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Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 2348 ratings

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5 stars The main problem with TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS is that Yes forgot how to ROCK.

It's true, you could also blame Jon Anderson for his silly lyrics (the American critic Bill Martin is way off the mark when he ascribes to Anderson ideas from classical philosophers) but these are no less absurd than the ones on CLOSE TO THE EDGE, which is commonly called a masterpiece. In fact, if you judge Anderson's words simply by their phonetic value (by the way they sound), you may come to the conclusion that the former milkman from Lancashire is a rather effective lyricist.

No, the main problem is this: on TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS you won't find ANY extended passages with the energy and speed of "South Side of the Sky" or "Siberian Khatru". Many parts of this double album (most notably on "The Remembering" and "The Ancient") seem bloodless; the (originally) side-long compositions collapse like an overcooked pudding. I'm pretty sure that's why Rick Wakeman disliked the album. When Wakeman first devoted an extended suite of his own to spiritual themes (on NO EARTHLY CONNECTION, a weird attempt to explain where music comes from), he made sure that every single part of his suite sounded catchy.

TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS, on the other hand, seems an attempt to write a-prog-symphony-with-words; something similar to Gustav Mahler's SONG OF THE EARTH, perhaps. If the album turns out a failure (in part), it's still a noble failure. We shouldn't blame the band for being "pretentious". I agree with Andy Tillison (of the Tangent) that we should praise them for being ambitious.

Back in the 1970s I thought the dreamy bits in "The Remembering" (particularly Rick's melancholic Moog motif, and his extensive synthesizer 'symphony' toward the end of the piece) were among the album's highlights. I also thought Jon's singing on "Nous sommes du soleil" was very powerful - but now I feel his vocals goes on for too long. Nonetheless, Anderson's eventual reprise of Side Four's main theme, followed by Steve Howe's final solo, must be one of the most magical moments in the Yes catalogue (beautifully captured in the LIVE AT QUEENS PARK RANGERS video).

Nowadays I particularly love "Dance of the Dawn", the original first side. Some eight or nine years ago, when I hadn't heard TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS for a while, I travelled to London to attend, for the first time in my life, a performance of a Bruckner symphony. On the bus I made the mistake of listening to Yes, and "Dance of the Dawn" moved me so deeply that nothing in the concert hall really touched me - even though the performers were Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I then realised that, in spite of all their imperfections, Yes had created something very special. (This idea was later confirmed when I bought KEYS TO ASCENSION, where the piece sounds even more convincing than in the studio.) I mean, take that passage where Jon sings: "They move fast, they tell me" and "Getting over overhanging trees" - isn't it one of the most wonderfully romantic things Yes have done?

I don't know how you'll feel about this album. I grew up with it, much of my teenage longing was intertwined with it, and when I first got to know it, my knowledge of English was limited, so I didn't notice its awkwardness the way a native speaker would. Maybe YOU will find it too much to take. But in my mind it will always be a true progressive masterpiece.

fuxi | 5/5 |


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