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Yes - Tales from Topographic Oceans CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.91 | 2620 ratings

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3 stars Show-boating's swell until the new wave breaks

For many Yes fans, particularly those from the leafy perspective afforded by the grassy knoll, this album is often defended on the grounds that it represents the Lee Harvey Oswald of Prog. Framed by Punk for a crime it did not commit and culpable only for its association with an outlawed ideology at the wrong place, wrong time. Be that as it may, and speaking from the viewpoint of a contrite post-punk Jack Ruby, it is nowhere near as bad as its most vociferous critics would have you believe. Every successful musical phenomenon is eventually consigned to 'jumping the shark'

Does hair length correlate to song length? (Ask Peter Gabriel's starving barber)

It seems hideously ironic that the dish 'best served cold' was still warm from the griddle when punk's bloated tripleburger Sandinista by the Clash roiled onto the shelves in 1980. Perhaps as Yes suggest, some things are as eternal and cyclic as the tides with an overreaching rock band's inevitable fall from their pedestal being but just one. Forging new territory is all well and good, but just don't expect the settlers to believe the brochure when they wake up looking out on a quagmire lawn from their new homesteads. Where Yes and the Clash made a fatal error of judgement was in both band's credulous belief that the punters actually gave a discarded fig what this beautiful noise we call music was actually telling them. Honing a political conscious or exploring esoteric eastern philosophy has no substance in a realm of show-business where, as Pat Gilbert's tome puts it: Passion is a Fashion.

Listening to entertainers with a spiritual or political agenda always makes me feel as an elephant would after being invited for a vegetarian meal to be eaten with ivory cutlery. The counter argument to this demarcation of content runs along the lines of revolution starts in the head dude. Perhaps it does but so do delusional mind games, and you only need a vacant venue to stage those.

Enter stage left: The Clash, enter via the wings: Yes: To educate you in return for the sins and impunity of idolatry plus shedloads of hard currency. Me? I think further education should be free but entertainment not.

The Revealing Science Of God/Dance Of The Dawn - Kinda catchy title fellas. After some tootsie dipping ambient swirly water noises (if you hold a shell up to your ear they say you can hear the sea, hold Anderson up to your ear and you can hear an elfin whale speaking in tongues) there eventually appears a very innovative and robust composition that embodies all that could be endearing about this band: Strong melodic themes, beautiful multi-tracked harmony vocals, challenging harmonic detours, textural and dynamic contrasts, meter and tempo hikes that are never gratuitous and if that were not sufficient, an inspired example from Wakeman of what he does best i.e. distracting the listener from Jon's woolly kaftan babble with some knowingly over the top heroic soloing and tongue in cheek bombast wedded to the finest keyboard sounds that the 70's had to offer. So what's all the fuss about then? this is arguably a better composed and more mature piece than Close to the Edge.

The Remembering/High The Memory - Whoops, not a reference to the great barrier (reef) to a higher consciousness lads? Erm..things do get a tad 'airy' hereabouts I have to report and although the wobbly/leslied guitar is an attractive backdrop for Anderson's vocal, the structure eventually comes to resemble a medley of brand new material. A pity perhaps as the opening half is seamlessly exquisite but all things considered there is nothing here to warrant piercing yourself with a safety pin just yet. (But don't stray too far from the medicine cabinet for the time being) There are some sumptuous harmonic changes towards the end that appear to my furry ears unprecedented in the Yes discography, and represent some fresh coinage not only in their own currency but that of prog in general. The more chromatic feel of the subsequent Relayer is possibly prefaced on this piece.

The Ancient/Giants Under The Sun - So complacently and sloppily piecemeal that it reeks of having been compiled from several little individual sections that are not even on nodding terms with one another never mind related. Casual listening is all that casual musicianship warrants. To be fair to Yes, the use of percussive textures on a paean to erm...primordial oscillations is probably very apt. Less so is Howe's descent into a shrill impersonation of an (only) just intonated stylophone/pedal steel guitar. Without a firm and steady hand on his inestimable rudder (apart from his own), our Steve is prone to littering countless reels of tape with quite possibly the most irritating guitar tone since rock was something cavemen took home as a pressie for the missus.The jarring frisson of the stabbed dischord is very effective but Anderson's intended gravitas sounds more like Noel Coward fronting a Klingon Zheul Orchestra with a remarkably small repertoire. Thereafter Howe inadvisedly encroaches on avant improvisational territory best left to the masters Fripp & Co. In mitigation, Yes are damned if they do and damned if they don't here and certainly warrant some kudos for willing to suffer what is one of the pitfalls of any failed experimental music i.e. its apologists call it experimental, the rest of us are still waiting for the final proof-read draft.

Ritual/Nous Sommes Du Soleil - Howe appears to quote throughout (perhaps unwittingly) from O For the Wings of a Dove? (It might just as well be O for the ears of a professional arranger given the double whammy bar of his playing too little of interest in isolation and too much in toto) More pot-noodle meanderings and trebly pleas for clemency from his tortured Gibson fill a few more anguished minutes but our threadbare goodwill is rewarded with a beautiful song section that together with the disguised reprise of the opening theme on Revealing Science brings the album to a convoluted but reasonably satisfying conclusion.

So after the dry ice has cleared this prog battlefield what are we to make of a resilient controversy that continues to surround those fallen from the peace and love corps? It's very patchy and borderline rambling in many places, but said damp spells are soon bathed in the torrential sunlight of some breathtaking music (albeit heavy intermittent showers). Depending on which version of events you choose to believe, it seems that Rick was horrified by the direction Yes were taking at this juncture and, so firmly held were his principles, he exited as hastily as decency would allow after the lucrative world tour that followed in its wake. Squire's input seems less pronounced than usual and I have to admit the album suffers by his diminished role. According to departed drummer Bill Bruford's autobiography, former Crimson percussionist Jamie Muir introduced Anderson to Paramahansa Yogananda's tome about the life of a Yogi at a wedding both attended in 1973, and therefore must have had some impact on the album's concept. Without wishing to denigrate a work I have not read, it has to be said that Anderson's lyrical take on the 'Six items or less' express lane at the Oriental takeaway is the final straw and must represent prog's very soggy death warrant:

And I do think very well, As the truth unfolds you Silently They move time Rainbows Sunlight Alternate tune Alternate tune

Rainbows Soft light Alternate view Sunlight Tell Me Someone Alternate view Alternate view, surely, surely

The foregoing is but the tip of a the soft brown turdberg and if Anderson has a sliver of self depreciating candour in his whole body, he should have confined this shampoo for long haired boars (Hogwash) to his own book entitled:

Boo Boo's Wash Cycle 6 - Tsunami Rinse for Yogi's Delicates

ExittheLemming | 3/5 |


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