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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

3WA 2018 #24: Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe

Look, if you think I was going to type out the band’s name twice just to see how far I could push WordPress’s post title boundary, you’ve got another think coming.

What is it?

Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe is the quite-literally self-titled 1989 release by four guys who might have been called Yes but couldn’t, in this case, due to legal reasons so they named the band after themselves.

If I’d been smart I’d have slotted this one right after the Pink Floyd entry, come to think of it. Missed an opportunity there! Ah, well. At least I managed to get two self-titled records back to back…

How does it sound?

See the sampler mix be the master now:

Why this pick?

There are a bunch of Yes albums, many of which I’ve never listened to. They’re not really my thing. And yet, there’s this bizarre creature that I kind of adore. In a way it’s a backlash to the hit-machine trajectory of the main Yes brand, given the smash success of 90125. Jon Anderson got some of the former band members together and essentially asked, “Remember when we were just screwing around and having fun making music however we wanted?”

This is the result, and it’s a thing.

A very 1980s, very prog-rock, very mixed-bag thing.

A thing where four of the nine tracks are divided into sections with their own titles. (I won’t be detailing all the section/subtitles here. They’re not actually that important.) Oh, and there’s a heavy dose of indulgence in “world music” styling, being the trendy thing to do if you’re a British musical act in the 1980s. Your cringe levels may vary.

Which songs are the highlights?

The core of the album’s strength is in a run of three early songs: The weirdly kind-of-martial “Fist of Fire,” the intricate ten-minutes-plus epic “Brother Of Mine,” and “Birthright,” the politically-charged piece which basically justifies the album’s entire existence.

Near the end of the album we get the other epic, “Order Of The Universe,” and it’s ridiculous in a good way. A nine minute paean to the power of rock-n-roll in complex multi-part arrangements and with very little actually rock-n-roll about it. I adore this track, I really do.

Coming off of that, the album’s closer is “Let’s Pretend,” which sounds the closest to “classic” Yes of the 1970s of anything on the entire record. Sure it’s just some guitars and Jon Anderson singing, but it works well and makes one wonder what might have happened if they’d tried for a simpler, more acoustic approach to this project overall.

Which songs don’t work so well?

It’s a Yes album, for all intents and purposes, so there are experimental excesses galore. Take the lead track, “Themes.” It’s six minutes of what feels like a bunch of ideas that didn’t grow big enough to seed their own songs so they got tossed in the bin with each other and mixed into one rambling ridiculous piece. Several of the bits are kind of interesting, just not crammed in with each other like this.

My least favorite piece is “The Meeting,” just a piano and Jon Anderson’s voice and lyrics about love or something and it’s a snooze is what I’m saying. “Quartet” comes up next and is somewhat better, being four love songs smushed together in one track but at least there’s a full band playing to make it less dreary. It’s still dreary, though.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

I was highly, highly tempted to go with Union, which is basically a compilation of songs from both camps of past-and-present Yes musicians into one hodge-podge of a record. It’s both more uneven and more generally listenable than ABWH, which I must admit is a helluva trick.

But in the end, I had to go with this crazy last-gasp attempt to see what a “pure” not-quite-as-commercialized Yes record might sound like.

Any final thoughts?

The only time I saw Yes in concert was in support of Union. It was an “in the round” presentation, rotating stage and everything. My best friend Steve and I were in the nosebleed section in whatever sportsball auditorium in Los Angeles it was, I can’t remember and it’s probably changed names ten times since. The only other thing I really remember, other than the “in the round” thing? So many potheads. SO. MANY.

All I can think of now, looking back on it, other than SO MANY POTHEADS of course, is… each and every one of those eight guys on stage must’ve wanted to wring the neck of at least two of the other guys on stage during that entire tour.

The power of the paycheck, y’all.

 

6 Comments

  1. It’s been a very, very long time since I listened to most of this album, but I still love “Brother of Mine” and listen to it now and then (usually on my annual road trip). It’s a great song with amazing energy and leaves me feeling uplifted every time. (I should probably listen to it more often, huh?)

    “Birthright” is very good too — I can’t remember the last time I heard it, but it’s stayed with me for all the right reasons. (Unlike “Teakbois”, which stayed in my brain for all the wrong reasons. Sigh.)

    • I hadn’t listened to the album all the way through in at least a year prior to prepping this write-up. (And probably won’t do it again any time soon. The songs I don’t like, I really really don’t like.)

      Yes is weird in that they can achieve this almost-cartoony level of earnestness and upbeat energy which is, on one level, totally mockable and yet, on another level, really effective at brightening your mood & outlook on life. “Brother of Mine” and “Order of the Universe” shouldn’t, objectively speaking, work. And yet!

      Ahhhh, “Teakbois.” (You see what I did there.) I didn’t want to call it out specifically but I did mention the cringe-inducing world-music element, so… yeah. Oof.

  2. Hm… we had this vinyl at the college radio station I put some time in at because our “Program Director” (aka ‘fifth year senior’) was a huge fan of Yes and all their various solo acts.

    Except, for whatever reason, ABWH. He had stapled the album to the wall, and below it was the badly burned album jacket.

    I never asked him why. I kinda liked it, m’self… not in a “I’d listen to this” way, but in an “it didn’t deserve to be stapled to the wall” way.

    There isn’t a “Roundabout” on it, that’s for sure.

    • There isn’t a “Roundabout” on a lot of Yes albums, but your point’s well taken. This is an odd record, as close to experimental as you’re going to get from a group of famous diehard prog-rockers. ABWH is good (at best) but it’ll never be considered great.

  3. I think perhaps it’s time I revisit ABWH. “Brother of Mine” is the only track I’ve had in rotation for many a year. I can still recall the first time I ever heard it, on KLOS in Los Angeles. Fortunately they played the full ten minute version; as I recall there was a “radio edit” which basically consisted of the first minute transitioning (poorly) into the “long lost brother of mine” bit.
    And I do remember that concert! That was at the old LA Forum, a cavernous building where the nosebleeds were high indeed, and the acoustics not the best.
    Nonetheless, it was a good show (despite all the aforementioned potheads).

    • I vaguely recall that it was a heck of a show, though (of course) since I wasn’t as familiar with Yes’ back catalog a lot of songs went right past me. They did a good job mixing the post-90125 material with “some really… old… songs.” Give ’em what they want, I guess.

      It’s weird what I remember. For instance, I know we went to Sting’s Hollywood Bowl show but what I remember most about it was the interminable crawling slog of the drive in and finding parking. My brain is a mess, I tell ya.

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