1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear
#46: Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe – Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (1989)
MATT KELLY somehow manages to get all the way through the very worst of Yes and the answer is a definitive ‘No!’
Not enjoying the pop-rock treadmill that the success of ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ had placed Yes on, vocalist Jon Anderson felt creatively unfulfilled. Having a chat with former Yes guitarist Steve Howe (who had been through the same thing during his time with Asia) they decided to reform the classic Yes line-up and record a spiritual, ambitious album of prog.
With Bill Bruford on drums and Rick Wakeman on keys, only Chris Squire was absent, wanting to continue with Yes allegedly for monetary reasons. However, if anyone had business standing in for prog’s best bassist, it was runner-up Tony Levin whom Bruford knew from their time in King Crimson together.
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Four-fifths of Yes’ greatest lineup with a stellar bassist making up the remaining 20 percent with a briefing to go nuts and ignore commercial considerations – it’s almost impressive that they found a way to go so wrong.
Because this record is fucking SHIT. Yes, it’s worse than 90125 and Big Generator. Those may have been (partly) soulless corporate AOR but they were *competent*, decent-sounding soulless corporate AOR.
ABWH sounds *terrible* – producer Chris Kimsey should have faced charges. Kimsey was a veteran best known for his long association with the Rolling Stones, but he hasn’t a clue how to produce this sound. Listen to the rock-bottom ‘Fist Of Fire’. Wakeman’s garish synthesized horn-blasts are comically bad, his keyboard runs at the end of the verses are alarmingly loud, and Anderson’s yelping of embarrassing fantasy cliche lyrics are the poisoned cherry on top. One has to feel particularly sorry for Bill Bruford who has never sounded worse – the plastic, brash drum sound he is given is jarring and never gels, his performance on ‘Themes’ being headache-inducing as a result.
Kimsey can’t be blamed for everything though – from a compositional point of view, Wakeman keeps penning soft, new-agey parts and then plays them with the naivety knob turned to maximum.
There are some real horrors here such as the insipid, shoot-me-to-relieve-the-tedium saccharine spirituality of ‘The Meeting’ and even prog epic ‘Brother Of Mine’ shits the bed with its dreadful AOR production, sugary performances and its childish happy-clappy “Long lost brother of mine” chorus that is profoundly depressing.
And good luck surviving the nine-minute ‘Order Of The Universe’ which is insufferably bad, going from overblown cheesy faux-symphonic opening complete with a tooth-rotting choir to desperately unconvincing stadium rock, the entire thing devolving into a contest between Bruford and Wakeman to see who can sound worse.
Special mention however needs to go to ‘Teakbois’. A jaw-dropping, laugh-out-loud bad pastiche of south-of-the-border music, the absolute cluelessness of this deeply artificial assault on Latin rhythms is just the pits – Wakeman sounds like a rank amateur with his witless, cliched tones and it goes on for SEVEN MINUTES, turning into the Lion King soundtrack halfway through. Meanwhile, Levin is more or less wasted throughout the entire album.
Not so much for Yes fans as for Yes detractors who are sure to find this highly amusing, this is an inexplicable and inexcusable failure from a fine group of musicians who really should have known better. This version of the band should have been called No.