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TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

3.88 | 1687 ratings

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James Lee
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars If you prefer The Yes Album or Fragile to Close to the Edge, you'll likely think that Tales is going in the wrong direction. Diffuse and sprawling, with very little in the order of "hooks", this is one of the most impenetrable YES albums in their discography.

But so beautiful...without the constraints of delivering more concise songs, the band manages to weave shifting soundscapes out of half-songs and melodic allusions, without ever seeming incomplete. Except for an unusually subdued Squire, nothing is missing; Wakeman's synths and mellotron, which occasionally seemed out-of-place on the previous albums, are now perfectly situated in the mix- and along with the layered vocal harmonies they provide a lush and complex wall of sound (predictably, Wakeman was dissatisfied with one of the few examples of instrumental restraint in his history). Howe's infamously thin and lonely tone has become less harsh, and he explores a range of other sounds as well (including a fade-in technique, somewhat reminiscent of Hackett, that seems to be this album's signature lead guitar sound). White may not quite have Bruford's formidable chops, but he is by no means a slouch- and not a bit inhibited on his first outing with the band (check out the "Lark's Tongues"-like opening of "The Ancient" or the tumbling exotica near the end of "Nous Sommes du Soleil").

Once in a while, the players seem to be re-hashing past melodic lines. "Revealing Science" has a section very like the verses of "Close to the Edge". During "The Ancient" I can hear a "Siberian Khatru" guitar part pop up and the nylon-stringed section occasionally reminds me too vividly of "Mood for a Day". The "Close to the Edge" main melody is directly referenced at the beginning of "Nous Sommes du Soleil", though very briefly (and the phrase "total retain" even makes an appearance). One could argue that these are more stylistic resemblances than self-plagiary, and either way it probably won't conflict with your enjoyment. Even the occasional clumsy transition between passages fails to jar the smooth overall experience.

And this is more of an experience than a proper album. Mood is paramount, although message is also inescapable. The entire album is indeed a spiritual manifesto, but one of such gentle peace and beatific intent that it is impossible to chafe at its overt nature; it's not so much a persuasive tract as it is a pan-denominational ode (and at nearly an hour and a half, it's definitely not a Missa Brevis). Anderson's lyrical approach on this album soars with evocative but increasingly abstract poetry; it's a sure turn-off for the more literal-minded listener but pure delight for anyone who prefers non-linear modes of expression. I suppose the message of "Tales" could rile those who have some aversion to 'hippie cliches' like peace, love, and nature...but if that's the case, YES is not the band for you- not with Jon Anderson in the fore, anyway.

If, on the other hand, you'd like a New Age or Post-Rock soundscape with a little more spiky rhythmic rock bite, Tales is perfect. If you like jazz fusion with a little less unrestrained virtuosity and a little more classic (if exotic) rock foundation- again, Tales is perfect. If you want a transcendent escape hatch to a engrossing and detailed sonic world, there's few albums that will do it better (or for as long). If you wanted Close to the Edge to last for 80+ minutes, Tales will almost satisfy that urge as well...just don't expect the same sense of structure, climax or closure. This is a journey to be undertaken solely for the pure beauty and gently uplifting pleasure along the way.

James Lee | 4/5 |

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