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TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

3.88 | 1720 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Epignosis
Special Collaborator
Eclectic Prog Team
5 stars Every once in a while, an album comes out that baffles the senses- usually, it will be one that divides progressive rock lovers. As one group heralds it as nothing short of a masterpiece, many others are quick to label it as "pretentious." I honestly don't understand that adjective in relation to symphonic rock. Compared to most popular music, almost all progressive rock is pretentious. If by "pretentious," we mean "exceptionally composed, using the greatest abilities of all members involved," then I suppose Tales from Topographic Oceans is the most pretentious album I have ever heard. I possess many fond memories sitting in the cold winters of North Carolina writing novels while listening to this album in its entirety.

"The Revealing Science of God" The very first time I heard this song, I could not remove it from my mind. That stormy billow that rises, those quiet guitar swells in the beginning, the very first word sung like a faint light in darkness, the layers of chanting vocals that build to a wondrous climax, the guitar theme that will reappear in nearly every song, the exceedingly wonderful verses that build to the majestic refrain, "I must have waited all my life for this moment," the wild whirlwind of word reminiscent of part of "Siberian Khatru," the amazing vocal melodies that rise throughout the song, Jon Anderson's most mystical lyrics ever, Rick Wakeman's fantastic keyboard work and Mellotron, Alan White's sparse drumming that allows the music to breathe, the special way Steve Howe's guitar work is expressed so perfectly over Chris Squire's more subtle bass playing, that vociferous blast of a synthesizer solo, the perfect series of transitions that bring the piece back to the beginning, even to the chanting that was in the beginning, and finally to that last, esoteric line, "And breath and hope and chase and love for you and you and you," all comprise the greatest progressive rock song these ears have ever perceived.

"The Remembering" How does one follow the most wonderful progressive rock song ever penned? Yes does so with majesty and gracefulness, two characteristics that make up this phenomenal piece. Rarely does Yes employ a Medieval-like sound as Gentle Giant or Genesis did so often, but the woodwind-like synthesizers and Howe's electric twelve-string guitar give it precisely this feel. Like the song before it, it is tightly structured and full of recurring themes. The heavy Mellotron and the spacey sound effects come in between lyrics. The chord progressions are regal and remind me a bit of "And You and I" from the previous album. The middle consists of an upbeat acoustic guitar arrangement. For the most part, Howe's guitar takes a supporting role, but still stands out as it did throughout much of "Close to the Edge" after the introduction. The section during and directly after they sing "Relayer," is one of the greatest moments of the song, featuring a reprise of an earlier keyboard motif and an excellent bass line, just before returning to several vocal sections and some atmospheric keyboard work.

"The Ancient" Unquestionably the most avant-garde song Yes ever recorded, this one has primitive-sounding percussion, swampy bass work, and strange steel guitar that lasts quite some time. As always, the Mellotron is excellent, and adds so much to the song, this time not just lingering somewhere in the background. Even the lyrics are beyond bizarre; the closest thing from Yes I can compare them to are those of "Awaken." Steve Howe reprises several guitar parts from previous Yes songs, including the one on "Siberian Khatru" just after his introduction. The music rightfully has an Eastern feel. After twelve-and-a-half minutes of exotic music, the "Leaves of Green" section begins, which features Howe playing one of his best classical guitar pieces ever, with its own themes. Here, briefly (so briefly one may miss it), he reprises the very first guitar notes from "Close to the Edge." Eventually, Anderson sings, and the music soon adopts a Spanish flavor. In the final part, the steel guitar revisits the song, but the music is unlike anything that came before.

"Ritual" The opening to this piece is grand, featuring a lovely arrangement. Earlier parts of the album come back throughout, not the least of which is the music of the first song that came after the chanting. Squire, who has sat in the background for most of the album, lets it rip with one of the greatest progressive rock bass solos ever, and his bass playing stays aggressive right on through. Each transition is praiseworthy, never odd or unnatural. The lyrics are again numinous, but they have an uplifting feel about them nonetheless. White's drumming stands out more, as there is even an outlandish but fitting percussion solo in the middle, which builds over synthesizer, until the peaceful respite of Howe's quiet electric guitar arrives, leading into one of the loveliest parts of the song. Near the end, Howe once more plays the main theme of the album, only the music is in a minor key. The final, almost ceremonial moments nearly incite meditation.

Epignosis | 5/5 |

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