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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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Glimpse
4 stars By far the most ambitious of the albums in Yes's discography is Tales From Topographic Oceans, so it'd be no surprise to many that it's also one of the most controversial albums among Yes fans. After all, TfTO was the the peak of the band's trend that went towards and away from a focus on longer songwriting, and boy were the songs on TfTO long. The album itself harbors four lengthy "songs", (It would be more accurate to refer to them as suites), three of which surpass 20 minutes; a duration rivaled only by "The Gates Of Delirium", off of the 1974 release, "Relayer", and "The Solution", off of the 1997 release, "Open Your Eyes". The length of these tracks alone is intimidating enough to dissuade many a person from giving the album a listen, but for those brave enough to venture into this album you are likely to walk away thinking one of two things: 1) TfTO was a spectacular journey through the world that is the music of yes, or 2) TfTO was a load of bullcrap, why did I waste my time listening to an hour and 20 minutes of filler? Personally, I believe both to have valid points on the album, yet neither do justice when describing the album as a whole. So, in order to fully illustrate my point of view we must take a look at each individual track.

The Revealing Science of God / Dance of the Dawn is one of the three 20 minute tracks I mentioned earlier, clocking in at 22 minutes and 23 seconds. However, on most releases the track is only 20 minutes and 25 seconds long, as the version I own restores the original opening for the track. The "restored" opening is nothing spectacular, it consists simply of soft keyboard part providing a mystical feel to the beginning of the track. Now we get to the part where things get interesting. After the two minute "restored intro", we get to the original intro which features an interesting vocal arrangement by Anderson accompanied by Howe and Squire. Without a doubt, this is my favorite part of the track. Once we've passed by the intro we enter into the body of the song, which isn't terribly interesting instrumentally early on. It is, however, a very pretty sounding track which for me makes up for some of the duller moments, but not enough to increase my over-all favor of this track. Which is rather odd, considering that I normally have high favor for pretty, melodic tracks but when the same melodic idea is essentially being repeated with the occasional minor variant from the four minute mark to the 12 minute mark, it begins to feel very tired. Which is a shame really, the early melody is rather beautiful, but because of the sheer length I usually just end up skipping over the majority of it. Luckily around the 13 minute mark we actually move on to something new. In contrast to the softer, more melodic section discussed earlier, this section features a more intricate instrumental section that really feel more like a series of solos split by another soft vocal oriented section. This is followed by yet another softer vocal section with a clear focus on the vocals, though this section quickly turns more interesting as it is the finale of the track. For the most part the finale is more akin to the vocal intro, as it features Anderson alone at the start of the end and progressively increacing focus on more of a vocal ensemble by bringing Howe and Squire's vocals into the foreground along with Anderson's, over-all making for a pretty satisfying finale.

When I complained about the repetition in "The Revealing Science of God", it's nothing compared to the repetition in The Remembering / High the Memory. Which, Clocking in at 20 minutes and 39 seconds, is the 3rd longest track on the album, (2nd longest on the original version of the release). The track starts simple enough, with a happy sounding keyboard part introducing to into "The Remembering". Sadly, the keyboard is short lived, as the track soon goes back to the putting the vocals in the foreground and forcing the instruments to play second fiddle to the vocals. Don't get me wrong, the vocal part is very pretty, (however, not as pretty as those featured in "The Revealing Science of God"), but personally I'd like it if they actually did something a bit different, something that doesn't make it sound like it's attempting to copy the same formula as the track before it. Thankfully, you don't have to wait to long for that, because at about six minutes in we finally reach some variation. The next part is a beautiful little section that does an excellent job of balancing vocals and instruments with neither really overpowering the other, and instead working together to create a beautiful tune. It always reminds me of the fun children have when they're running around playing without a single care in their minds. The section is rather short, (thank god, It would be awful if I would come to hate that section), and quickly moves on to a quiet keyboard feature. Then before you know it we're back to vocals, similar to before, yet different. This time the melody is still rather up-beat, however this time the tempo has been upped and features a guitar instead of keyboards. Once again, this section is rather short lived and we're back to another keyboard solo, and as you may have noticed, this will become a thing for the rest of the track. While I prefer the repeating the same basic melody in different ways over the repetition I talked about in the last track, it does get tiring to have to keyboards being featured all the time, at least in the last track they gave the guitars some moments to shine, but throughout this track they mostly just provide support for the vocals and keyboards as opposed to bringing in musical ideas of their own, and while that is not always a bad thing, when you're writing a song as long as the ones featured in this album that sort of songwriting just leaves so much to be desired. But enough of my whining, and back to the track. Upon reaching the 15 minute mark, we're pretty much back to what it sounded like back when we were six minutes into the song. And then after being "treated" to yet another keyboard solo after that, we get another vocal part. Though this time you're in for a surprise, because the vocal part from the start of the track has come back to pay us a visit, and this time with passion! After that we get to the outro, a keyboard part similar to the one around four to five minutes into the track. Which really didn't strike me as an ending, as I said, It was pretty much an exact copy of the keyboard part from earlier in the track, which just made me think that we were going to start back up from the 6 minute mark.

