Arista, 1991


REVIEW BY: Chris Harlow


As evidenced by Yes' two previous albums, 90125 and Big Generator, vocalist Jon Anderson lent undoubted credibility to the trickle-down axiom as the nexus between the two Yes camps -- the '70s Steve Howe/Bill Bruford/Rick Wakeman alliance and the '80s partnership of Chris Squire, Trevor Rabin, Tony Kaye, and Alan White. The early group evolved into the historical rubber-stamp definition of progressive rock music, and the latter formation devised a mainstream formula that could be counted on to sell truckloads of albums overnight.

Considering my then-perception of Anderson's flakiness towards which formation of the group he wanted to lend his trophy falsetto pitch to, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised in 1991 with where his name would end up. At that time, his resume included ping-pong collaborations with the old Yes, the new Yes, and finally back to the old partnership/sound by way of his participation in 1989's Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (ABWH) release.

So, in England, while obviously struggling with recording a tracklist worthy of a sophomore ABWH album, Anderson could be charged with waffling on his alliance. A trans-oceanic phone call to Trevor Rabin in California apparently had Anderson wanting to offer his vocals on the handful of tracks the Rabin/Squire/Kaye/White camp were working on. What resulted next, as I said earlier, shouldn't have surprised me. Anderson courted both camps to combine efforts in what would evolve into the next chapter of Yes, an extended brotherhood known as my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Union. In a further act of solidarity, Chris Squire's vocals were reciprocated on a good deal of the ABWH material.

I can just see the marketing agencies lining up at the band's door to sell this story to the public.

Anyways, it must be figuratively stated that the material on Union was essentially representative of the sounds that both eras of Yes had yielded. No surprise, right? Let's get this obvious success out of the way.

The closest thing to a hit on this album is the song "Lift Me Up," a song that the Rabin/Squire camp offered up. Using the material on Big Generator as a benchmark, I find it rather welcome that someone hit Trevor Rabin with a tranquilizer gun, as after the obligatory opening minute of bombast, the song settles into a spiritual soliloquy that few people other than Jon Anderson could pull off. The sound is tempered enough to appeal to the old-school fans of the band and catchy enough to appeal to the new fans that were spawned in the '80s as all the members fall into a harmonic sing-a-long.

Past this realization, I find the union of songs on this album to be rather bland. The mix of contributions by both factions contributes for an unbalanced affair. Songs like "Without Hope You Cannot Start the Day" and "Silent Talking" from the ABWH team and "Saving My Heart" from Rabin get lost in the shuffle by the uneven delivery that this collaboration would suggest. That's too bad considering they're all pretty decent tracks in their own right.

And "Masquerade" is a neat little acoustic guitar piece by Steve Howe that really has no home on an album with mixed sounds like this, unfortunately. Especially when it segues into the big electric guitar sound that the next track "Lift Me Up" offers.

But the reality of it all was that both camps had an uncompleted album they were working on at the time the alliance was agreed upon, and by and large, that's what Union sounds like. Fortunately, Anderson's vocals had been proven to melt butter by this point and in a way that allowed for the crossover appeal to reward Yes with acclaim by both progressive and mainstream fans -- but never at the same time.

So, while Jon Anderson had mastered the challenge of throwing his voice onto separate formats and lineups of Yes in the past, the challenge of doing it on one album simultaneously does not work very well. The trickle-down effect turns into a watered-down affair. Still, given the circumstances at the time, Union could be considered an experiment that made sense.

Rating: D+

User Rating: B



© 2004 Chris Harlow and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Arista, and is used for informational purposes only.