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TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

3.88 | 1687 ratings

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ThulŽatan
Prog Reviewer
5 stars So this is the one. This is the album you quickly hear rumour of as the music of Yes enters your world. It's the 'inevitable prog double album', the conceptual epic, the one made as the core of the band flourished both internally as well as in the public eye. Rick Wakeman didn't like it, openly disparaged it, says he hated playing on it, to the extent that he resorted to funny routines on stage, eating curries while he slogged through solos. At a point you have to ask yourself - does any of the anecdotal historical veneer actually matter? Does it actually reflect this work?

The answer is: no, it doesn't. What we have here is one of the greatest, most far-reaching albums ever made. Despite his undeniable moments of greatness, Wakeman was just a bit of a clown. 'Tales From Topographic Oceans' is a four-suite, progressive, poetic tapestry depicting the human perception of time and memory, from simple everyday awareness right through to the oldest ages of the earth. And I said 'poetic', which means this is not a geology paper - Yes have observed myths and dreams from all over the world in telling their tale, Egyptian, Mayan, Aztec, as well as modern meditations, fusing an astoundingly rich level of lyrics with complex, symphonic rock of vast scope.

It starts immediately, although it had already begun, with an absolute monster first verse charting the birth of consciousness in a world of information - the dawn of light, the dawn of thought, the dawn of power, the dawn of love - and builds wonderfully with the trademark Yes vocal harmonies, here at their most fluid and dynamic. This first track deals with the present, and a person's memories of their own life, becoming aware of things, in music that is vibrant, familiar, but very progressive, moving through episodes of full-band rock balladry, smooth mellotron/guitar soundscapes, and darker sections of confusion and questioning. Lyrically, the piece briefly begs to go further back in time, but has a satisfying conclusion in itself as the contemplation inevitably returns to the individual, 'seekers of the truth' made whole as reason guides their continuing life.

The next piece, 'The Remembering', looks further back in time to days so far on the edge of memories that they seem like we ourselves never even lived them... 'stand, on hills of long forgotten yesterdays'. These are the archetypes, imprinted memories, illusory but powerful parts of who we are, which drag us out of the tiny period of time in which we have existed, realising how far back our collective lifetime begins to stretch. Moments of both peace and war lie there, long before even your own civilisation was born. This is carried by music much less pronounced, less familiar, where the ethereal keyboards of Wakeman successfully do their job whether he realised it or not. The first few minutes of this track are perhaps the most beautiful on the record, a simple, slow guitar motif by Howe rendered hypnotic by a flurry of modulation effects, over which the band sing in beautiful unison.

Track three is where the album reaches apogee, the point most far out, as the band attempt to go yet further into the past, to a time actually beyond memory, but when our planet was nevertheless still here. The raw, primordial sounds cast out by the band conjure up the imaginings of various cultures on these ancient times; a time where the elements roamed free, unperceived, as gods - giants - unto themselves, a grand drama of nature playing out on a timescale so immense it seems almost foreign to us. In a master stroke, the band close the track by dragging all of this back to the self once more with a folk-tinted madrigal about the far more immediate world and its issues. Incidentally, for Steve Howe fans it's worth noting that the classical guitar in and around this particular section is perhaps the most exquisite he has ever written and performed, I don't know of anything else like it.

All of this has been of course a prelude to the final suite, 'Ritual', which ties together all of the themes so far (as well as, strangely, a lick from 'Close To The Edge') and returns to the present, uniting the larger perspectives of our past with all that we deal with from day to day. Despite the love song which speaks of the companionships we hold dear, the mid- section of this piece is the most aggressive and tumultuous yet, signalling less than wholesome times ahead.

This review is merely an outline - the details are for the listener to experience. 'Tales From Topographic Oceans' is arguably Yes' best album, marred I feel by speculation about the band at that point, its placement in a now unfashionable time, and years of unhelpful press. 'Pretentious'? Anyone who says so cannot know the meaning of the word - music cannot 'pretend' when it comes to material with this much relevance to anyone alive in the real world. This should be owned by everyone, and if your pets will sit still, make them listen to it too.

ThulŽatan | 5/5 |

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