Despite the rather lackluster success of so-called "supergroups" in the past (does anyone remember Contraband or Blue Murder??), I approached the debut release from Union with a little apprehension. There is no doubting the credentials of John Corabi (Motley Crue frontman for their self-titled 1994 album) or Bruce Kulick (KISS' lead guitarist from 1984 to 1996); but who were these other 2 guys they picked up? Brent Fitz? James Hunting? I figured I would let the music speak for itself since, after all...that's what counts, right? I was really surprised with how good Union, the album, actually is. All KISS biases aside, this is an EXCELLENT piece of work! KISS' 1997 album, Carnival of Souls, really allowed Bruce's talent to come through to the fans and he is able to carry that forward to Union.
The guitarwork here is incredible. From 12-string acoustics to blistering solos, Bruce's talent is what backs the group and gives it a shot in the arm. John Corabi is a great vocalist as well; his vocals on the Motley Crue album were greatly overlooked. John and Bruce handle the songwriting here. Though John was a significant part of the writing on the Motley Crue album, Bruce was never allowed to showcase his writing with KISS until the COS album...and by then he was out of the band anyway. With this batch of songs, the two bring to light a definite flair for writing strong rock songs.
Old Man Wise was the first single released from the album and is definitely one of the stronger cuts. The song (and album for that matter) grabs the listener right away with a killer guitar riff. John's vocals are great for a hard rock song like this, especially the scream he lets out half way through the song.
Around Again follows with another great beginning. It's got a great groove to it and Bruce's leads propel the song. James and Brent establish an awesome rhythm section on this song as well.
Pain Behind Your Eyes is my favorite song on the album. It starts out quietly sounding like a sappy ballad but once the chorus kicks in, Union means business! The drums are fantastic in this song and John's raspy vocals really deliver. PBYE should be a single in my opinion.
With Love (I Don't Need It Anymore), Union explores a more radio-friendly single. It's a very bluesy song with some cool distortion work from Bruce on his guitar. Another great tune that should be destined for a future single!
Heavy D... (the song, not the chubby rapper) slows things down with a nice acoustic opening but once again segues into a slow grind during the chorus with some great bass guitar from James. Heavy D... also boasts one of the best guitar solos from Bruce on the album. It's short but sweet! I have no idea what Heavy D... stands for but that's probably the whole point.
Keeping things going for the homestretch is Let It Flow, which opens with a "heartbeat" drum. Brent's drums are a big part of this song. He maintains a primitive-sounding beat throughout the song which gives it a very unique feel from the rest of the album. Let It Flow has a very psychedelic feel to it that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant have shifted toward in the last few years. I think I hear a sitar being played in parts which gives the song a Middle Eastern aura. The real star of Let It Flow though is Mr. Kulick who tears up his guitar with some of the best solo work he has ever produced. Great job, Bruce!!
Empty Soul is an OK tune but is one of my least favorites on the album. It just doesn't grab me.
October Morning Wind is the second single from Union and has hit written all over it! A great acoustic guitar opening leads into a fantastic performance from John. Good harmonizing from the band, too, during the chorus. The lyrics of this song are great and in my opinion are the strongest of the bunch. October Morning Wind is another one of my favorites.
Get Off My Cloud is the weakest track on the album. There has to be one on an album...Get Off My Cloud gets the dubious honor on Union. Like Empty Soul, it just doesn't grab me and I find the chorus to be a little overbearing for the song.
Tangerine gets credited with the best opening on the album. A cool screeching guitar floats from the left and channels that brings on yet another highlight of Bruce's guitarwork. Who says the over-indulgent guitar solo is dead? Bruce delivers a great one here. Tangerine is another catchy song that definitely has single potential with a memorable chorus. Great bass work here as well from James.
Robin's Song is the lone ballad from Union. John wrote this song as he was going through a divorce with his wife, Robin. Not a sappy ballad but a painful one as John beckons her to stay to save him the pain of losing his best friend and true love. Not a complex song but the stripped-down nature of Robin's Song lets Bruce's acoustic guitar and John's expressive vocals take the spotlight.
It took only one listening for me to realize that Union will make its mark as a distinct entity from its members' former groups. An indie-label release will not guarantee Union the exposure that it could have received if the album was released on a major label. However it is the music that is important and this is damn good music. Hopefully Union will translate into a hit for the band because this is strong material that any music fan, not just KISS or Motley Crue fans, will enjoy.
Well...a live album after only one studio release? Besides the logistics of such a move, Union pulls off a decent live recording with Live In The Galaxy. Obviously this is a band who must be seen live in order to fullyt appreciate the quality of musicianship. These guys are not up-and-comers by any means and in a live setting, they are able to fully demonstrate their musical chops.
Live In The Galaxy opens with Old Man Wise, the original album's debut single. Instantly, we are treated to John Corabi's bluesy wailing and Bruce Kulick's talented fingering of the guitar. Though not one of my favorite cuts from the Union release, Old Man Wise plays out pretty well live.
The one-two punch of Around Again and Heavy D is the highlight of this album. Around Again IS one of my favorites with the opening guitar riff and the melodic chorus. Likewise, on Heavy D, the acoustic opening leads into a powerful chord change and crunching rhythm section from bassist Jamie Hunting and drummer Brent Fitz. These are 2 songs that I feel were sorely overlooked as single releases.
Next up is the "Unionizing" of KISS' 1997 hit from Carnival of Souls, Jungle. While Corabi will never be in the running to take over for Paul Stanley, he does a respectable job of filling the Starchild's vocal duties. The real star of Jungle though is Kulick's guitar. As a member of KISS, his input was often diminished to that of a "hired hand", but on the '97 COS release, he had a hand in 9 of the 12 tracks and the album benefitted by being the band's strongest musically to date. Kulick's guitar work shined on the COS album and especially on Jungle.
