Union (1991)

1. I Would Have Waited Forever 2. Shock to the System 3. Masquerade 4. Lift Me Up 5. Without Hope We Cannot Start the Day 6. Saving My Heart 7. Miracle of Life 8. Silent Talking 9. The More We Live - Let Go 10.Angkor Wat 11.Dangerous (Look in the Light of What You're Searching For) 12.Holding On 13.Evensong 14.Take the Water to the Mountain


Many Yes fans look at this experiment as one of the very worst things that any incarnation of the band ever did. Personally, I don’t think it’s that bad. Unnecessary? Perhaps. Muddled? Definitely. During the late 1980s-early 1990s, there were essentially two versions of Yes out there. There was the revived 1980s Yes that released the blockbuster 90125 and Big Generator, and there was the more “classic” version that wanted to use the band name, but were forced to use the name Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe. From here on out, I shall refer to the former as “YesWest” and the latter as “ABWH”. It’s easier that way.

So, Apparently ABWH was serious about recording a follow up record to their lackluster eponymous debut that came out in 1989. Problem is, there’s nothing amongst the material that can pass as a radio friendly single. Phone calls are made to Trevor Rabin, who some would argue is the main player for YesWest. Could he help write something radio friendly? Well, the next thing you know, the decision is made that both incarnations of the band should all unite and record an album together.

Although such an idea sounds initially appealing, closer examination should show everyone that an idea like this for this particular band simply could not work. Although the guys in this band always came across as low key and good natured, there was an awful lot of infighting behind the scenes. Think about this for a minute: Can you name any other band in the history of rock music that couldn’t last longer than two studio albums without a member leaving or being thrown out? I didn’t think so.

Well, despite the idea and the name of this record, the songs on this album are essentially the two different Yeses working separately. There’s a handful of YesWest tracks, and the bulk of the thing was done by ABWH. The only similarity between the two was lead singer Jon Anderson. Part of the issue is that, whereas the YesWest songs all sound solid, the ABWH tracks all sound a bit disjointed. Hindsight tells us why. Apparently, not all ABWH members necessarily made this thing a priority, and several of the tracks here are done with session players instead of the actual band members. This only adds to the fact that ABWH seem to be struggling with direction and continuity. At times, the ABWH team sound as though they’re really trying to sound contemporary, but other times their songs sound too New Ageish and mystical. They should have stuck to either one of the two formats. Since YesWest has the contemporary thing nailed down pretty well, it almost seems as though this would have been the better path from ABWH to have followed, but when some members aren’t happy about, and other members aren’t even there for the sessions, you can see how the continuity could be so haphazard. The ABWH songs such as Shock to the System and Silent Talking are quite good. When they throw in something in as radically different as Angkor Wat on the album as well, however, it’s just too jarring of a detour to fully appreciate.

Out of the 14 songs on this record, I would say about half of these songs range from “acceptable” to “quite good”. For me, that ratio is certainly a lot better than the Anderson Bruford Howe Wakeman album. I think, though, that expectations were probably just a bit too high. Then we must ask ourselves, “how come so many of ABWH weren’t even featured on some of their songs?” This seems to be a sore spot for both band members and fans. One disgruntled member calls the album “Onion” (because it makes him cry) and another refers to the album as “an abortion”. I can only come to the conclusion that there were deadlines to meet, and a strict release date, so if the band wanted to take their time, management had other ideas. This is a shame because on many of the mediocre songs, you do hear small bits of brilliance hidden within the tracks. One tends to think that had the guys had more time, they have been able to make something slightly better. To further the irony, Steve Howe does a solo guitar piece on the album titled Masquerade. One wonders if there’s a hidden meaning behind the track that isn’t meant to be a term of endearment.

The good news is that the united lineup did, in fact, tour. One wishes they would have only toured and not worried about releasing a collection of collaborative songs. The tour was a huge success, and quite the spectacle, with all eight members seeming to enjoy themselves as they belted out old and current songs, as well as most members getting to perform a solo. A CD of the tour was finally released many years later, but it was a condensed release that didn’t do the entire show justice.

It could be fair to state that in most cases, a band tours to support an album. In this instance, the opposite seemed to occur, with less than favorable results.

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