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Yes - Tales from Topographic Oceans CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.90 | 2497 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Evandro Martini
4 stars Tales from Topographic Oceans is so difficult to judge, because it is almost perfect in some ways, but almost pointless in other ways, depending on how you regard it.

Then, I'll try to show both points of view, also with some quotations from "Close to the Edge, the story of Yes", their great biography by Chris Welch. First I'll expose why is it a masterpiece, then I'll analyze why is it hated by so many people, and finally I'll try to judge it impartially

1st: Tales is a masterpiece After the wonderful Close to the Edge, Yes had no limits. With this great album, with only three long and well-developed pieces, Yes was, indeed, very close to the edge of rock music, expanding it with a classical way of composing and arranging. The complexity of the songs and the virtuosity of the players achieved a peak that could hardly be dreamed of ten years before, when rock music was necessarily simple. So, what they did? They presented their fans with another complex masterpiece, more ambitious and longer. This time, they created a concept album, based on the book "Autobiography of A Yogi". Actually, back in 1971, Steve said: "Jon and I were working on some new songs which possibly will have a religious feel.". This may be either Tales or Close to the Edge, which also dealed with Buddhism, and deep religious feelings. But here they had 80 minutes, to develop this masterpiece.

First movement starts with a cappella vocals by Jon, and they become increasingly harsher, when joined by Steve and Chris's vocals, and a great sustained guitar. After this, we have a long and beautiful song, with good melodies and an outstanding Keyboard solo. Second movement is somewhat stranger, with some bars in 7/4 signature, used very well by the band, and carried by Wakeman's elegant keyboards. Third movement is where Yes is definitely not afraid of experimenting. After a very original beginning, with great percussion, Steve Howe's slide guitar owns the song, with a lot of feeling. He even quotes Siberian Kathru, here, so powerfully! Yes were really wanting to progress, to do different things, and that's what we see here. After the jazz influenced part of the song, another surprise: it turns into a beautiful acoustically driven song, heavenly sung by Jon Anderson. Steve shines here again... he could just accompany Jon with chords (like most acoustic songs we here nowadays), but he does a remarkable job, with interesting solos. Rick's work, though very, very subtle, is great, too. In the end, the full band gets together again, to close the song as majestically as it begun. Fourth movement is mind-blowing since the first seconds, with a strong introduction, followed by Howe developing a theme that has been used, though very differently, in the first two movements. This song is the most melodic, with Jon's lines "Nous sommes du soleil" matching the melody perfectly (this was one of his great gifts, he could really match words with melodies). After that, we are presented with three instrumental moments when one member is at the forefront, and can show his ability and feeling: first Steve, then Chris, and finally Alan. After the drum solo, the "Nous somme du soleil" theme develops into a more conventional song, with good vocal harmonies and great singing by the three singers. This song would also be majestically played alive, in Yesshows, and in Symphonic Live. Shortly, what we have here is Yes progressing, breaking musical boundaries, with great musicianship and composing skills.

2nd: Tales is an over-pretentious and pointless album By 1973, Yes were highly considered by rock fans and also by critics. The good reception both for their ambitious album "Close to the Edge" and for their complex and long concerts made Jon Anderson think the band's way towards complexity should continue. Now his dreams were yet more ambitious: a concept album with four sidelong songs, about oriental ideas and religion. Steve Howe liked this idea, and they started to compose together, without the other members. They became so ambitious and maddened by this idea, that Jon actually wanted to record the album in a forest at the dead of night. The themes were all about mother earth and the ritual of life and he wanted to get in the right frame of mind and closer to nature. When the time for recording the album came, they had a problem: they definitely didn't have enough material for a double album. Then, what they though? "No problem, let's fill it with repetitions and improvisations".

"The Revealing Science of God" starts with a long vocal section, that repeats its melodies a dozen of times. When the listener is sufficiently tired of this, a new section comes. It could even be good, if it didn't last for almost 15 minutes, with the same musical ideas coming in and out, without developing. Then, comes a keyboard solo that seems totally out of place, and after it, the song ends in the same boring way it begun. "The Remembering" is even more repetitive. All its melodies are good, but all are repeated ad libidum, and get exhausted, just like the listener. "The Ancient" has been defined by Chris Squire as "A bit of a drag". His powerful bass style can hardly be heard in this song dominated by Howe, and lots of pointless guitar solos, that come from nowhere and go absolutely nowhere. Michael Tait, the band's roadie and lighting engineer said: "We used to get in the studio without any ideas. And the studio was costing five hundred dollars an hour". That can be clearly noticed here. With a lack of what to play, Steve just improvised on the guitar, and the band accompanied him, without distinction. Later, Steve changes to the acoustic guitar, and starts a beautiful duet with Jon Anderson, but it just lasts for too long, just like all the rest of the album. "Ritual" seems to be the most cohesive song, with good instrumental work, until it breaks into a longish solo by Steve Howe. From that point, other pointless segments, without relation between them, are added, to make the song bigger. After a long bass solo, without good melodies, but full of feeling, comes a drum solo, absolutely repetitive and boring. After it, the band recreates the "Nous sommes du soleil" theme in a twee song, followed by some repetitive instrumental, that closes the album. Altogether, Tales has an island of good music, circled by an ocean of self-indulgence, poor themes and pointless repetition. Being more concise: first two songs are meaningless repetitions, and the last two are meaningless explorations of the instruments.

3rd: Tales is a good album, but with some flaws and over-extended. This album really could have been shorter, but I try to see the good point: for Yes fans like me, it's a unique opportunity to listen to the band jamming and improvising, something we would never be able to listen in their other albums. I give the album four stars, because it's generally a good piece of music, and a very particular and original album. Although it is definitely a bit dull, especially if listened an entire album, it shows, more than any other album, some aspects of Yes, the most important progressive band, in my opinion.

Evandro Martini | 4/5 |


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