Thursday, August 30, 2018

From the Archives: The Yes Chronicles. Part 14: Union (1991).

The following several posts come from a website I created way back in 2001, in honor of my favorite band, then and now: Yes.

Some of the writing makes me cringe 17 years later, but I feel it's good enough to live on. That Roger Daltrey (yes, that Roger Daltrey) was given some of my text to speak as narrator of the Yesspeak biographical DVD is testament to the quality of at least some of the prose, I guess. 

I pulled down my site, called The Yes Chronicles, years ago. But thanks to the Wayback Machine, which does its part to make sure that nothing published to the internet ever dies, I was able to find archived copies of my reviews. Another site, Yes in the Press -- which appears not to have been updated for about 11 years now -- also saved the reviews. I notice in the introductory blurb that the keeper of Yes in the Press attempted to contact me with no success. I'm not sure what happened, but if that person stumbles across this blog -- hello, it's me. 

All text is original from 2001. Links have been updated where possible. Happy reading.


"They (ABWH) eventually came back to us and said, 'Please, can you write something for this Union album?’ ... They couldn't finish because it didn't have any airplayable tracks. It was in a mess. So, they came back again and said, 'Can we call this Yes again? Can it be a proper Yes album and can you and Trevor write a couple of hits we can play on the radio?'"
-- Chris Squire, Innerviews (1998)

"I called the album Onion because it brought tears to my eyes every time I heard it. … It was put together when we weren’t in the studio half the time. … They had changed all my parts, and I didn’t recognize anything that I’d done. The producer got his mates in to play, and the only person who didn’t play on it was my dog."
-- Rick Wakeman, from Chris Welch’s Close to the Edge: The Story of Yes (1999)

"It was a black mark on Yes."
-- Trevor Rabin, from Welch’s Close to the Edge (1999)

"Absolutely awful. An embarrassing record."
-- Bill Bruford, 1994, as documented in Tim Morse’s
Yesstories: Yes in Their Own Words (1996)

Arista 1991
Rating: *
Best song: "The More We Live -- Let Go"
Produced by Jonathan Elias, Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Trevor Rabin, Mark Mancina,
Eddie Offord, Billy Sherwood
Cover and logos by Roger Dean
Engineers: Brian Foraker, Steve Howe, Trevor Rabin, Eddie Offord,
Stan Katayama, Billy Sherwood
Assistant engineers: Sophie Masson, Richard Edwards, Renny Hill, Buzz Burrowes, Matt Gruber, Michael Sweet, Paul Berry,
Steve Wellner, Lolly Grodner, Steve Harrison
Additional engineering by Chris Fosdick, Buzz Burrowes
Bass on ABWH tracks: Tony Levin
Additional guitars on ABWH tracks: Jimi Haun
Additional keyboards on ABWH tracks: Jim Chricton, Jonathan Elias, Alex Lasarenko
Additional synthesizers on ABWH tracks: Richard Baker, Gary Barlough, Jerry Bennett,
Jim Chricton, Jonathan Elias, Sherman Foote, Brian Foraker, Chris Fosdick, Rory Kaplan,
Alex Lasarenko, Steve Porcaro
Additional percussion on ABWH tracks: Jerry Bennett, Allan Schwartzberg
Additional vocals on ABWH tracks: Deborah Anderson, Jonathan Elias, Gary Falcone,
Tommy Funderburk, Ian Lloyd, Michael Sherwood, Danny Vaughn
Voice on "Angkor Wat": Pauline Cheng

Jon Anderson: vocals
Trevor Rabin: guitars, keyboards, vocals
Steve Howe: guitars, vocals
Chris Squire: bass, vocals
Rick Wakeman: keyboards
Tony Kaye: keyboards
Bill Bruford: percussion
Alan White: percussion

Track listing (lineup in italics/standout tracks in bold):
I Would Have Waited Forever (ABWH)
Shock to the System (ABWH)
Masquerade (ABWH/Howe solo)
Lift Me Up (YesWest)
Without Hope You Cannot Start the Day (ABWH)
Saving My Heart (YesWest)
Miracle of Life (YesWest)
Silent Talking (ABWH)
The More We Live -- Let Go (YesWest)
Angkor Wat (ABWH)
Dangerous (Look in the Light of What You're Searching For) (ABWH)
Holding On (ABWH)
Evensong (ABWH/Bruford-Levin duet)
Take the Water to the Mountain (ABWH)
(on European releases only) Give and Take (ABWH)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

In 1989, after leaving Yes behind, Jon Anderson found himself working with fellow Yes expatriates Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, and Bill Bruford, plus Bruford’s longtime King Crimson bandmate Tony Levin on bass. Their album, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, signaled a return to complex, flowery, multi-part, long-form compositions that certainly sounded like 1970s Yes but ultimately lacked the cohesion and vigor of the "classic" catalog and suffered immensely from Chris Squire's absence. After a settlement to a lawsuit brought by the official Yes, aimed at preventing ABWH from using the Yes name to market itself, Arista Records (ABWH’s label) had the bright idea to morph ABWH and the official Yes (Trevor Rabin, Squire, Alan White, and Tony Kaye), which had been mostly inactive since Anderson’s departure, into a single mega-band under the united banner of "Yes," in obvious hopes of boosting sales for what was supposed to have been the second ABWH album.

