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Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 2348 ratings

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The T
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Not pretentious. Just plain boring.

"Tales From Topographic Oceans" is widely heralded as the album that started the downfall of progressive-rock's popularity in the 70's. All the excesses of bands like ELP were surpassed by an album with just 4 songs, each about 20 minutes long. What followed was a negative reaction of many critics and fans who thought that YES just had gone "over the edge" of pretentiousness and pomposity. Many of them actually turned into the much less demanding, musically-poor arenas of punk rock, in evident contrast to the symphonic exaggerations of prog-rock. For a lot of people, this album is not as great as other YES' albums just because of that.

It's my opinion, though, that the album is inferior to earlier (and later) albums because it's actually a bad album. It doesn't matter that we just have 4 songs. After all, "Close to The Edge" only had three, and while two of them were "only" 10 minutes-long, that's much longer than the average song length. The problem really is that these 4 gigantic tracks in this album are lacking excitement, entertainment value, and if they try to aim for higher artistic status, they fail miserably.

The first track, which may be the least horrible of the four, never quite makes up its mind about what it truly is. It's never a full-blown symphonic effort as "Close to The Edge", nor is it a long song made of several parts. Themes lack character and the song itself is an exercise in boredom, even though it towers over its awful companions. The second track, "The Remembering", features some incredibly obnoxious vocals (as is the rule in this album, where Andersons seems to have decided to annoy us for annoyance's sake) and it's quite irrelevant. But the disaster really takes place in the third track, "The Ancient Giants Under the Sun", which is the longest boring-track ever recorded. Some bands record boring songs that last 5, 8, even 14 minutes, but YES had to overdo it and record an 18 minute song with absolutely zero coherence, no themes or tunes, and some useless percussion effects and rhythms disguised as "experimental". The album closes with a fourth number that it's actually better than the preceding two but, then again, any song from "The Yes Album" (which I think it's just an OK record) would have done better.

We shouldn't say anything about the musicians as they all had proven their capabilities before. But all that was done for a reason in previous albums seems to be devoid of one here. It's like the musicians play all kinds of solos here just because, well, they could, not because it served the songs better. Wakeman is all but forgotten in this record (he shows he was not really pleased with YES' direction), Squire doesn't amaze us with great bass lines, White is OK but the percussion-oriented third track is atrocious, and Howe usually the most reliable of the lot, only manages to shine with his textures and his acoustic-guitar solo which, by the way, is the only exciting moment in the record as it would seem that "Roundabout" was going to start any second now. Obviously, that doesn't happen, but it's very telling that a look to the past is the only passage when this album emerges from utter mediocrity.

Unlike an album like "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" by GENESIS which would have benefited from a trimming job, as it was a flawed masterpiece, no amount of editing or no miraculous scissors would have ever saved "Tales From Topographic Oceans", as it lacks the ultimate essence of any good album: good music.

2 stars, just because there are moments when the art these 5 people were capable of manages to somewhat shine through. But the real rating would be 1.5.

The T | 2/5 |


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