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Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans CD (album) cover

TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 2348 ratings

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BrufordFreak
4 stars An odd album of beauty and mystery, power and subtlety, ideas foreign and familiar, musicianship on par with the Hindu gods that inspired it. I spent hours listening to each of the four sides--mostly marvelling at the virtuosity of one Steve Howe. And yet the work seems flawed. It never held my interest or awe in the way that Relayer, Fragile, Close to the Edge, "Awaken," or parts of The Yes Album did. As I listen to the album today I am surprised at how often I find myself thinking "This sounds just like Nektar!"

1. "The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)" (20:25) with it's gorgeous, almost church-like opening five minutes, stumbles horribly with the cheezy "what's happened to this song" section with its horrible rhythm section and so many cliches and riffs stolen from previous work. The "starlight" section beginning at 8:54 is better but suffers from some horrible background vocal harmonies. There is so much simplicity in the song and instrumental structure of this piece as to wonder if the piece was, in fact, finished. It has none of the polish, flare or sophistication of either CttE or Relayer. Even the highpoint of the upbeat "sunlight, teacher" section with Wakeman's piano play and Squire's thumping bass can't lift this one from its redundancy. No wonder I stopped listening to this Side soon after I got to know the album. A pretty guitar piece beginning at 15:15 lays the foundation for a more spacious, mellow section--but Anderson's bluesy singing (is this from Time and a Word) and words about rivers and christians spoils it. Wakeman's mellotron drench tries to save us--but then he switches to organ and seems to descend to Jon's level of maudlin cliche--though his synth solo in the twentieth minute is spectacular. A pretty Anderson vocal section turns sour when it becomes accompanied by the b vox--and then flows into a reprise of the "what happened to this song" themes. Sadly simple and redundant. Plus, why are the vocals so muddy? If it's any consolation, on this song it sounds as if Rick Wakeman is at least half trying. (7/10)

2. "The Remembering (High the Memory)" (20:38) opens with a soft, drumless section, in which pitchless vocals are murdered. "Alternate tunes" indeed! By the fifth minute it is almost painful! When finally they stop and move into a GENESIS section of woven washes I have hope, but, no! They return to the plodding vocal pilgrimage through old territory! When Squire and White finally are allowed to join in, it sounds almost like a joke! This is music! It's so discordant and cacophonous! I can barely bear to hear any more . . . A slow, dreamy middle section seems to beg for introspection and meditation, but then we are unceremoniously guided into the middle ages (as we were on The Yes Album with the chess game in "Yours Is No Disgrace")--and then we're even treated to a few previews of the next album, "relayer"--but then back to the Renaissance. Can vocal harmonies get more awful? A nice Steve Howe solo section is spoiled by the 'relayer' chant. But, then, suddenly, things get interesting! Alan White turns into Bill Bruford and the rhythm and soloists get weavy wonky. Cool! I never realized how similar this whole piece is to "Gates of Delirium"! How is it that Chris Squire's so-revered bass sound sounds like it has a sinus infection--the sound is horribly muddy! Throughout this song !hen everybody seems to quite, going off each in their own directions, into their own caves and canyons. (Maybe they want the song to end as much as me and Rick do!) Simply an awful, irredeemable song. (6/10)

3. "The Ancient (Giants under the Sun)" (18:35) if I remember correctly, this is the Side to which I most listened back in the day. I worked so hard to try to understand it. It was jazzy, avant-gard, experimental, and rhythmically fascinating. The first 4:20 are prog heaven! And then . . . they start to sing. Fortunately, they go back into the odd rhythm structures. Soon, the "nous sommes du soleil" theme--probably my favorite section of the album--is first introduced by Howe and Wakeman--and things are still very interesting rhythmically and instrumentally--probably Squire's best section of the album (and some more very Nektar- and Camel-sounding moments.) I am so glad the singing is so minimal. Let these extraordinary musicians shine! Especially Howe and White! At the 11:00 mark the rhythms almost become Latin--or tribal African. They are mesmerizing, trance inducing. Meanwhile, Steve Howe is going absolutely crazy over the top of it all. Mega-kudos to Alan White! (and for Mssrs. Anderson and Squire for letting it happen.) The next section, infused with a Spanish feel from the acoustic guitar work of Maestro Howe, is awesome--and even, somehow, mysteriously fits. Its as if the tribal dance has taken a break to watch the arrival of a sage from a future time. Anderson joins in in the way that he excels, solo, but then is joined by harmony voices and weird flute-like (poor, at that) synth line. "... a million voices singing" section is okay--though it would do better on a Jon Anderson solo album. Andre Segovia wannabe Steve Howe plays on a bit before a seriously weird section juxtaposes some horribly incompatible sounds and styles into fade out and end. The best song on the album. (9/10)

4. "Ritual (Nous sommes du soleil)" (21:37) the band finally sounds pretty tight as the opening section with its heavy use of hand percussion and cheesy synthesizer sound (did Rick do this to purposely sabotage the song?) unleash. An electric guitar interlude in the fourth and fifth minutes allows Steve to introduce a whole bunch of melody themes. And then the classic "nous sommes du soleil" vocal section ensues as the music gradually builds and gels beneath. At the seven minute mark we slide into a sitar-accompanied four-voice vocal section (which seems kind of required in the Yes repertoire). All as practice for the perfected form in Relayer's "Gates of Delirium." Some nice work from Chris and then, of course, the Alan White drum solo in the sixteenth minute. Why does Rick's mellotron feel/sound so out-dated here? Coming out of the chaos of the drum-dominated section, we emerge "into the light" of the sun and the reprise of the nous sommes du soleil theme. Nice end. Overall a pleasant and not overly bombastic, simplistic, or hideous display of self-parody. I can deal with this one. (9/10)

A 3.5 stars album that I'll rate up with the intention that everyone else will be prodded to give it their own try (and opinion).

BrufordFreak | 4/5 |

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