I'd give this three and a half stars if the star thing would let me......
On its release in 1989 this album was greeted with screams of delight and tears of joy from fans of Yes's 70's incarnation, who'd seen perhaps the greatest progressive rock band (according to this particular view) sell out to 80s stadium pop, largely due to That Terrible Rabin Man. (In fact when Rabin joined forces with Squire and White in 81/82 the band was to be called Cinema- Rabin never intended to join Yes.) Certainly the work's multi-movement longer pieces, emphasising melody rather than rhythm albeit with those odd time signatures, and created by four-fifths of the lineup that produced Yes's masterpiece Close To The Edge, seemed much more the kind of thing the prog fans were after. You even got a Roger Dean cover.
22 years later, in the slightly colder light of day, what it sounds like to these ears is an Anderson/Wakeman album with guest contributions from Howe and Bruford. It's since transpired that notwithstanding the four-way song credits the material was composed pretty much solely by Anderson; it's really quite guitar-light (there's an alternate version of Fist of Fire on the In A Word boxset with much more Howe) and Bruford apparently overdubbed percussion on otherwise substantially complete tracks.
It's not just Chris Squire's Rickenbacker grunt-belch that's missed; it's his distinctive harmonies, the riffs, the hooks and a soupcon of rock grit that would have lifted this album no end. Unchecked, the music occasionally tips into the cloying and sentimental.........
That said it's by no means bad,(it does run out of steam a bit towards the end but the first four tracks in particular are fine music) and, as effectively a first album, has to be viewed as transitional; it would have been fascinating to see what a second album from the quartet had to offer (Bruford in particular was interested in the group evolving away from Yes material).
In the event, ABWH was sacrificed (very much, it appears, for financial rather than artistic reasons)for an eight-man Yes lineup, which produced a splendid tour, a very mediocre cobbled-together post-produced-to-death-with-a-cast-of-thousands album (Union) and then disintegrated leaving Anderson reunited with the 'Rabin' Yes and an understandably piqued Howe and Bruford surplus to requirements.
The second disc is intended for completists (who in fairness are going to be the ones buying this) but does include one unused track (Vultures in the City)which is better than several of the tracks that made the cut.
(The reviewer will state his personal position as a 'YesWhole'- that is, I enjoy all incarnations of the band).
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