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Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 2357 ratings

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4 stars It has been about a year since I first wrote a review for this album, and given that I intend on regularly reviewing for ProgArchives again, I feel my review for this album requires a significant rewrite. My old reviewing style tended to be a bit of a "music for deaf people" description, which, upon realization that most of the visitors of this site were gifted with hearing, didn't make a great deal of sense.. Also, given that the initial "wow factor" has now escaped me for this album, I no longer consider it to be a masterpiece of the genre, though it's not far from it. On with the review, which will contain bits and pieces of my last review with considerable revisions.

Tales from Topographic Oceans was the result of a massive change in musical direction and, as some would say, the increased pretentiousness in certain Yes members, particularly Anderson and Howe, who were the prime songwriters for this album. In its day, its release was in part the catalyst of a huge backlash against progressive rock, ultimately resulting in the downfall of the genre to more raw and simplistic genres of music such as punk and new wave. The album still polarizes prog listeners even today, but compared to the seventies, the number of people who appreciate this album is probably much greater.

I've always been of the belief that our current musical experiences are the result of every musical experience that came before. And perhaps this is the problem with this album. It may be impossible to fully appreciate this album with a background only in symphonic prog and other mainstream '70s prog bands. As stated earlier, this album represents a huge change in musical direction for Yes. While their previous three albums had catchy, repeated melodies at every turn, tight musicianship, and besides Close the Edge, fairly conventional song structures. This album, in contrast, consists of only of four songs, each in the neighborhood of twenty minutes. Each song is a sprawling epic filled with drawn-out experimentation.

One of the chief complaints for this album is that it is bogged down by filler. I don't see where the source of this complaint lies. Even listening to small glimpses of the album results in a pleasant listen, in my opinion. The problem probably lies in the oft-lack of melodic resolution. For this reason, I can understand the criticism that the album at some points doesn't seem to really be going anywhere, though I don't necessarily subscribe to this belief. Melodic resolutions exist on this album, even if few and far between; they just require patience to realize.

My favorite track on this album is The Remembering, while my least favorite is Ritual. That said, I don't think there are any altogether bad songs. And indeed, that would be a pretty impressive feat to muster for an album whose songs are each as long as they are. The Revealing Science of God is probably the most accessible track on here, partially because many people will lose interest after the first song on this album. It contains the most melodic hooks of this album, I think. The Remembering, while not quite as accessible, is probably the most rewarding song on here to familiarize oneself with. The spacey interludes placed throughout this song seem to grow in power with each reiteration until the epic conclusion, which has always made my hair stand on end.

The Ancient contains some very creative guitar work from Steve Howe, and is always an enjoyable listen. Ritual is the only instance at which point Jon Anderson's voice has actually annoyed me, which is probably my main source of dislike for this particular composition. His French accent (or lake thereof) tends to bother me a bit. Melodically, I don't find the song particularly pleasing, though it's not an altogether bad track. Ritual's climax lies in the highly unusual percussion work that occurs roughly halfway through the track. This is one of the highlights of the album.

Tales from Topographic Oceans isn't an altogether terrible album, nor is it the masterpiece some make it out to be. It's an extremely rewarding experience when one finally becomes capable of truly grasping this album. Given all of the positive reviews of this album besides mine, it must contain at least some musical merit, right? I'd recommend for those who still want to give this album a shot, don't try drilling it into your brain on a regular basis, but rather give the album a try every few months or years. Also, given the length of the album, it's probably a bad idea to attempt to appreciate the whole album at once. Unlike many albums, I don't feel this one needs to be listened to as a whole to get the full feeling. Take each track one at a time.

It's hard to compare this album to other Yes albums as it does tend to deviate from the rest of their catalog. Unlike Relayer and Close to the Edge, I have to be in a certain, very specific mood when listening to this album, but when I am in that mood, I feel that I reap more rewards from this album than any other in Yes' discography. I'm not quite sure whether or not this is my favorite album of Yes, but it is still a necessity for any aficionado of the band. Recommended for fans of Yes and fans of psychedelic music.

CaptainWafflos | 4/5 |


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