Finally, we get to the 2nd half of the album, we've endured 2 repetitive, overly saturated tracks and now we're here, The Ancient / Giants Under the Sun. Now, the end half of the album has always been the most enjoyable on my part, as it seemed clear to me that they saved the best for last. Clocking in at 18 minutes and 36 seconds, The Ancient is the shortest track found on the TfTO album, and as you might expect, more to the point than any of the others. This track is also the most mystical sounding of all the tracks, especially with Alan White leading the way into the track. To me that percussion intro really puts the ancient into "The Ancient". But the percussion doesn't stop there, Mr. White is predominantly featured throughout the track, possibly making "The Ancient" one of the most percussion heavy tracks in Yes's repertoire. In fact the track is a very instrumental oriented one, featuring minimal vocals throughout the first half. Also featured alongside the percussion is are dominant guitar parts throughout, and Mellotron, an instrument rarely found in any Yes albums, But nowhere would it be more fitting than this track, as it only helps to further build up the mystic sound of this song. When I first went into this song, I had been expecting more filler, but this track was a welcome surprise. The instrumental work featured throughout the track is seldom repetitive and instead makes for quite an interesting listen. The percussion has a very primitive or tribal feel to it, and the guitars are wild and free, never repeating the same ideas more than once. Then once we're done with our tribal fantasies, we move on to something completely different 12 minutes in. While it may seem odd at first, the transition from the eccentric instrumentation of the past 12 minutes to a calm acoustic guitar feature actually feels rather natural. Once we get comfortable with the acoustic arrangement, Anderson decides to join in with some deep, philosophical thoughts. With the entry of the vocals a contrast between the primal first 12 minutes and the calm and intellectual final six minutes is clearly established. "The Ancient" made for a refreshing listen after drying up in the desert of the first half, and just in time for our last track too.

As we near the end of our journey through TfTO, we reach Ritual / Nous Sommes Du Soleil, a track that blends many of the ideas featured in the first three tracks into one final musical effort. Clocking in at 21 minutes and 33 seconds, it is the longest track on the original release, (the second longest on the version I own). As for a finale to our long journey, Ritual rises up to the challenge and excels past expectations. If you do not know why out of all the songs from TfTO that were to be a part of Yes's live repertoire, they'd pick Ritual, it becomes clear when you listen to the album. We start things off with an intro reminiscent to that of the beginning of "Roundabout" except with accompaniment from Howe. The following instrumental section is a stunning blend of guitar and keyboards mixing together to create true beauty in the form of sound. Unlike earlier tracks, Ritual wastes no time lingering on the same melody for minutes on end, and before you know it you're onto Anderson's traditional practice of doing a more choral style vocal technique, (as far as performing a vocal part without saying any actual words), to create an upbeat instrumental-ish section. Then before you know it, we're into the vocals, the emotion in the vocals is evident and rivals the emotion felt in the guitar solo at the start of the track. The vocals do a great job of blending in with the instrumentals, neither overpowering the other but rather providing a nice compliment to each-other. Another positive I have about this section is how varying the vocal performance is in this section, never stretching out a particular idea to long, and instead Anderson, Howe and Squire's vocals blending together, shifting around to several different ideas each being more emotional and of greater magnitude than the last is what makes the vocal performance a step above the other tracks. Then as the Vocals reach their peak, it all gets quiet, as if to let something through, and come through it will. Soon after the vocals cease the second instrumental section begins, and it comes in hard with White, Howe and Squire playing with such great power, yet still managing to create a sense of beauty in the music, making it, In my opinion, one of the greatest Yes solos throughout any of their albums. Then as Howe's guitar reaches it's wild conclusion, White takes charge. Moving into a percussion solo akin to his performance in "The Ancient", and before long Wakeman joins in as well, backing up White with his Minimoog and Mellotron to further the similarities to the previous track. Then as the chaos subsides, the emotional "Nous Sommes Du Soleil" emerges. This section, consists of soft and emotional vocals by Anderson, as well as beautifu guitar and piano accompaniment, (with some subtle use of acoustic guitar). You couldn't ask for a much better conclusion to an emotional of a song as Ritual, the elegance of the music and the soothing qualities fill me with a sensation of love. Though after that section ends there is still another minute of instrumental work, (mostly featuring guitar), to close out the track which I felt to be rather unnecessary, as "Nous Sommes Du Soleil" would make a satisfying enough ending, but hey, it's fine like that I guess...

While Tales From Topographic Oceans has it's ups and downs, over-all it is definitely worth checking out for any Yes fan. Though, due to all the issues that I had with the first two tracks you might think that I would have rated it lower than four stars. Well, normally you'd be correct, but while there is a lot of filler there are still many excellent melodic concepts worth checking out on the first two tracks that honestly makes them that makes the whole album worth rating at least four stars. However, The first three tracks personally would have worked much better shortened and/or chopped up into shorter tracks, but that idea is nothing new really. But don't just take the word of a biased fanboy like me, all I can do is give suggestions. Your opinion could be completely different from mine, but if I influenced you to give it a listen, then I know my review was a success.

Glimpse | 4/5 |

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