The result was a stunningly good tour and a breathtakingly horrid album.

It seems that everybody including ABWH themselves realized that the material for their second album just wasn’t up to snuff, so the inevitable phone call went out to the person everyone (particularly Anderson) knew could write a catchy hit if and when one was needed -- Trevor Rabin. He submitted three demos to Arista and asked them to pick one; instead, Arista said it liked all three songs, and thus began the boardroom-born idea to boost sales by combining both Yes factions into a single Yes.

The end result was a substandard ABWH album with four songs by the real Yes glued on to give the use of the name "Yes" at least some credibility. Don’t be fooled by the album’s highly ironic title -- all eight members never play together on the album. But to create the illusion of some kind of unity, Squire’s backing vocals were added to three of the ABWH tracks and Anderson sang lead on what would become the four songs performed by "YesWest" -- the moniker applied during the schism to the official L.A.-based Yes to help distinguish the two bands from each other. Oh, and there’s a Roger Dean cover this time, too, to complete the facade.

To make matters worse, the eight ABWH tracks (nine on the European release) went from bad to abysmal under the guidance of producer Jonathan Elias, who clearly hadn’t the faintest idea of what Yes should sound like. It's tough to judge him too harshly, though, for if his side of the story is to be believed, then he certainly did the best he could with what little was made available to him. According to Elias, the band came to him with virtually no ideas for the music to be created, and what they did offer, they played half-heartedly and sloppily. Equally distressing, Elias reports, was the lack of cordiality among Anderson, Wakeman, and Howe at this phase of their careers. In an interview at in-the-know Yes fan Henry Potts’ Web site, Elias believes that all three realized that if they wanted to achieve any type of further financial success, they had to work together whether they liked it or not, since all of their stabs at solo careers never really took off, and this situation in itself caused some of the rancor.

Whatever the causes, things were apparently so bad that Anderson and Howe wouldn’t sit in the same room together without Elias essentially babysitting them; Howe and Wakeman wouldn’t listen to each others’ parts; Howe expressed an absolute hatred for Rabin that has come across more subtly in public interviews since that time; and nobody trusted Anderson. Bruford, who openly admitted participating in this project just to make some money and spend time with some old bandmates, wasn't all that interested in the music either. So in the end, Anderson and Elias took control of the ABWH portion of the project that nobody else seemed to care about, and it was from there that the small army of faceless studio musicians took over, reworking the guitar and keyboard parts that by Elias’s account were flat and uninspired and had nothing to do with each other, since neither the ABWH guitarist nor its keyboardist would listen to the other’s parts. Of the 13 additional musicians (not counting Tony Levin) and seven additional backup singers (not counting Squire) that were brought in, guitarist Jimi Haun in particular did his best to step in and sound like Howe, essentially replacing many of the parts Howe originally played but that Elias, Anderson, and apparently Arista Records found unusable. Elias boldly states that Haun had to step in because Howe just couldn’t play anymore, an opinion with which this reviewer largely agrees.

In yet another cruel twist of irony, Union marked the return of the band’s longtime ’70s producer, Eddie Offord, the one person who undoubtedly could have helped the ABWH tracks sound a little bit more like Yes -- but he worked instead on two of the YesWest cuts! One of them, not surprisingly, turned out to be the best song on Union, as well as one of the very few enjoyable moments of the entire album: "The More We Live -- Let Go." Originally worked up by Squire and Billy Sherwood during YesWest's hiatus following Big Generator, the reworked product featured Anderson and Squire swapping lead vocal lines amidst a haunting, ethereal backdrop that called to mind not just the better moments of Big Generator but also hearkened back to those gorgeous ambient moments of beauty in the ’70s Yes canon. (The original "The More We Live," with Squire and Sherwood alternating vocals, was released in 2000 on a Squire/Sherwood project called Conspiracy.)

