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Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans CD (album) cover

TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

3.88 | 1726 ratings

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Holyregiment.crust
4 stars TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS

I started to listen to Yes several months ago, and I really didn't know what to expect from them (I had known only some of the best known tracks that sometimes appear even on the radio), so I started from their eponymous debut and then went on through their whole discography.

I was really pleased by their music, and suddenly I came to this point. After I listened for the first time to Tales, I thought:

"What a piece of synthesizer-filled poppy mayhem!"

But then something unknown led me to listen to it again and again. And after a few listens I started to think about things like: "What did they have in mind while composing and recording the music?"

I think I wouldn't be the only one if I compared this album to Genesis's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Both Lamb and Tales are sixth albums by their respective bands and both are double albums with an overall concept and with each side revealing different sides of the bands. There is also a great show of ambition, verve and get-there present on both examples and an attempt on a wider range of styles mixed together as well.

The difference lies in the lengths of the tracks and in the reception, of course. While Lamb has received almost exclusively good reviews since its release, opinions vary in case of Tales.

But why did it cast so much controversy when the previous album went out so well?

The sleeve notes indicate that Jon Anderson and Steve Howe were the leading composers of this album, but I wouldn't think that was the problem.

Some say that this is the point where Anderson started to take over the band - that's not true - the title track on Close to the Edge, for instance, has the above mentioned musicians credited as its sole writers as well.

Furthermore - statements that progressive rock is always a group effort are also a bit out of place - look at Jethro Tull's whole discography for example, or once again the Lamb, even if not stated there, the album is almost wholly a Gabriel's and Banks's work.

But there can be found other possible reasons for the album's considerably poorer output, or at least as it might have seemed. Yes had undergone a dramatic change in personnel with the departure of Bruford before they started workong on Tales. Allan White was a great input, but still not Bruford.

Another thing is that it appears to me that Yes started to throw away their distinctive style and involve other bands' ideas. This is most obvious on the third side - The Ancient. When you think about the musically historical context of the time the album came out, you cannot overlook the release of Larks' Tongues in Aspic earlier that year. And that's probably where Yes took inspiration for this track - they probably sat down to listen to it after purchasing the album immediately upon its release and said:

"Oh, listen what Bill's doing with his new band now! Let's do something similar! Surely we can do it, if they can. What? Distorted bass with wah-wah? Chriss, plug your bass into a wah-wah pedal!"

Steve Howe's distinctive playing technique and clean or slightly overdriven sound found on Yes's earlier recordings became sometimes burried under a Hackett-like distorted sound on Tales.

Rick Wakeman began to neglect the formerly-thought-to-be-inherent Yes instrument - the Hammond organ on behalf of involving more synths and mellotron pads.

The conclusion is: Yes, Yes started rotting away by that time, but it wasn't that bad yet. It became far more obvious beginning with albums like Going for the One.

I agree with the general opinion that Tales don't reach the worth of CttE, Fragile, The Yes Album, and possibly not even Time and a Word (which is a masterpiece in my point of view contrary to the general opinion). But there is a possibility to find some awesome music there, it's just a bit too time-and-attention-demanding for someone who wants to get into it.

The Revealing Science of God (The Dance of Dawn) is a highly irresistible track with its lovely melodies (even if played on a synthesizer) and some of Howe's gentlest guitar licks with a huge possibility of becoming addicted to the song, with the help of some beautiful (though almost incomprohensible, at least for me) lyrics. Delicate. Someone compared it to the Wagner's Tannhäuser overture, and I agree with that.

The Remembering (High the Memory) is the least accesible out of the four. It can appear a bit heavy-going and boring for someone new to the album. Nevermind, the track has its great moments, just the beginning should have been a bit shorter. There is a rocking section near the middle of the song with a riff that reminds me of the central riff from a later song by Jethro Tull - Cup of Wonder.

The Ancient (Giants under the Sun) - I have already written that this song appears to be stealing other's ideas, however, I don't appreciate this as the worst track off the album as many do, it is still a great track, although a bit too odd at times. There are some really strong moments in the song (like the guitar playing together with mellotron in sixths between the sections where Anderson cites some famous places or whatever he says...).

The Ancient (Giants under the Sun) is the weakest in my point of view. It is a kind of an incoherent patchwork. There are some sections (like that with sitar, some 7th through 10th minute), that are really beautiful ones, then there are some neutral nothing-saying sections, such as the beginning or the filling moments with the french phrase sung over and over, and then there are really bad sections like the mayhem or drum solo one that should have been cut off. The best of the track, and probably the best of the album, is the last minute and half of Steve Howe's amazing guitar solo.

So, this appears to be all what I wanted to say about this album.

Holyregiment.crust | 4/5 |

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