Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe (1989)


Gee. Turns out that legally, Yes was Chris Squire’s band after all. So when Anderson and Howe finally had enough of Trevor Rabin and his tendency to metallize Yes, on one hand, and move it into the mainstream, on the other hand, and they decided to part company, it became obvious that they just couldn’t keep the name, no matter how they wanted it, and ol’ butthead Squire was much too picky at them, not to mention he just probably wanted to keep the cash flowing. (Or maybe he really thought that Yes = Chris Squire? No, but seriously, did he really think THAT?).

As a delicate move of revenge, the guys re-teamed up with Rick Wakeman, who’s probably had enough of his blubby solo career as well (not to mention that Rick had a nasty tendency of putting out new solo albums faster than anybody could buy them), and were even lucky to have a go at Bill Bruford, and formed their own, ‘local’ version of Yes – even if they somehow totally lacked imagination to come up with a new name for the band.

Come to think of it, though, the guys badly needed marketing, and what’s a poor boy (hell, four poor boys) gotta do if they want their public to take their output as a standard Yes album in its own rights but lack the rights to put the word ‘Yes’ on the cover? Well, here’s a good recipe, then: 1) you put the words ‘Anderson Bruford Wakeman & Howe’ in large letters on the cover; 2) you make sure Roger Dean painted it, so that nobody will confuse it with the Big Generator stuff; 3) finally, if that wasn’t enough, you put up a sticker that says ‘From The Men That Brought You Close To The Edge’. And voilà! The nearest thing to a Yes album! And how cleverly masked, too! The old time fans must have been jumping on the spot…

Oh, sorry. I forgot Important Element Number Four. Which is: make the music sound much, much more close to ‘classic Yes’ than it ever sounded since 1977. As you might easily guess, this is the hardest task to accomplish. The problem is that none of the band really wanted, or needed to make an exact replica of Close To The Edge, so as not to seem too repetitive, derivative, whatever, and they updated their sound with ultra-modern technologies. That’s not to say that this particular album sounds just as fake or sterile as Big Generator. Actually, it sounds a lot better! The crappy metallic riffs are simply not there, to make your ears bleed, and there are no stupid dance rhythms meshed in – apart from the real disaster which is the seven-minute ‘Teakbois’ that incorporates… er… African rhythms… African rhythms??… … … … !!!!! …. !!!! ….. African rhithms for Yes? Get me the valium right now!

Oh, the other stuff is not that bad. Steve Howe plays some nice acoustic runs from time to time, and Wakeman just sits around and dabbles in his synths that are modernized, for sure, but they still sound moody and all. A bit worse than on the ‘real good stuff’, of course, but sure a little better than on Tormato. The bass duties are handled by Bruford’s old ex-King Crimson colleague Tony Levin, but I never really caught these basslines, and he never gets a serious chance to shine.

The big problem concerns the drumming: I’m perfectly sure that some of the stuff that’s bashing on here is not drum machines – as far as I know, Bruford is a real pro on electronically enhanced drums, but I’m also perfectly sure that my musical knowledge simply does not permit me to tell drum machines from real drumming here, and anyway, Bruford’s drumming on Eighties’ King Crimson records was tons more impressive. There, he sounded like a real innovative guy who could easily lock the public’s attention onto himself; here, he just bashes around until at times he becomes almost annoying.

The biggest problem, however, concerns the songwriting. Like I said, the band decided to sound more like the Yes of old, and in order to do that, they return to the ‘huge format’: four of the songs presented are multi-part suites, and only three of nine tracks end under five minutes. Out of these, the closing ‘Let’s Pretend’ is a gentle, melodic ballad that almost smells of the young and innocent hippie days of ‘Time And A Word’ (more probably, of the witty recreation of the hippie vibe on ‘Wond’rous Stories’); ‘Fist Of Fire’ rocks more in the vein of the Rabin-dominated Yes, but is still passable, maybe due to some particularly impressive synth bursts from Wakeman; and ‘The Meeting’ is passable, even if pretty and gentle.

Finally, repeated listenings have brought out the concealed charms of ‘Birthright’, in which Anderson states his case against the evil British Empire making nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean and failing to contact all the aborigines. ‘This place ain’t big enough for the stars ands stripes’, in particular, strikes me as an excellently placed line.

But most of the ‘suites’ are simply boring. Oh, I mean, they serve you well as mood music, but melodies? Where are they? No strong melodies to speak of at all, if you ask me. Do I like something about them? Well, I like the way ‘Themes’ start, with those pretty little tinglings, and ‘I Wanna Learn’ from ‘Quartet’ is quite nice, with a magnificent Steve Howe acoustic part. However, ‘Order Of The Universe’ is pompous, tedious and banal, and anyway, please be on your guard when you have to deal with Yes song titles with the word ‘universe’ in them, especially if they date from the Eighties.

Sounds more like late Genesis, if you really need my opinion (which I doubt). And even the ‘good’ beginnings lead nowhere in the end. Anyway, I’m not really complaining; it’s just that I had my doubts about the actual meaningfulness and enjoyability of overblown Yes epics from the very beginning, and it would be strange if I changed it towards the end, right? It’s a pretty decent album in all, much better than one could have expected.

June 23, 2013 Posted by | Anderson Bruford Wakeman & Howe | , | Leave a comment