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Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 2348 ratings

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5 stars True Prog Masterpiece Album of All Time!!! (IMHO)

Well, it's an album that has created various kinds of reactions or "controversy" - if I can simply mention it - in the mind of listeners. Even, some readers and reviewers of this website are complaining about how come this site putting it under "suggestion" box. It is all well understood, because even long before the album reached the listener, there was intense conflict among band members in the making of this "big project" that resulted in Rick Wakeman leaving the band after "Tales Tour". The album was considered too personal for Jon Anderson that was inspired by a book Autobiography of A Yogi introduced by Jamie Muir, percusionist for King Crimson. The two gentlemen talked about meditation in music (1). -- Jon had taken notice of a footnote in Paramahansa Yogananda's book that described four Schastic scriptures covering various aspects of religion and life (2). -- "As I read them I became engrossed with the idea of making music around the concepts he spoke of, making a four-part epic built around the four-part themes of which I was reading" said Jon in 1974 [(1), page 44].

While on tour, Jon and Steve conducted candle light sessions, working out the basic structure for each of the four compositions inspired by this concept. Rick was not in agreement with the idea as he put it in 1974: "Yes was heading towards avant- garde jazz rock and I had nothing to offer there" [(1), page 45].

So, what can you expect? --- If things were not in a "full swing" during the making of an album, you would then guess the result: it was not an album that fully represent the synergy of all members in the band. If we look at the other side of the story: it might be the end result represents the best as it single mindedly transpose the wild ideas of two masterminds of this album: Jon and Steve. So what we listen to as a final product represents the culmination of combined ideas. So in this case, the listeners respect this album highly in the end. That might not happen if Rick contributed the album "whole heartedly". [Intermezo - any of you have read Mitch Albom's "The Five People You Meet in Heaven?" If so, this condition of the other side of the story reminds me to the conversation between Blue Man and Eddie. If not, read the book man .!!! Again, I have no financial interest at all with the publisher.]

OK OK . that was history from the point of view of the band. The history that I only knew some decades after I experienced the music of "Tales". My writing herewith is not intended as a defense for any negative reactions toward the album, rather it describes my standpoint on why this album is a true prog masterpiece of all time - for me, personally. I knew this album for the first time when I had listened to and liked "Fragile" and "Relayer" through the cassettes that I purchased, during my childhood (I was about grade 9, I think). At the time, I was not aware which album came first. Having enjoyed (very much) the two albums, "Tales" for me was very hard to accept except the album opener "The Revealing Science of God" - especially at the passage when lyric says "What happen? ." and the acoustic passage of "The Ancient".

I then kept pondering myself: if the band had created wonderful albums like "Fragile" and "Relayer", then .. this "Tales" album should be great as well. So I kept pushing myself to put the cassette on and on until I think about 10 times listening to it then I got the "aha!" experience. Since that happened, I was totally "hooked" to this album! It then became my all-time favorite. Pretentious? Not at all, because at the time I was out from usual friendships enjoyed by most teenagers. Most of them enjoyed the American Top 40 - I remember that these songs were the hits: "Magic" and "January" by The PILOT, "You Make Me Feel Brand New" by Stylistics (remember this group?), "Dream of Me" by Mac and Kattie Kisson, "House for Sale" by Lucifer or even disco music "Do It" by BT Express etc. I had to have that cassette if I wanted to get along with the rest of the crowd. I did not "dare" to tell 'em about my "true blood" which is the kind like YES, ELP, JETHRO TULL cause they didn't know. Well, only some of them knew it.

During digital era, I purchased the CD version of this album. I then purchased the remastered expanded version by Rhino when I saw the band performed Second Leg Tour in Singapore, 25 Spetember 2003. The Rhino version is packaged excellently with colorful sleeve notes by Mark Tiano and two bonus tracks. I still keep the original CD as the Rhino version does a good thing on packaging only, while the sonic quality is even worse.

The Revealing Science of God

This was the first track that I could accept easily at first listen. It starts off nicely with a quiet passage that fetures Jon's voice. [The expanded CD by Rhino has approximately 2 minutes opening soundscape in ambient / atmospheric style before Jon's singing. It's probably the original LP's version. I'm happy though with the fact that Rhino has put it back]. The song performed in relatively medium tempo with complex composition but nice melody.

The Remembering

It was a bit complex for my ears at first listen, but I could enjoy this track peacefully right after approx 5 spins. Rick Wakeman plays much more with his keyboard / moog instruments - sometime even with mellotron. It's relatively a complex track but it has a very strong tagline melody that becomes familiar to me having listened to more than 5 spins.

The Ancient

This is where Rick has ever mentioned that Yes was heading into avant-garde jazz rock fusion kind of music, I think. It opens really really "weird" for me at first couple of spins. It's an exploration of cymbals and keyboard followed with a lengthy opening of "not nice" percussion sounds augmented with long sustain howling guitar. It's not a typical song that create listening pleasure at all. It seemed to me "unstructured". It even was worsen by the sonic quality that was not up to the standard. I complained a lot about this loose structured track. That was my first impression, of course. The more I played it, it grew steadily with me. I especially love when the vocal starts to roll and also when the acoustic passage comes into play with stunning acoustic guitar work by Howe combined with Jon's voice. Oh mann ... this is a great offering from the band!!


This is the final chapter of the concept album that opens nicely with ambient opening and powerful voice of Jon Anderson. The composition is complex but there were pieces where the music built around regular beats that ease us to emulate the melody. Steve plays the long sustain guitar work combined with some fills during transition. Alan plays his drum wonderfully, accentuating the movement to other segments. Chris bassline performed in solo style (plays like a melody) during segment changes - to a quieter passage, for example. I became much acquainted with the song since it was perfomed "live" in YESSHOW.

So what .?

Ughh .. quite a long writing... Having described all my views about this album, what is the point then? Would it change your view? I doubt it. In fact, it's not my aim to change your view about this album. Whether you like it or you hate it, just be it. It's like an increasing number of thoughts flowing about the prog-ness of Radiohead, and the debate or polemics on "whether or not Radiohead should be covered in this site", just be it. Just let the reader of this page be his / her own judge. As far as "Tales" album, I still consider it as "true prog masterpiece album of all time!!" (in my very humble opinion, of course). You may not like the music, but you should not miss the album if you want to explore progressive arena. Let's respect individual opinion, because it's prog man ..!! Keep on Progging.!!

Topographically yours*,

GW - Indonesia

*) I lent this idea from my progmate who is a Yes die hard fan: Suryo.

Reference :

1. Yes Stories - Yes In Their Own Words; by Tim Morse, St. Martin's Press, 1996 .

2. CD Slevee Notes, RHINO re-mastered and expanded edition of "Tales from Topographic Ocean", by Mike Tiano, 2003.

Gatot | 5/5 |


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