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TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

3.88 | 1771 ratings

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Cygnus X-2
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars After Yes's proclaimed masterpiece Close to the Edge (which I don't really see as a masterpiece) they decided to embark on a large scale project that would eventually turn up to be one of their most controversial (if not the most controversial) albums in Tales from Topographic Oceans. Gone from the original lineup was drummer Bill Bruford (who actually left towards the end of the Close to the Edge sessions) and in came ex-John Lennon/George Harrison drummer Alan White (who would appear on every Yes album after this one). Also worth noting is that Rick Wakeman despised this album when it was made and felt that there was too much padding, so after the subsequent tour, he made his first of many extis from Yes to pursue a solo career. This album seems to have a lot of varying opinions, as it would blatantly show the pretentious and over-indulgent side of progressive rock and yet show some great music and some inventive pieces that would really show that Yes could produce many large-scale compositions. I actually rate this on the same level as The Yes Album, as it is a good album, but it could have made a great single album and not the epic double album that it became.

The album opens with probably my favorite piece of the four tracks, The Revealing Science of God. With the Rhino remaster, the original and more ambient intro was tacked on and it really opens on a mysterious note. Although the lyrics are as dense as ever and really sound disjointed and make no sense at moments, the vocals are stellar, with lush harmonies from Howe/Squire/Anderson. The main motif for the song is also very majestic and meanders at a modest pace and never really gets out of hand. The performances from all the musicians is also top notch, with great noodling from Howe and shard and concise basslines from Squire, some great floating keyboards from Wakeman (who also reintroduces the main theme from Heart of the Sunrise in one of his keyboard solos), and some top notch and precise drumming from White. The Remembering is an ok track at best, but it could have been edited heavily as there seems to be a lot of over indulgent work, especially from Howe (who gets his own acoustic break in the piece that really seems to go nowhere). It has a nice melody, though, and I'm quite fond of Anderson's vocals on this piece, as well as the many harmony sections.

The Ancient is the most senseless and dense piece on this album in my opinion, and it also is much like The Remembering, ok at best. Although the percussion is at its best (a hollowed out log was used during the percussion break if I'm not mistaken) and the subject matter of the piece is unlike anything Yes had done at that point, it doesn't really serve any true purpose and there is a lot of filler on the piece. Ritual, though, redeems those two pieces as my second favorite piece on the album. All the elements are there, a great bass solo break, a great tribal percussion section, some melodic and majestic work from Howe (who also reiterates the Close to the Edge main theme on this piece) and some very soft spoken and inspired lyrics and vocals from Anderson. In the end, the first and last pieces of the album would be the best, and while the middle pieces had their moments, they could have been heavily edited.

Overall, Tales from Topographic Oceans is the most controversial Yes album and one of the most controversial albums in progressive rock, all of this is opinion of course. As I stated above, the opening and closing tracks are stellar and were well conceived and never really bored me, but the two middle pieces were underwhelming and they could have been heavily edited. If this album was a single album rather than a double album, I think it would have been given more favorable reviews and wouldn't have been so controversial. If you are a fan of over indulgent and pretentious symphonic rock, then this album will be right up you're alley, but if you don't like songs that meander and don't really come to a sensible conclusion, then you may not like this album. Me, I'm in the middle. 3.5/5.

Cygnus X-2 | 3/5 |

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