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Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans CD (album) cover




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5 stars Yes

Tales From Topographic Oceans - 1973

So what's wrong with this album? Well nothing really. Probably because things might not happen in the order some listeners prefer or the right length of the track - whatever. If you are brought up on formatted pop or rock tunes and expect that here - forget it. This is Yes, a collective of some of the most gifted composers and musicians of the 20th Century.

They do not think like a record company would prefer them to do, well, not until 1983 anyway. They do not record how a radio station would have them record. The tracks are not nicely indexed into easily and evident morsels like its contemporary The Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd. Oddly, in places Yes is musically going where Pink Floyd may have done so had Ummagumma (1969 studio album) - The Man The Journey (a related but concert only experiment also from 1969) may have gone. They have that four piece cyclical concept and experimental attitude in common not to mention the percussion suites. A feature of rock in that time was to climax a set with the drum solo and this was probably a consequence of that idea. Onto the album.

The Revealing Science Of God is a tight structured song and lasts 20 minutes. Songs are only supposed to last 2, 3, 4 whatever minutes is that not right? Yes are breaking boundaries and rebelling against constraints that society and oddly, of all people many Yes fans would impose. Please, only give us 10 minute pieces, our attention spans are good for that but no more the attention spans are not that well developed. Actually your attention spans are fine. Lose the politics of this album and, well, listen to the music, it's quite generous. Had Yes done as their audience demanded they may well be accused of cannibalization of their own music or boring repletion as they re-write Close To The Edge. But Yes progress and so should we.

The Remembering is a beautiful piece with textural mellotron work moving elegantly around the themes underpinning the weaving structure. The imagery I find is very Roger Dean like with the atmospheres quite in keeping with the artwork of Yes albums. There is a terrific surprise with the song-within-a song Relayer toward the end.

The Ancient: Giants Of The Sun a piece most often slated. The staccato drumming, searing slide and pedal steel guitars, abrupt rhythms driven by shocking percussion do not make a pretty listen but it's hardly ugly, a kind of sophisticated primeval moment in keeping with the theme of the piece. It's burning, a very heated piece indeed. Not easy listening at all, Yes have thrown down another challenge. This piece is, like The Remembering, really 2 pieces. Leaves Of Green is a classical piece, not overly detailed but superbly executed, it has to accompany the vocals without actually being obvious accompaniment. Beautiful piece it is too. How about that? You really do get 1 long piece followed by two pieces per CD or LP. It's just not indexed that way - mainly because of the recurring themes.

The Ancient was the first piece of this album I ever heard. On AM radio would you believe on a Saturday afternoon in 1976. But while this pretty much went over my then 12 year old head for the most part I was blown away by the depth and complexity. It made everything else sound so small and ordinary - unless it was The Who, Zeppelin, Genesis, or Floyd. Ritual features some more of that almost Floyd-like experimentalism. Lovely guitar work, superb melodies and vocals all hijacked by the waiting giant, the bass guitar that takes Ritual on an incredible fast paced melodic high then allowing the way for the percussive experience underlining the need for order from chaos. Perhaps this highly structured section, the percussion, is the next stage on from the staccato power in The Ancient. The Ritual melodies return and the album fades on the denouement on the theme of We Are Of The Sun, Nous Somme Du Soleil. From Giants Of The Sun to We Are Of The Sun. The circle is complete and the celebration of the first Revealing to The Remembering where we as people emerged to gain our civilisation. The album continues on a more primeval vein letting us not forget that we are violent and primitive but with certain rituals, laws, customs. Acknowledgments that we can become more than what we were.

I rather think the album is not so much based on the Shastric Scriptures but rather what Messrs Anderson and Howe gained from the philosophies. Really I've no problem with the lyrics, they seem quite straightforward to me, unlike some of those of Close To The Edge. They're sung in English, and yes, they do require some scrutiny; there are no repetitive choruses hammering home the point ad infinitum ad nauseum.

This is a fine, cohesive work full of depth and clarity. The music crosses boundaries and progresses and has to be one of the most enjoyable experiences in Yes' music which is pretty much all enjoyable, requiring quite a lot of the listener but this is Yes. Still, it's all laid out for you, no need to get worried about music length at all. I mean, really, something goes on for 20 minutes and this is a problem?

My copy is the SACD Japanese LP replica. Sounds fine but the remaster has, so I've read here on this site an extra 2 minutes introducing The Revealing Science of God. Interesting. The whole album lasts the length of a CDR (probably why the resurrected intro so we have to buy the whole thing again rather than just get a burn on a disc for the extra 2 minutes). Oh, there are the bonus tracks but they're not on my replica. This is another gripe I have about remasters and reissues. This demand on the purse for re-buying recordings does no one any credit. Just a small comment on some of the politics of the recording: as we all know Rick Wakeman left because he thought the work was not up to standard. He later said something about if a piece takes 2, or 8 or 20 minutes to develop then so be it. He had his opinion and I rather think he has amended it.

As far as I can tell Yes got this one right. Fantastic listen and unlike a lot of challenging music works quite well as background as well as imaginative foreground music. Listen with an accepting open mind and Yes take you on an incredible journey which brings you home on an optimistic but mysterious note. A truly unique album and absolutely indispensable.

Some may say begin your intro to Yes with something easier but how and why? Hell you can't go wrong with Close To The Edge, The Yes Album or Fragile or the sublime Yessongs. Or Topographic Oceans.

Yes challenged their audience but the critics got in the way, not to mention the constraints of the rock and roll environment Yes were perceived to be operating in. But this is the new classical music, it's not really a rock record. It can be avant garde, with a strong philosophy based on an understanding of oriental knowledge. It is symphonic, has some truly great tunes, it is abrasive and heavy, lilting, atmospheric and is its own creature.

This is the true rebellion against the constraints of rock, all the reactive punk styles ended up doing was enforcing the corporate nature of most mainstream western music in the past 30 years. Thanks a bunch for that. You want pretentious? How about punks deciding they could force their attitudes, inabilities to actually play on a public that were so stupid they accepted it, for a year and a half until the awful reality dawned. Too late, the restrictive format killed the progressive star and unless you were looking for a musical challenge no one would be around to present it to you. But the rest of us can listen to Tales From Topographic Oceans and marvel at the bravery of this band and the depth of this cyclical (in a kind of figure 8) creation. Thank you for reading, I hope it helps you.

uduwudu | 5/5 |


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