Despite its broadly inclusive roster, Union might be the least collaborative Yes album in their catalog. The two lineups had discrete tracks from one another, with the “Big Generators” contributing 4 tracks and the “Starship Troopers” contributing the rest. I was willing to look at it like Fragile, where different aspects of the band lent their voice to a larger picture. But the truth of the matter was, the majority of the material on the album just wasn’t very convincing. The best thing to come out of the album was the tour.
Still, I recently had a revelation about Union that has some relevance to the band’s current situation, so with some trepidation, I revisited it. Union has always sat quite comfortably very close to the bottom of the barrel for me as far as Yes albums go, but what if time had actually been kind to the album, and it was better than I remember? My whole hierarchy of Yes albums might come crumbling to the ground!
Fortunately, I suppose, this was not the case. Although there are a few good moments on the album and some outstanding musicianship, by and large it sounds as it did in 1991 - unfinished and uninspired. One of the more outstanding moments on the album, however, is the track The More We Live – Let Go. I always felt that this swirling, powerful piece stood out in terms of quality. This track is of particular relevance now because it is, to my knowledge, Billy Sherwood’s first appearance on a Yes album.
Which I think is interesting. Union was intended to unify Yes’ convoluted history, but one of its more musically convincing moments also inadvertently foretold Yes’ future. Now, almost 25 years later, this single writing credit was the first stone in a long path that led Sherwood to a position in which he could significantly contribute to the band’s continuing output.
With this in mind, Union might be viewed as a reservoir of under-credited potential rather than an album sunk by record company meddling. If that is the case, despite its somewhat spotty political setting, Union could be a resource by which other musicians already woven into Yes’ history could carry on the Yes name.
If you are just tuning in, I have been playing this "Nu-Yes fantasy football” game for well over a year, and it was all fun and games when I made that first post. Clearly, things took a more serious turn this summer, but Yes has continued (as I predicted, eerily enough) and, according to reviews, the current lineup is playing quite well, due in no small part to Steve Howe. Certainly, he shows no sign of slowing down. Still, one must wonder what would happen if he were at some point decide not to carry on as Yes’ guitarist. As the most longstanding member of the current group, his successor is not as visible as Squire's.
There is, however, a somewhat awkward situation surrounding the guitars on the Union album that most fans don’t like to address, but that might provide a solution. According to legend, Howe’s contributions to Union were demo quality, and he intended to rerecorded them before the album’s release. The record company’s unreasonable deadlines, however, could not accommodate Howe’s other commitments. Guitarist Jimmy Haun was brought in and in the end, many of the guitars on Union that are recorded in Howe’s name are not Howe. They are instead Haun’s uncredited performances. Without Hope You Cannot Start The Day is one of several tracks that are entirely Haun.
Although I have no way to really prove it, I have sometimes had the sense that Howe’s parts felt a little different on Union, as if he was trying something new. This track was not one of them. It sounds like Howe, and I think it is absolutely astounding that Haun could mimic his distinctive style and sound so well.
Haun was my dream team choice for a “nu-Yes” from earlier this year, mostly due to the work he has done with Sherwood in Circa:. I knew that he had contributed to Union, but I was not aware to what extent until I began researching for this post. If Yes fans were to openly accept this uncomfortable chapter in the band’s history, it might not be unreasonable to view Haun as an uncredited Yes guitarist, and one that has enough respect for the band to carry on its creative legacy in the unfortunate event that Howe chooses to retire.