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Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans CD (album) cover

TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

3.88 | 1748 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

TheGazzardian
Prog Reviewer
4 stars If you want to talk about progressive rock, look at Yes. For their first five albums, each was leaps and bounds higher than the previous in terms of artistic intent and direction. From a simple rock album with covers; to a similar album, but with an orchestra; to an album featuring extended pieces and virtuoso guitar playing; to an album similar in structure with even more virtuoso keyboard playing; to their most famous progressive album featuring their first epic. Where could they go next?

It is arguable whether this album, or Relayer, is as far as Yes dared progress. They would continue to release excellent music and grow after those two, but as far as the experimentation, nothing was further along than these two albums.

By this point in time, seeing the direction things were going, Bill Bruford had left. Replacing him was a very able replacement, Alan White, who brought a bit more of a standard rock 'n roll feel with him than the jazzier influences of Bruford. Despite that, he would prove himself just as willing to experiment as the rest of Yes with this album.

This was, mostly, Jon and Steve's album. The two of them came up with the concept and the basic song structure, and the rest of the band agreed (Despite some trepidations) to give it a shot. As a result, they would record one of the most unique and controversial progressive rock albums out there.

Nowadays, there are many artists releasing albums with more than a single epic. (Flower Kings, Transatlantic, I am looking at you!) But at this time, in the age of vinyls, it was difficult to pull off. Perhaps if this album had come into existence after the CD was created, it might have been a bit less controversial. For if you look at it, Yes was in a bit of a tight space. They had ideas for music that took up more than half of a vinyl side, and in order to maintain the theme, they couldn't just toss little songs to fill in the space. So to avoid having a lot of empty vinyl, they had to basically fill it in. (Furthermore, apparently one of the songs - I forget which one - was actually closer to 30 minutes, and had to be refined to fit on a single vinyl side). With a CD, they might have been able to create something a little truer to what they really wanted to accomplish musically.

But how did they do, overall? As a Yes fan, the idea of this record cannot help but excite; a band that is famous for Close to the Edge releasing 4 more epics?

Revealing Science of God starts off the album with some eery chanting, but this song proves that Yes still had their great sense of composition and structure about them, moving easily between various different movements. There are more parts to this song then their were in Close to the Edge, but they are shorter and several of them are reprised at least once. It also includes moments that would be played upon in the various other parts of the album, to give it a more holistic approach. This is probably the tightest and best composed song of the bunch, if not the most experimental. An excellent successor to their previous epic.

The Remembering has a really slow start, and it is easy to feel a little lost as it continues, especially with Jon's spacey lyrics guiding you through. The opening instrumentation is quite nice and gives me the feel of seasons passing, which I believe was the intent. The song eventually leads into the 'Relayer' section, which includes some of my favorite playing on the album. After the second pass through the 'Relayer' lyrics, the fast, moving bass and drums of that section are combined with the slower keyboards from the opening part, creating a really intense moment, before the song winds down pleasantly. Overall an excellent song, if it takes some time to really get going.

The Ancients is probably the song that suffered worst from having to fill a vinyl side. It contains a lot of pleasant instrumentation, but it doesn't quite go anywhere as well as the rest of the album did. It feels more like jamming than the rest of the album, and to me this makes it the weakest part. To be fair, there are some interesting ideas in this part, they just are not as cohesive as other sections. It does move on to the 'Leaves of Green' section (which Yes would play on its own in future tours), which has some of Steve's most peaceful acoustic work on the album with some excellent singing by Jon.

Ritual, the final song, is my second favorite of the album. Like RSOG, I could see this being a fair successor to Close to the Edge. It is more playful than the rest of the album, and also more experimental. For any who were unsure whether or not Alan White would be able to keep up with the rest of the band, listen to this song around the 15 minute mark and you will be completely convinced that he was the perfect successor to Bill Bruford.

So where does that leave us in terms of rating? This album is one of a kind - there would be no other album structured the same, Yes would never try this format again, the concept was interesting (if very difficult to grasp), and the feeling of this album is wholly unique. It has two of Yes' great epics, some of their most experimental playing, and amazing atmosphere. But it did suffer from the limitations of the vinyl format, and I think that overall, that may be this albums greatest weakness.

This is also an album that cannot be grasped completely in just 1, 5, or even 10 listens. Themes recur between the different songs, lyrics are repeated or altered, and there is just so much going on in this album that it must be listened to many times to truly grasp. I've listened to it more than 40 times by now and know that there are still mysteries to this album that I have yet to understand.

For those with the patience to listen to 20 minute songs over and over, this album will be a masterpiece, but overall I think that it sits at a 4 star rating, due to the 'noodling' that occurred to fill in the vinyl.

TheGazzardian | 4/5 |

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