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Thread: “Union”- 25 years old

  1. #1
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    “Union”- 25 years old

    happy birthday / silver jubilee to one of the most controversial albums ever. one, that continues to stir up healthy debate and opinion. without it and its lasting effects many of us would not be here.

    here is my slightly sarky and highly subjective commemorative piece that i wrote for a decidedly non-prog source (hence so much familiar content, please excuse). hope you enjoy!


    Let's see … “Big Genitalia” is in here … and so is “Anderson, Walkman, Buttholes and How” (< yt this at your own peril). Best have “Onion” as well – it is its 25th anniversary after all – and complete the triplet of albums that ruined the band Yes forever. All of this and none of it is true.

    “I call it “Onion” because it makes me cry every time I listen to it.” (Rick Wakeman)
    “No idea how this is supposed to work. We're getting roadies but what we need is referees.” (Trevor Rabin)
    “@#•Ø√~µ‚ƒ©«Ù¥fi]|¶{º|¡fiƒ{!!!!!!!!!!” (Steve Howe)

    Ah, “Union”. The union that never was, hated by the band, its fans and most of the western hemisphere. The veritable Frankenstein of an album that well displays what happens when managers, execs and producers are given too much rope. The audio equivalent of the kitchen sink syndrome. The definition of corporate rock excess at its worst. There is no collaboration on display here, let alone any communal band playing to the point that it becomes indecipherable as to who actually did what. The albatross with the wings of a turkey and/or vice versa. Again, all of this and none of it is true.

    There are many accounts on how this creat__ ure came about and eventually led to the supra-Yes octet in 1991. I will try a cursory overview for the sole purpose of completeness. When Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe (hereafter: ABWH) ran into trouble during the writing of their sophomore album the remaining quartet of what was still the official Yes – namely Chris Squire, Trevor Rabin, Tony Kaye and Alan White (hereafter – YesWest) casually demoed albums' worth of new material with new vocalists in mind (these were potentially to be Roger Hodgson of Supertramp, future alumnus Billy Sherwood, a returning Anderson or even Rabin/Squire themselves). None of these two endeavours came to any fruitition and produced a veritable clusterfuck of disparate bands, ungainly material and huge loss of credibility to what used to be two very successful ventures: the return of the original name with a modern and tight 1980’s sheen and the subsequent reboot of the old band ethos with a contemporary world music slant (ABWH). Although nobody managed to see eye to eye any longer – least of all the corporate lobbyists attached – something had to be done and this album, to me anyway, is a logical result (read this account by producer Jonathan Elias for an idea about just how pear-shaped things became: http://www.bondegezou.co.uk/iv/jeinterview.htm#p2).

    But I digress. “Union” is nowhere as bad as it seems. Somehow things just had to happen as they did.

    Every time I listen to this album I perform a magical trick: I erase all the business bullshit, the multitudes of session musicians drafted in to replay flawed performances, the overproduced assault on all senses, the iffy song material and the general pettiness of its motivation. I am entirely unskilled in the creation and execution of music – indeed, I have little intention to ever achieve this – but I trust my ears and the increasingly malleable bit of brain mass inbetween – and they tell me that this is an album that was conceived for all the wrong reasons but, in turn, became finalised for all the right reasons. At strictly face value this was and is an exciting release. Once more, all of this and none of it is true.

    There are overproduced atrocities such “Dangerous” or (to a lesser extent) “Holding On” to decry (even by their respective titles); likewise there are moments of serene and cerebral beauty such as the eerie Anderson/Wakeman duet “Angkor Wat” (replete with Cambodian recitation) and “Take the Water to the Mountain” which display well that ABWH themselves did have a distinct identity; much to the chagrin of its participants which were to see it sacrificed at the altar of “Union”. The openers “I Would Have Waited Forever” and “Shock To The System” as well as “Without Hope” and “Silent Talking” pass as credible takes on a modernised Yes that combines the flamboyancy of the past with the succinctness of their later trajectory. I could not really care less whether that is Steve Howe or his ghostplayer Jimi Haun on guitar, whether that really is Rick Wakeman tinkling the ivories or Steve Porcaro or anyone else to be found in the small print. Having their respective stylistics at best as little vignettes or functional pockets does the music nothing but good and serves the principle of modernisation better than the hitherto desperate search for another “Owner of a Horse and Cart” (which, in all truthfulness, remains both an oddity and an industrial accident in the band's catalogue anyway). Now, over to YesWest …

    As expected, the four songs by the Rabin/Squire-led version of the band make it easier for the listener. As on “90125” or “Big Generator”, they display the stately, at times slightly bland AOR windowdressed by Rabin’s shred-prog excursions and their intricateness-defying wall-of-sound construction. While the cod white-reggae of “Saving My Heart” isn’t really worth anyone's time, the pretty “Lift Me Up” represents the above well and even yielded a minor hit for the band at the time (replete with a video clip featuring the full ensemble). I do like “Miracle Of Life” with its busy, harmony-fuelled instrumental opening with Kaye's patented Hammond stabs forming a bedrock to Rabin’s busy arpeggiated riffing very much – shame that the ensuing song falls back to his aforementioned compositional mode. Squire's atmospheric “The More We Live” (his first of many collaborations with Billy Sherwood, who is now his rightful successor in the band after his passing in 2015) has evolved as a perennial fan favourite, on which merits Sherwood still argues his cred as a rightful member of Yes. These four are never less than satis-factory tracks, however, ABWH as an entity exercises hegemony over this release which makes them look as being shoehorned into the entire package – which is a bit sad.

