Arista 1989 / Esoteric 2014
YES by any other name: picking up the pieces, art-rock veterans return to the fragile edge to rock it.
By the late ’70s, each member of YES had released a solo LP which made it clear that the band had always carried a Chris Squire sonic crunch, colored by Jon Anderson‘s imagination. Two decades later, though, the two couldn’t find a common denominator anymore, so the singer left the band for the second time and embarked on a quest of looking for ideas other alumni might harbor. As it turned out, they did – more so, with Jon fleshing it all out, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman and Bill Bruford were ready to commit to tour, once their reunion proved to be successful, especially with their parent ensemble put on ice.
Still, the reasons for such a success were rooted not only in the longing for YES but also – and even more so – in ABWH’s music: true to their shared source given a pop sensibility thanks, first and foremost, to Jon’s recent commercial and Steve’s ASIA experience. As a result, each of four suites on the foursome’s only studio album presented a mini-collection of memorable melodies that rein in Rick’s classical approach and Bill’s dalliance with synthetic drums. So the life-affirming “Second Attention,” a part of “Themes,” explodes into space with a burst of energy and words rooted in Lennon’s “God” before introducing Latin rhythms which Anderson weaves into the tribal heat of “Teakbois” to pursue later on “Deseo,” while guitar interjections are sharp on attack, and keyboards engage in a fusion dance.
Joie de vivre – never more so tangible as on a single edit of “I’m Alive,” a finale of the gently orchestrated “Quartet” – fades for the single B-side “Vultures In The City” that’s housed on a second CD here alongside remixes and edits, revealing additional vignettes, and for “Birthright”: dedicated to the Maralinga nuclear tests, it spits out riffs into an acoustic serenity, whereas Tony Levin’s bass paints thunder all over folk-influenced organ canvas. Elsewhere, “Rock Gives Courage” brings forth a bout of unexpected swagger out of “Order Of The Universe,” yet “Fist Of Fire,” one of the shorter songs, explores the concept of divine, at the same time separating each musician’s playing into showcase-like strains but keeping it all together.
The celestial impact comes with “The Meeting,” a quiet, if moving, spiritual marriage of voice and piano, and in “Brother Of Mine” which runs from the spectral rays of “The Big Dream” to the handclaps-helped uplift in the piece’s title section. And once “The Universe” takes the festival to the polyrhythmic heaven, a Vangelis co-write “Let’s Pretend” pulls the celebratory mood of the day to the heart of the sundown. Unlike other records from the same period, “ABWH” has stood the test of time and still is both traditional and futuristic, the stance that YES, reformed soon after its release with all the fractions fused together, would never achieve again.