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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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Prog Sothoth
4 stars I was a Yes fan at an early age, cherishing my Fragile, The Yes Album and Close to the Edge LPs. I was even down with 90215. It was time to add Tales from Topographic Oceans to my collection, but as it turned out, it was a tougher nut to crack concerning my youthful self. In fact, the only reason I'm writing this review is because now that I'm much older, I'm getting it. I'm busting that nut.

I had little trouble getting into the first epic. "The Revealing Science of God" had a cool atmospheric opening, adding layers of tension, and it wasn't long until Jon started dropping that prose. Hell, it inspired my 13-year-old self to emulate his style.

"Dawn of the propane buttercup rising from the sea on the wings of the truth; it contorts with PERSISTEEENCE!"

Granted, I was no Jon Anderson, and I never will be, but I tried man. I even showed friends the garbage I wrote, and they would look at me like I had seven heads. I was trying to be deep and mysterious without really saying squat about anything. But Jon cared about the message. On paper it could look like a whole lot of wishy-washy bunk, but the words themselves, the flow, and the music, as a whole package, removed my clothes and sent me frolicking naked through sun-showers by the river. These weren't just songs, but sonic journeys!

This was a bit of a different journey than "Close to the Edge", in which I was roaming around the inner gatefold sleeve for the most part. The pace is fairly languid for a fair spell, but it does get funky and spices up the tempo at times. The vocal melodies are rich, and of course, the instrumentation is no joke. Yeah, there's a few spots, heavy on the mellotron, that felt like slow-going (I was able to find my pants by then), but in the end, that just made that crazed synth solo over that fast groovin' tempo all that more of a major rush. I was discovering "freedom" and "reasons" and stuff while gettin' down to that madness.

"The Remembering" followed, initiating with a gorgeous, relaxed psychedelic guitar melody. This was quaint jive, and I was peacefully walking through the pasture, my hands brushing against the 'flowers of hope' and the 'tall grass of understanding'. Thing is, it turned out there's a lot of walking before things start really moving. There are some clunky sections too, particularly when the band is "walking around the story". It's a silly lilt of a melody about being in the city and whatever, and by then I wanted this whole languid trip to shift badly. The jauntier, folksy second half that segues into an actual rock riff saves the day, but it took some listens before I realized that, especially since the first half used to put me to sleep. And that's how I became such a fan of this song back in my youth; I loved dozing off to this epic. Eventually, I found myself staying awake for longer periods each night I played this thing with the lights out, getting quite familiar with the early parts of the piece in the process. Before I knew it, I was enjoying the entire song, even the clunky bits, to the last fade.

Once mastering "The Remembering", I really just wanted to sit on my bed with the lyrics, featuring those cool little pictures in the inner gatefold, and play the whole shebang. But my youthful self was just not ready for "The Awakening". I tried so hard to get into it, to let it carry me away to ancient civilizations where Egyptians built Mayan pyramid temples to Goddess Athena, but it wasn't working. The first two-thirds of that song sounded like a bunch of noxious slag at the time, too much jazzy fusion. It didn't help that Steve Howe's guitar tone sounded like a perpetually meowing cat, complemented by Chris Squire's bass in which effects rendered it somewhere between a bullfrog and a duck quacking in slow motion. Jon wasn't around much to bring on the consonance, so my young melody-loving tendencies would shut me down and I'd give up before the beautiful folk music swirled in. It was months until I realized that the song did eventually get all sweet and filled with the hearts of the truth of love and guidance through seasons of wonder. I barely even played "The Ritual" back then since I really wanted to focus on the album as one whole experience, and couldn't pull it off. When I did skip to that final beast on rare occasions, again I was treated with stretches of leisurely pacing after a pretty cool but long intro, with Jon's repetition of "nous sommes du soufflé" echoing in my head.

But now I've changed. Years of listening experience, delving into stuff ranging from The Soft Machine's Third to some of the most abrasive tech-death insanity out there, I decided to give this album, and particularly "The Ancient", another go-round, and it clicked instantly. That barrage of cat meows and stoned quacks aren't all that pretty, but there's plenty of melodies there, and it's not too complex. There's an adventure buried in that song that just needs a little extra archeological digging to uncover. And I can dig it, ya dig?

"The Ritual". How could I not have remembered much of this? Playing this album for the first time in decades, this was the one that sounded like I was hearing it for the first time. I'm not even sure I made it to that first climactic moment halfway through this 'movement' back in the day. I'm talking about the repetition of "That's all!" Utterly glorious, majestic, and carrying me beyond the barricades of deception and across the spiral pancake to the mystical Shrine of Eternal Contemplation. The instrumental workout that follows is such a gas, and drummer Alan White really puts on a showcase. Then it gets all mellow yet again, but with a slow- build tenseness creeping up to the final release. The denouement fades off in such a way that actually works as a forbearer to "The Revealing Science of God". It's like the circle of life (and love, hope and understanding). It's kind of an epiphany; I'm a fan of all four songs now! Granted, there are still some moments that could've used shaving, and as a whole, it lacks some of that total rock attitude gracing their prior three albums, especially concerning opening tracks. I can appreciate what the intentions were for this album, but some throat-grabbing from the get-go would've made this more inviting. I suppose getting cannon-balled head-first into the "pastures of wonder" doesn't bring about the desired message like a slowly opening golden gate would, but that's just how I roll.

This is good stuff, potentially silly, but I don't want to hear any of these critics vomiting forth the same tired rants about soulless proficiency and whatever. Jon certainly sounds like he means every word he says; I can feel the pure conviction. Whether his range can go toe-to-toe with a seagull doesn't matter. He sees the love in the hearts of the people in the city by the river even now; his lyrics for that Roine Stolt collaboration prove he's not done searching for the Truth. So is all of this just the philosophical ramblings of Yogi Bear, ancient bards and spiritual advisers put to prog rock excess? Maybe, but I can enjoy the full ride now, so call me "enlightened".

Prog Sothoth | 4/5 |

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