    Honourable mention to Howe’s acclaimed acoustic guitar composition “Masquerade”, which, once more, displays his unique sense of dextrous melodicism and the oddball “Evensong”, a duet by Bill Bruford and Tony Levin; probably the closest that Yes ever got to incorporating King Crimson (apart from Anderson’s guest feature on “Islands”). These, along with “Angkor Wat”, pass as verified solo features and reclaim some “Fragile”-oriented credibility for this aural white elephant that no-one claims to like.

    Now, the you-had-to be-there scenario. The tour became one of the highest grossing in what turned out to be a recessional year for the live concert market. For the discerning fan it was like Christmas, Easter and a summer boozer rolled into one. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Hey, it yielded my first ever printed gig review. There was Wakeman, weaving his delusions of grandeur while acting like a goof whenever possible. There was Kaye doing his serviceable minimalism alongside. There were Rabin and Howe, forever in each other's way but getting on with it nonetheless. Bruford and White: a perfect match of percussive onslaught with Bruford just sitting back and having a good time while leaving White to do the heavy lifting. Anderson and Squire, cajoling around each other, searching for middle ground … and finding it by the time “Awaken” reduced the audience to a shivering mass of multiple ephiphany. It never worked. It was nothing but bloated grandiosity with the obvious faults on display rendering it human. It couldn't last. What is not to like?

    Cunning plan. Good album. Fantastic tour. Happy 25th, “Union”. Now, remain where you are. Please.
    Last edited by iguana; 05-09-2016 at 04:38 AM.

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by iguana View Post
    Cunning plan. Good album. Fantastic tour. Happy 25th, “Union”. Now, remain where you are. Please.[/I]
    Good review.

    I was happy for new Yes and listened to Union all summer. "I Would Have Waited Forever" got old for me as did "Shock to the System." I'd start with "Masquarade" that blended into "Lift Me Up" so just two songs on the first side, although eventually liked "Saving My Heart" enough to play it at times.

    Then onto side 2 where I'd skip "Dangerous." I bought Union again a few years ago and liked it less but listened to half of it every so often mostly out of nostalgia.

  3. #3
    Profondo Giallo Crystal Plumage's Avatar
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    It was the first Yes album I ever heard. Believe it or not, but it was thanks to MTV that I discovered Yes!
    HuGo
    ..:: Right, bring in the perverts! ::..
    "Very, very nice," said a man in the crowd,
    When the golden voice appeared.
    She was gold alright, but then so is rust.
    "Such a shame about the beard."

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    Insect Overlord Progatron's Avatar
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    I always have a good laugh at the opening to that "Lift Me Up" video with Bruford, Howe, Wakeman and Kaye all pretending to sing!
    Two boys have been found rubbing linseed oil into the school cormorant.

  5. #5
    Good tour, mediocre album.

  6. #6
    Lift Me Up had a VIDEO! I never knew!

    Quote Originally Posted by Crystal Plumage View Post
    It was the first Yes album I ever heard. Believe it or not, but it was thanks to MTV that I discovered Yes!

  7. #7
    Member 2steves's Avatar
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    the Yes west stuff is pretty boring and awful---except for a few moments on The more we live----the ABWH stuff had some really interesting moments--the first two tracks are rocking---Silent Talking is very exciting---Ankor and Take the water are very good---Without hope is good---Dangerous isn't very good---but Holding on has some great moments--sounding like KC--80's version. So-conclusion---ABWH should have stayed together. But seeing them all on stage was fun even if Bruford look like he wanted to hide.

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    Awful.
    Unlistenable.
    My least favorite Yes album.
    Prog's Not Dead

  9. #9
    I once took the acapella intro off the single edit and pasted it onto the album version, so you get the intro from the single, than the instrumental fanfare thing that they cut from the single. I've actually played it a couple times on Journey Of The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

    I think besides Lift Me Up, I also liked Miracle Of Life,Shock To The System, Masquerade, and I Would Have Waited Forever. It's been awhile, but my recollection is the rest of the album isn't too good.

  10. #10
    Member PixelDelirium's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crystal Plumage View Post
    It was the first Yes album I ever heard. Believe it or not, but it was thanks to MTV that I discovered Yes!
    Same here! I thought I was the only one to take this route to becoming a Yes fan. Go figure!

  11. #11
    Highly Evolved Orangutan JKL2000's Avatar
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    RE: MTV introducing people to Yes, I think the only Yes I've ever seen on MTV (and I watched a lot in the day) is the Owner of a Lonely Heart video.

    Is that what others are referring to?

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    Member PixelDelirium's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JKL2000 View Post
    RE: MTV introducing people to Yes, I think the only Yes I've ever seen on MTV (and I watched a lot in the day) is the Owner of a Lonely Heart video.

