Yes, the horrible truth must be confirmed publicly: I am a Yes fan. Or at least I was. The first cassette I ever owned was 90125, which is still one of my all-time favorite albums. From about 1985-1992, my musical holy trinity was a simple list: 1) The Beatles; 2) Yes; 3) U2.
The cooler music kids told me I needed to go back and get their early stuff, which I did -- I still own everything they did from 1969-1987 on vinyl. And their box set (Yesyears), which came out in 1990, on CD.
Now here is the problem: after 1987's Big Generator and the box set, there was a period at the end of the sentence. Big Generator is an album I really enjoy, but I knew it was a step back from 90125. The box set meant I had every album I cared about from the group on vinyl and most of the songs I cared about on CD. So, even as an obsessive collector, I could be patient as the band was once again in turmoil.
The other big factor was that my friend Dan introduced me to Bob Mould in 1990. I realized this was closer to the music I was actually interested in, and I began a trajectory towards alternative/indie/ obscure but brilliant (IMHO, of course!) music, which I have remained on ever since.
The final capper: Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe. I really, really, REALLY wanted to like that album. I so did. But here is the fundamental issue with Yes: when they successfully walk the tightrope between "artsy" and "pop," they make unbelievable music. Absolutely great stuff: Fragile, Close to the Edge, 90125. When they fall off, they inevitably fall off onto the "art" side, and into complete self-indulgence. For forever I heard about how Tales for Topographic Oceans (their four-song, two album "opus") was not just the greatest achievement in their career, but in all of progressive rock. I can't stand it. For everything that Close to the Edge is (a long-form pop masterpiece, 3 songs in 40 minutes), Tales (and to be completely honest, Relayer to some extent) is not: it is a meandering wobble of indulgent crap. I wasted so much time trying to get into that album... ugh. Now I know better.
But I digress. Back to 1991. I buy the debut from Anderson, Bruford, etc., and hate it. It's more Tales. This is the future of the band I loved? Forget it. I will wait until they come out with something that is universally regarded. They're bound to, right?
Fast forward to about 2004/5. Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin's album 90124 comes out... demos from 90125, before Yes vocalist Jon Anderson joined the project, and the band Cinema became Yes. (That is a whole other story for another time.) Rabin holds a special place in my heart -- he revitalized Yes in the early 80's, wrote some great songs that are still favorites of mine today, had a woefully underrated (albeit very poppy) solo album Can't Look Away in 1989, and in general is the yin to the over-indulgent arty yang of the rest of Yes.
I got into some of his back catalog, and read up on him -- he's now almost exclusively doing soundtracks... except he actually did songs for Yes on 1991's Union and 1994's Talk. It's significant in the retrospect of 14 years of producing and soundtrack composition, in the same way at the time in 1991-1994 (when I was all about the grunge, for sure), it was not.
So here I am in 2008... realizing that Union is, without a doubt, a very good album. I can't believe there was no buzz about this album at all. There are just great songs here. I am really astounded that they managed to make this album. It's got great guitar, harmonies, and is 99% indulgence free. Now the "band" for this album is wacky: 2 vocalists (Anderson and Rabin), 2 drummers (Bill Bruford and Alan White), 2 lead guitarists (Howe and Rabin), 2 keyboardists (Rick Wakeman and Tony Kaye), and 2 bass players (Chris Squire and Tony Levin).
What this means is that Union is a split-camp affair: highlights like "I Would Have Waited Forever" and "Without Hope You Cannot Start the Day" are... Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe (with Levin on bass)! In fact, this lineup plays on *nine* songs on the album. Apparently this was supposed to be their 2nd album; they merged it into the Yes project. Meanwhile "Miracle of Life" and "The More We Live - Let Go" are two of the four songs done by Anderson, White, Kaye, Rabin, and Squire -- in other words, the 90125 and Big Generator lineup. So the album is more like Merging Projects Under the Cash Cow Brandname than an actual Union.
But you know what? It feels cohesive. And it works. Anderson doing vocals on Rabin and Squire's songs and Squire contributing background vocals on the ABWH tracks are huge in making this sound like it's from the same family, and Jonathan Elias's production has to get credit here too.
Talk, on the other hand, is exclusively the 90125 and Big Generator lineup, and produced by Rabin. The first thing that strikes me is that they released this on a label called "Victory," or, as I like to call it, "Defeat." Not a good start. This album sounds like a very, very tired band in need of a rest. Well, at least it's better than Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman. And how. (Get it? Yes, these are the jokes.)
CD Placement Rating: Neither of these get merch ratings -- I bought my t-shirt on the Big Generator tour and that's pretty much it for me. Union is a fine album, recommended for Yes fans. Portable CD Case. Talk is not good, but not bad either. It'll stay in the CD Rack until the next culling, when it will inevitably end up in Sell-back Pile 1.