I posted this review on the Sputnik Music web site earlier this evening.
Even today, Yes is a relatively popular band. If you go to their Sputnik Music page, every Yes studio album has at least 175 ratings votes, and Close to the Edge, the highest-rated Yes album as of this writing, has over 1,900 ratings votes. Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe is the forgotten Yes album. Alone on its own page, currently with fewer than 20 ratings votes, it's the Yes album that time forgot.
That it is, in fact, a Yes album in all but official name is beyond dispute. Most Yes fans consider the classic Yes lineup to be Jon Anderson on vocals, Steve Howe on guitar, Rick Wakeman on keyboards, Chris Squire on bass, and either Bill Bruford or Alan White on percussion. As the band and album name implies, Anderson, Howe, Wakeman and Bruford are all here, this time with virtuoso Tony Levin handling the bass duties. Plus, the cover art for the album comes from a pair of paintings by Roger Dean, who designed most of Yes's album covers in the '70s.
The only reason ABWH wasn't called a Yes album is that Squire is the one who actually owned the legal name to the band and his version of Yes was still in existence at the time, featuring himself, Alan White, keyboardist Tony Kaye and guitarist Trevor Rabin. Hence, the new band had to settle for calling itself Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, although they advertised each show on their supporting tour as "An Evening of Yes Music Plus."
Now, the question is, is ABWH a good Yes album? And the answer is definitely -- wait for it -- Yes! It's actually an excellent album, and one that any fan of the classic Yes sound would enjoy.
The biggest difference between this and previous Yes albums is that here, besides the rock infused with classical music sound that bands like Yes are famous for, several of the numbers feature more of a world music (Brazilian?) sound. Although all four of the former Yes members received writing credits, the songs here were all basically written by Anderson and Howe. However, for me at least, the sounds of Wakeman's keyboards and Bruford's drums seem to dominate most of the songs, while Howe's guitar work is more subtle and in the background.
Several tracks stand out here. The one that received the most FM radio airplay was the three-part suite "Brother of Mine". It features typically upbeat Jon Anderson lyrics ("Just hear your voice in all the songs of the earth/Nothing can come between us, you're a brother of mine"), and one of his best vocals. It goes from slow-to-mid-tempo in the first two parts of the song to a faster, more exciting pace for the concluding section.
"The Meeting" is a slow, beautiful song that features a simple but sincere vocal by Anderson. It also benefits from some of Wakeman's most exquisite piano work.
"Teakbois" seems to be one of those songs that Yes enthusiasts either love or hate. I'm solidly in the "love" camp. Although there are references throughout the lyrics to reggae artist Bobby Dread, the song actually mixes Jamaican, South American and Calypso influences for a sound that is unlike any previous Yes song. I've been unable to find any definition for the word "teakbois" -- it's probably a word that Anderson made up -- but whatever it is, the lyrics of the song assure us that "teakbois is everywhere." And judging by the happy, upbeat nature of the song, this is a good thing.
Probably the most imposing song on ABWH is the 9-minute-plus, 4-part opus, "Order of the Universe". It's also the most traditionally Yes song on the album, as the band returns to their progressive rock roots in a big way here. There's a grand dominating Wakeman synthesizer theme, filled in nicely by Howe's guitar and Bruford's percussion, that starts the song off, and which the band triumphantly returns to at the end. Sandwiched in between is one of Anderson's more raucous vocals, as he sings about some of the positive attributes of rock music, accompanied by some funky keyboard work. It's almost as if after the more mainstream pop direction of Yes's prior two albums 90125 and Big Generator, Anderson is screaming "Yes is back, bitches!" Except of course that he's too positive, too polite and too ... well, British! ... to ever say it that way.
In any event, with the release of Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, Yes was back as a progressive rock band. The album was successful enough to lead to a merging of the two estranged branches of Yes, which led to the successful Union Tour (and the much less successful Union album) that followed, and also led Yes back to their roots. It's a shame that for many, ABWH has become the forgotten Yes album. I'm hoping that Yes fans and progressive rock lovers who read this review will give it a fresh listen.
Rating: 4/5 stars