident incidentals. During "The Universe" Bruford stands out by combining acoustic and electronic drums to present an extraordinary, multi-rhythmic tsunami of sound. They close the album out quietly with "Let's Pretend," a short, innocent Anderson ditty augmented expertly by Wakeman's keyboards and Howe's inimitable guitar licks.

Released on June 20, 1989, "ABWH" rose to #14 in the UK and #30 in the US, indicating that there were a multitude of folks in the world that had grown tired of cute videos and big hair rock outfits and longed for the glory days when they eagerly crammed into arenas to hear Yes wow their aural senses with their majestic and awesome compositions. Alas, this foursome only lasted a short time before some suit at Arista decided it'd be a stupendous idea to bring EVERYBODY back and put together the can't fail, ultimate Yes album, "Union." Some family get-togethers turn into fiascos and evidently this one was a doozy because it effectively ended the run of Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe. (One of these days I'll get around to listening to "Union" but my expectations are low, to say the least.) Nonetheless, ABWH is a darn good prog album, especially considering the sorry state 20th century music was in at the time they made it. Jon, Bill, Rick and Steve had the guts to swim against the inane commercial current and do what they did best to the appreciative applause of proggers worldwide. Their accomplishment has stood the test of time. 4.1 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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