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Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 2348 ratings

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2 stars In prog's classic era it was actually pretty hard to truly jump the shark, and actual pretention was few and far between. As such, there we have the first of the two great accomplishments of "Tales From Topographic Oceans".

The main factor in this is the half-baked concept Jon Anderson cooked up. The story goes that at Bill Bruford's wedding reception, the Yes and King Crimson line-ups of the time both attended in good terms - by this point Bruford had already joined Crimson. Jon started talking with Jamie Muir, who was already planning on running off to that monastery, and Muir introduced Jon to Paramahansa Yogananda's classic "Autobiography of a Yogi". While touring Japan, he immersed himself in the tome, focusing on a footnote about the classes of Hindu scriptures. Suddenly, he wanted to make an album inspired by this. It apparently didn't matter to him that he'd never read a word of the holy writings. His ignorance should be obvious due to the fact that this concept of his is only reflected in the track titles; as usual, he based his lyricism on making his voice an instrument, not a storyteller. Already a strike when you're making a blasted concept album, but furthermore, whereas it worked so well before, often coming up with unique lines (remember the closing portion of "Close To The Edge"?) , it is just gibberish here, not even good enough to be glossolalia like the Cocteau Twins vocals. All in all, it's inadvertently about as offensive as any slanderous Chick Tract.

I think it's also important to note a few other things about the composing and recording process. Originally, Jon wanted to name the album "Tales From Tobographic Oceans" - yup, you read that right, Tobographic - inspired by Frank Hoyle's by then already widely discredited theories. He met over dinner with Phil Carson, then CEO of Atlantic, who noted that that word sounds similar to Topographic, and so Jon suddenly decided to change it. The band fought over where to record, with Jon wanting to record in the countryside, and Chris Squire and Steve Howe wanting to record in London. When they slunk into London's Morgan Studios, in search of their Ampex, Jon demanded pastoral trappings. White picket fences, keys resting on stacks of hay... and a model cow with electronic udders by a barn replica. Ozzy Osbourne could hardly believe his eyes when he peeked in during a break in the "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" sessions! Rick Wakeman, who originally went along with Jon's ideas and wish to record in a rural setting, became disenchanted, and, having exiled himself from most of the proceedings, helped Sabbath cut "Sabbra Cadabra", demanding payment only in beer. You can put two and two together there.

But, in spite of all this, in spite of the album being made up of sub-par playing that is mostly by turns boring, tedious, out of place, stuck in a rut, any number of bad words, there are highlights on a whole three of the tracks. "The Revealing" had a wonderful run up, and Wakeman's synth theme is pretty. They drop the ball at the halfway point, but it's all in all a decent track. "Ritual" is a love it or leave it affair with its own fine opening, and crazed drum solo from newcomer Alan White. And "The Ancient", the crazy part of the record, you just have to respect. That's the truly forward thinking part of this double LP, and in an album where most of the themes are, again, out of place in relation to each other, the progressions here are insane enough to work. I have a love-hate - mostly love - relationship with it. Heck, rather than cut any part of any track, Yes could've gotten away with a single LP of just "The Revealing" and "The Ancient", and it would've been pretty good, excepting the atrocious, abortive concept.

Having said all that, instrumentally this is probably a three star record, with good, bad, ugly, and nutty, that some can enjoy a lot. But really, that concept just drags this down further. 2.5 stars, rounded down. The last thing I want to say is that, even with "The Ancient", there really is nothing here to "get". Really. The emperor has neither clothes, nor even a corporeal form.

LearsFool | 2/5 |


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