The other piece on which Offord assisted, "Miracle of Life," starts off very promising, with a quick Hammond swell from Kaye leading into a quick succession of slashing power chords, out of which emerges Rabin rapidly picking away in a fluid staccato style. He’s then joined by a tasty lick by Kaye, again on organ, followed by White building a crescendo on his snare drum until he’s locked into a rapid 17/8 (!) rhythm with Squire on bass. The dizzying intro chugs powerfully along until, without warning, "Close to the Edge" style, the music stops and gives way to an a cappella chorus of voices imploring us to "Hold on to the miracle of life." And just as quickly, the 17/8 section returns, led by a tasteful solo from Rabin; followed by a mandolin echoing the organ lick; followed by the chorus of voices, this time accompanied by music; followed by another Rabin solo. The mandolin returns and is then joined by yet another Rabin solo. All of this packed into just two minutes! It’s a section of music bursting with ideas and clearly tipping a hat to the Yes of old without being simply an imitation of it (a taste of things to come with the next album). Sadly, though, the song quickly shifts into a rather pedestrian 4/4 beat and quickly falls flat, into little more than under-developed ideas and bland AOR. Such great hopes dashed -- that’s Union in a nutshell.

Of the two other YesWest cuts, "Lift Me Up" sounds a bit thin in places as well, but the vocal harmonies are pleasant enough, and it deservedly became a minor hit for the band. "Saving My Heart," on the other hand, is Yes’s foray into, of all things, reggae music. Ugh! As bad as the ABWH songs are, this may well be the musical nadir of Yes’s 30-plus-year existence.

As for the ABWH fare, the album opener "I Would Have Waited Forever" is probably the best of the lot. But while it features some perfectly lovely vocal sections, the musical backing is mostly hollow and lifeless and, again, falls short in the absence of Squire's trademark Yes bass foundation. Not to mention that a certain descending wordless vocal line in the song becomes an unintentionally funny Yes moment by bearing a strong resemblance to a similar moment in the "exit" music from the hokey TV sitcom Full House.

"Silent Talking" has its moments as well, especially the coda, where a regal-sounding guitar line (probably by Howe in this case) introduces the theme sung in a heavenly tone by Anderson and God-only-knows who else. But the first part of the song drags it down: whereas a complex meter worked on "Miracle of Life," here it isn’t integrated well into the song and, thanks largely to the straight-ahead electronic drumbeat that seems oblivious to the twists and turns in the music on top of it (I can only hope and pray that this isn’t Bruford), it ends up sounding clumsy rather than tricky. The dreadful synthesizer runs that sound tacked on to the finished product (this can’t be Wakeman) don’t help.

Other than that, we’re treated to underdeveloped ideas better suited for an Anderson solo album, a power-rock guitar line ("Shock to the System," an ABWH track on which Howe does not play at all) that laughably tries to mimic Rabin’s crunchy AOR style, Cambodian poetry (yes, really), and some squeaky-sounding bit of hip-hop electronica that sounds like an outtake from a Janet Jackson album. At least Howe’s acoustic-guitar solo "Masquerade" offers a welcome respite, and the Bruford-Levin duet "Evensong" is, well, mercifully short.

Amazingly, out of this mess came a fantastic tour, featuring all eight Yes-men playing -- fortunately -- mostly back material. Appearing "in the round" on a revolving stage, with Anderson at the center, the members performed in varying configurations -- sometimes all at once, sometimes only the five who played on the original track. The 1972 lineup of Anderson, Howe, Squire, Wakeman, and Bruford took the stage alone at one point to perform "Long Distance Runaround," creating a preciously short moment in which the greatest Yes lineup of all time briefly stood alone as Yes once again. A dazzling eight-man rendition of "Awaken" served as the show's other glorious highlight, with the additional musicians adding a depth and complexity to this and other classic Yes songs that simply couldn’t have existed with only the standard five musicians performing them in the past. It’s a testament to each member’s professionalism that everyone was able to work together, temporarily putting aside the monster egos for which Yes is legendary and instead sharing parts when it benefited the song and leaving the stage when an extra hand wasn’t necessary.

Not that the egos disappeared completely, for legend has it that original Yes guitarist Peter Banks was scheduled to join the Union octet for an encore at one American show -- until Howe, who apparently already reckoned himself above the rest of the band by traveling separately from everyone else between gigs, reportedly refused at the last minute to share the stage with yet another guitarist. (Howe denies the story, but it seems pretty characteristic.) And so it was that, in the end, the monster egos did win out -- and ensured that the eight-man lineup could never hold together past the tour. Still, one new musical friendship was born out of the collaboration -- between Rabin and Wakeman. Their admiration for each other's playing was supposed to lead to Wakeman appearing on the next Yes album, but sadly, it was never to be.

Still, the next Yes album would be a surprisingly strong one. It had to be, after the Union debacle.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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