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Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 2327 ratings

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Magnum Vaeltaja
Special Collaborator
Eclectic Prog Team
5 stars My 100th review! What better way to celebrate than one of the most controversial pieces in the prog canon? "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

"Tales" really is an infamous release, whether due to the absolute berating it got from the press or because of the internal tensions in the band which reached mythological proportions. But let's be real here, the press never liked prog to begin with; "Tales" wasn't unique in its scorn. History aside, let's get to the music. How does "Tales" actually stack up from a musical standpoint?

Many describe this album as being "less focused" or "looser" than earlier Yes releases, and I agree to a certain degree, but I think that that description is a little misconstrued. It's not like the whole album is spacey, psychedelic jams or a jazz free improvisation. This is still structured, well-constructed symphonic music like the material Yes had recorded in the Bruford era. Really, aside from a less flamboyant performance from Rick Wakeman, this album is a lot more similar to other Yes music than most make it out to be. It's still technical, ever-so-spiritual and driven by Jon Anderson's divine vocals. On top of maintaining the elements that made past Yes music so successful, though, I feel that it actually brings the whole Yes aesthetic up a notch. Where "Fragile" and "Close To The Edge" filled our heads with images of far-off worlds, "Tales From Topographic Oceans" is cinematic, a whole feature-length motion picture weaved seamlessly over four sides of vinyl.

"The Revealing Science of God" begins with a single voice, which gradually builds into an entire chorus of nonabrasive chaos before a brilliantly minimalistic three note keyboard motif brings a sudden release. This tension and release is the first of many that will grace the album, and really sets the tone for what to expect over the next 80 minutes. After a generally heavy, spiritual, first movement with "Revealing", a second release happens with the beginning of "The Remembering". This second movement carries a lighter, airier mood. Like a sunny afternoon out on the water, the lively sections driven by Steve Howe's acoustic guitar are some of the absolute most joyous sections of music ever put to record. The happiness that Jon Anderson expresses in his voice alone makes the album worth owning.

On the album's second disc, "The Ancient" provides a stark contrast, however. The first half of the song is Yes at its most avant-garde, the second half Yes at its most sentimental. While the dissonant and rhythmically-bustling first half is not the most pleasant section of music, it does serve its purpose. After a generally soft first disc, it definitely helps to keep the album from getting too stagnant. It also provides yet another great release when Steve Howe comes back with his acoustic for the gentler "Leaves of Green" section. Another moment of unspeakable beauty, this part of the album contains some of Jon Anderson's most emotive vocals of his entire career. It also gives the perfect lead-up for the album's jubilant finale, "Ritual". As with the acoustic sections of "The Remembering", this final movement also contains some of the most joyous sections of music recorded and brings the album to a close with a furious guitar solo. Wow, what a movie!

Between the album's many climaxes, of course, there are sections that many are quick to judge as "padding". I don't think that this is accurate at all, because what many see as "lazy filler" really serves a vital purpose. When listening to an album so long, it's actually very nice to have little minute-long sections where you can feel free to zone out without missing a major transition, solo or climax. By the time some more interesting music begins to develop, it will seem all the more powerful after having rested up. So while some see "padding" as a weakness, it is in fact an essential part of the album, making the beautiful moments more beautiful, the joyous moments more joyous, the vibrant moments more vibrant. Like in life, the only way to really appreciate positive feelings is to experience the entire spectrum of emotions, even if it means brief moments of anger, disappointment, sadness, or even apathy. Otherwise, things begin to get too homogenous and nothing feels happy anymore.

In all, "Tales From Topographic Oceans" is an album that lives and breathes, and, like life itself, contains such breathtaking beauty that it really is naive to dismiss its entirety for any imperfections that lie within. As it stands, I wouldn't change this album even if I could. It's a masterpiece just the way it is.

Magnum Vaeltaja | 5/5 |


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