Love ( I Don't Need It Anymore), jokingly dedicated to Monica Lewinsky, is another of the strongest cuts from Union brought to life here in a live setting. This is an excellent song that is carried over well into a live performance.
Man In The Moon, a cut from Corabi's early '90's band, The Scream, is a song that I was previously unfamiliar with but it does stand up as a respectable tune. Though I won't be rushing out anytime soon to pick up anything from The Scream, this song is a good introduction to where Corabi came from before his stint with Motley Crue in '94.
For I Walk Alone, the spotlight turns to Kulick who penned the song and performs lead vocals. Opening with some guitar noodling, this should be Kulick's anthem, in that, it is a crowning achievement both vocally and musically for him. Great lyrics, too!
The band throws a curveball to the listener next with a cover of Cheap Trick's 1978 hit, Surrender. Musically, the band does a faithful turn, but the weak link here is Corabi; he is unable to hit many of the notes that Robin Zander made famous. Still, it's not a bad version of the song and a welcome addition to a limited setlist.
Pain Behind Your Eyes is a return to Union originals and is my favorite track both on the Union album, but again, Corabi comes up short in the vocal department. What makes the song for me is the intensity that Corabi put into the chorus and he fails to repeat that here.
Power To The Music revisits Corabi's short stay with Motley Crue. This is one of my favorite cuts from what is one of the Crue's strongest albums. However fans were for the most part unwilling to accept anyone other than Vince Neil behind the mike and the album was a commercial disappointment. Still, if I were to pick a song from Motley Crue that best showed what Corabi brought to the band, Power To The Music would be it.
Tangerine opens with a scorching lead guitar and is one of the stronger selections here. The entire band holds up in the live setting on the track and makes it a strong closer to the live portion of the album.
Following the live cuts are a newly recorded acoustic version of October Morning Wind and a cover of The Beatles' You've Got To Hide Your Love Away. October Morning Wind differs so little from the original that I couldn't help but wonder why the band bothered. However like the original, it is a great song. As far as the band's rendition of the Fab Four's hit from their 1965 masterpiece, Help!, they do a pretty good job of covering the original. Corabi is able to master John Lennon's vocals and Kulick hits every note on the acoustic guitar that George Harrison did so well. There is nothing special in Union's version but they do a good job of making a note-for-note copy of the original.
Live in The Galaxy suffers from being released too soon in the band's career. Sure, there are some gems from Kulick's KISS years and Corabi's Scream and Crue days, but really offers nothing new or original from the band. Essentially, it is the Union album...LIVE!! And frankly, I like the original better.
This album really didn't get the respect that it deserved. The Blue Room is an excellent mix of hard rock, a touch of psychedelia, soft rock...you name it, it's here. But the lack of a major label backing it and what I feel is the "supergroup curse" sunk what should have been one of the most heralded releases of 2000.
Do Your Own Thing opens The Blue Room with a building crescendo of guitar feedback that segues into a driving beat. This track boasts some mighty fine playing! And the bridge and chorus get into your head immediately. This song speaks volumes on the attitude of Union: "I'm Jack & Coke/You're champagne and candy bars..."; essentially they are a bar band who have honed their musicianship skills playing with big name acts. Bruce Kulick always seemed like the odd-man out in KISS and Corabi was in Motley Crue for what seemed like a week. Unfortunately, this was the first single released from the album and it just didn't seem to catch on radio. Easily the best song on the album.
Dead is a decent song that is a bile-infused jab at someone who has crossed paths with the band and left an indelible mark. Bitter stuff!!
Everything's Alright is not one of my favorite songs. I can't pinpoint what it is...just something doesn't grab me.
Shine is a great tune. A catchy chorus, some good acoustic guitar and what sounds like a sitar (?) after the chorus. It is a good blend of hard rock and a lighter side. The lyrics also contain a powerful message for adults to take part in raising their children instead of using TV, the internet and video games, as kids are turning to the dark side to find guidance in their lives.
Who Do You Think You Are? is another happy tune! Basically a great, big "f@!k you" to all of the critics out there who find it their business to dictate the trends. I really like this song and the message that it sends about the band: they're here to play the songs they want, how they want, while looking the way they want...YEAH!!
Dear Friend is a beautiful song written for Eric Carr, the former drummer of KISS, who died of cancer at the young age of 41. Bruce and John share lead vocals here and leave a fitting tribute to the little guy with the big hair behind the drumkit.
Do You Know My Name? is a song that should have made radio airplay. It's a slower, more dirge-like song, that explores how one gets swallowed up by the bright lights of fame and fortune. The song also has a cool guitar solo that kind of comes out of nowhere to give the song some some crunch.
Hypnotize tells the story of the country girl who comes to the big city and finds stardom...but at what cost? It's actually quite a sad song if you listen to the lyrics. Unfortunately, it isn't one of my favorites on the album. And the chanting over the solo was a BIG mistake!
I Wanna Be is a slower tempo song that I really like. Excellent guitar work and the string section at the end of the song is absolutely perfect. I Wanna Be is reminiscent of Robin's Song from the self-titled album. A stunning vocal performance from John here, too.
No More picks up the pace as the closer. Very catchy chorus and John's vocals really stand out on this track. No More is Union's commentary on the world today. The lyric, "Teacher's wearing armor, cause the student has a gun" is especially relevant in the wake of the Columbine shootings. I think this song has a lot to say.
While The Blue Room is not as strong as Union's first album, it definitely says where the band is going musically. I like the fact that there aren't any special guest appearances by Fred Durst or some DJ who throws down a beat to generate crossover appeal. Union is maintaining their integrity into the 21st century with a strong album of good old-fashioned rock and roll. Way to "do your own thing" guys!!