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Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 2347 ratings

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3 stars Despite having bought the double-LP in 1974, before discovering this site last year I had not realised that this album generates a lot of debate; it seems to be an album that many love to hate. Even Wakeman stated in his interview on this site that he hates it (I did know that he left the band because of it). Given the ambitiousness of the project, and the fact that some of the music is actually very good, it's a shame that the album is not more popular. Mind you, at the time it reached no. 1 in the UK charts and no. 6 in the US charts. Howe, Squire, Wakeman and White all do a good job, and you certainly can't fault their playing. Wakeman's keyboard work does not stand out as much as it did on "Fragile" and "Close To The Edge", though. And, although I quite like Anderson's voice and nonsense lyrics on the previous albums, I find his voice less pleasing on this release, and the nonsense lyrics less vivid.

In some ways I'm surprised that some of the YES fans who rave about the band's earlier work don't like this album. If you could draw a line from "The Yes Album" through "Fragile" to "Close To The Edge" and then extrapolate that line I reckon you'd more or less end up at "Tales From Topographic Oceans". In my opinion the band's music gets more pretentious and twee as the band evolved through those albums, and to me "Tales" is the obvious end result. Although I enjoy "Close To The Edge" a lot, to me "Tales" is not a million miles away from "Close To The Edge"; both are flamboyant and the music not that dissimilar in my opinion. Granted the music on "Close To The Edge" is probably better, but I think it is actually less adventurous, less varied and less sophisticated in many ways than the music on "Tales".

When I bought the double-LP I have to admit that, on first playing it, I was a little taken aback by what I heard: something more ornate and rambling than the band's earlier albums, slightly more commercial-sounding in places even. But I quickly grew to like it, albeit not as much as the earlier albums. Part of the reason, I think, is that it just goes on too long. Had the project been cut to one LP with the best parts extracted and reworked to be more cohesive, it may have been more successful. Nevertheless there *are* some very good parts to the music, and it does make pleasant listening. Unlike the band's previous albums, I can put "Tales" on as background music. I don't mean that in a damning way, just that the music does not grab my attention in the way that the earlier albums do. But I can still tap my foot or hum along to the music, which is very melodic in places. The 'Nous sommes du soleil' parts of 'Ritual' are very summery and upbeat, albeit rather twee. Mind you, 'The Revealing Science Of God' is probably the most twee track on the album and, in my opinion, it and 'The Ancient' are the weaker of the four tracks (although still melodic and reasonably pleasant listening).

A concept album, Anderson conceived of the 4-track project when reading Paramahansa Yoganada's spiritual book "Autobiography Of A Yogi", and you can hear Indian and south east Asian influences in the music, sometimes slightly as in 'The Remembering' and at other times heavily as in parts of 'The Ancient' and 'Ritual' (sitar and chimes, for example). However, overall the music is a bit of a mishmash: for example Howe's lovely acoustic guitar (English medieval-sounding) in 'The Ancient' is at odds with the clashing Buddhist cymbals at the beginning of that track. The brief synthesizer solo in 'The Revealing Science Of God', whilst a real treat for fans of the instrument, seems out of place to me, almost thrown in.

My ranking of this release in relation to the earlier YES albums can be guessed by the order I replaced my long-lost LPs with CDs: "Fragile", "Close To The Edge", "The Yes Album" and "Tales". Actually, "Tales" was the last YES release I liked enough to buy; despite its popularity I found "Relayer" too much to stomach.

Given that I did eventually get "Tales" on CD to replace my long-lost vinyl, but some time after getting the other albums on CD, I would rate "Tales" as a 3.5-star album if such a thing were possible. As it's not, I'll settle for 3 stars (Good, but not essential). I'm probably being a little harsh on the album but "Tales" is not quite excellent and neither is it essential in my opinion, even though it does still make for good listening if you're a fan of symphonic Progressive Rock. I'd say that it's still a worthwhile investment if you like the earlier YES albums.

Fitzcarraldo | 3/5 |


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