    Is that what others are referring to?
    I'm sure I saw "Owner" on MTV at some point in the 80's but, no, I actually saw the very video posted above for "Lift Me Up" on MTV in 1991. It's quite possible it was the one and only time they showed it, not really sure. But, it prompted me to purchase Union and I think within the following month or so I had bought the remainder of the Yes catalog up to that point. Ironically it was really what led me into the world of prog. I was a Rush fan at that time but that was really about it until I found Yes. Crazy, I know.

  13. #13
    Moderator Sean's Avatar
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    I didn't mind Union at the time. It had more of the older Yes vibe than than 90125 or BG. I had no idea who played on what but it didn't matter. I enjoyed it that summer.

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    The tour almost feels like a last stand of Yes as one of the biggest rock groups. In 2004 they were at least booking bigger venues again but I'm not sure if they were actually filling them. Those who attended the shows would know more.
    Last edited by JJ88; 05-12-2016 at 02:20 AM.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by JKL2000 View Post
    RE: MTV introducing people to Yes, I think the only Yes I've ever seen on MTV (and I watched a lot in the day) is the Owner of a Lonely Heart video.

    Is that what others are referring to?
    I remember seeing all of these in regular rotation (see second post for the other two)




  16. #16

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Sean View Post
    I didn't mind Union at the time. It had more of the older Yes vibe than than 90125 or BG. I had no idea who played on what but it didn't matter. I enjoyed it that summer.
    Agree.. I played it a lot when it was first released.. Didn't understand the negative reaction I read about once I became internet savvy.. (other than the whole Jimmy Haun / Johnathan Elias etc.)

  18. #18
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    at the time this was a monumental event... 8 members together seemed like a good idea at the time and we ate it up. i think that time will reveal much more darker days for Yes then this 'Union'

    Lift Me Up & Miracle Of Life are 2 of my favorite Yes songs.

  19. #19
    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    Union is strength !!


  20. #20
    Insect Overlord Progatron's Avatar
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    Ahhh, Union. Fond memories of driving around in my buddy's car with the cassette playing. I was 18 years old... just a baby, in retrospect. I loved it and like many of you didn't know or care about the behind-the-scenes issues with it. I did find out shortly thereafter when I joined Notes From The Edge (following the summer release that same year of Yesyears). That was a really exciting time for me, and I can't help but have a soft spot for the whole period, despite what a quarter-century of negativity has wrought.
    Two boys have been found rubbing linseed oil into the school cormorant.

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    Member Digital_Man's Avatar
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    [The tour almost feels like a last stand of Yes as one of the biggest rock groups. In 2004 they were at least booking bigger venues again but I'm not sure if they were actually filling them. Those who attended the shows would know more.]

    That is correct and no they weren't selling them out. I still think it would be cool to have a huge stadium tour with Yes opening for Genesis or David Gilmour or Roger Waters or something but that will probably never happen.

    As for the album I still like it. Yeah, it's a hodgepodge and a mess in some respects but I think most of the individual songs are half way decent. I saw the Union tour(can't believe it's been 25 f-ing years already wow; )and so have a soft spot for it. I still have tinnitus in one ear as a result of Trevor Rabin's guitar. It was at an outdoor venue. I don't think I have significant hearing loss but ever since that show I wear earplugs at every concert I go to.
    Last edited by Digital_Man; 05-01-2016 at 07:59 AM.

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    RE; 'Lift Me Up'. The instrumental intro is neat but it's another one from Trevor Rabin which I feel is a good AOR track but doesn't really feel like Yes to me personally...kind of like a harbringer for Talk in that regard.

  23. #23
    Member Digital_Man's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crystal Plumage View Post
    It was the first Yes album I ever heard. Believe it or not, but it was thanks to MTV that I discovered Yes!
    So you must have been fairly young then huh?

  24. #24
    I've always thought people were too hard on this album. I'd rate it above the debut, Time and a Word, Going for the One, Tormato, Big Generator, Anderson Bruford Wakeman & Howe, Keys to Ascension, Talk, Open Your Eyes, Magnification, Fly From Here, and Heaven and Earth as sort of in the middle of the pack. I know it's a bit of an aesthetic mess, and there are some serious nadirs, but "Without Hope You Cannot Start the Day", "Silent Talking", "Holding On", and "Take the Water to the Mountain" would all go on my favorites list. They each evoke the same eeriness that I relish on Drama.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Progatron View Post
    I always have a good laugh at the opening to that "Lift Me Up" video with Bruford, Howe, Wakeman and Kaye all pretending to sing!
    From what I've read, most of them didn't play on the actual song even if they were supposed to be playing on it!

    Dreadful album. This was the first new YES album to be released since i became a fan (In around 1988 after discovering 'Close to the Edge'). I bought it on release day and sat in one of the University computer rooms (I was a student at the time) and struggled to listen to it all. This was before I knew all the hoo-ha about the 'Yes-West' era and just didn't understand why it was generic, bland rock music.
    Last edited by Harbottle; 05-01-2016 at 11:41 AM.

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