Now Hear This: Andy Burns on Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe Remastered
What happens when four old friends and colleagues get together after years apart and try to make music again? In the case of former Yes members Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe, you get a self-titled album that tried to update the progressive rock sound of the 70ís with a late 80ís sheen. More than 20 years later, that album has been rereleased in a deluxe edition that I recently spent some time getting reacquainted with. Released back in 1989, on the heels on Jon Andersonís departure from the pop leaning sounds of 80ís Yes, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe was the first time this foursome had worked together since Yesí groundbreaking Close To The Edge album and was as close to progressive rock on the charts as you were going to get at the time. Most of the prog rock bands of the 70ís had either dissolved (ELP) or changed their sound to fit the era (Genesis), so there were some great expectations as to what sort of progressive music ABWH would deliver. In that regard, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe was a success as an album. Most of the songs go past the six minute mark and are divvied up into mini-suites, much like Yes songs were in the early 70ís. But with that nod to the past also came a full jump into the (then) present. Rick Wakeman was playing epic fills with the most modern of keyboard sounds while Bill Bruford, one of the greatest drummers on the planet, had fully immersed himself in the world of electronic drumming. At the time it was the cutting edge of technology, but in 2011 itís hard not to think that the entire sound of the album is pretty dated. That doesnít mean Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe is a bad listen; far from it if youíre a fan of this style of music. Songs like Brother of Mine, Fist of Fire and Birthright are all strong pieces of music that clearly demonstrate the power of the best progressive rock. This album also feels (to this Yes fan) like one of the last time vocalist and lyricist Jon Anderson was writing material that was original and compelling. While heís had moments since, I think his reach and ambition reached their final heights here.
The second disc of this deluxe version of Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe features the truncated single versions of songs released to ensure the album found airplay Ė thereís multiple versions of Brother of Mine and Order of the Universe, none of which I need to listen to more than once but that will be treasured by fans that really enjoy this stuff. Thereís also the decent hard to find track Vultures In The City, along with three live songs from the ensuing tour. Itís definitely strange to hear bassist Tony Levin play the licks created by original Yes bass player Chris Squire on the classic track And You And I; I donít really like it or Brufordís drum sound on the song, though it is interesting to hear. As much as Iím a fan of Levinís work (if youíve never listened to 80ís King Crimson, do yourself a favour and track it down now Ė or click here to hear the amazing Sleepless), Squire will always be the only bass player to deliver Yesmusic the way its supposed to sound.
My two main criticisms on this deluxe ABWH package are that the album wasnít remixed (guitarist Steve Howe has stated that his work is often missing on the finished mix of the album) and that the liner notes only offered up the original lyrics and production notes and not some sort of essay to give the reissue some context. I suppose thatís what this article is for, but for a historical release I definitely think more was needed.
Upon itís release, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe would go gold, receive radio play and produce a successful tour. But before the band could go on to record a second album, fate, managers and a hefty pay day led the group to reform with the other members of Yes for a horrible album called Union and a wonderful tour, which you can read about here. However, if you were there back in the day or are simply interested in what prog rock sounded like in 1989, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe the album is as fine a snapshot as one could ask for.