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Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 2348 ratings

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3 stars The Yes LP that, more than any others, attracts both ridiculously high praise or equally ridiculous approbium. Yep, you either love it or hate it, and there aren't many who, like me, fall somewhere in between.

After the incredible heights that were reached with Fragile, and especially Close to the Edge, Messrs Anderson & Howe embarked on writing a concept, a very lengthy concept, based upon Autobiography of a Yogi by by Paramahansa Yogananda - it's not exactly easily accessible stuff. Sprawling over four vinyl sides with an equal number of tracks, the album was, either bravely or stupidly (depending upon your viewpoint) premiered live in front of fans and critics in London in 1973 before anyone had even had the chance to listen to it.

The rock critics response was, to put it mildly, not exactly very kind, and many people point to this album as one of the main reasons why punk simply had to happen. Curiously, the quality press in Britain reacted far more kindly, with one actually stating that The Ancient would, in twenty years, come to be regarded as an all time classic of any musical genre. I'm sorry, but it simply is not, and only die hard fans would, I suspect, now make that statement, although I do think that it stands up better in 2009 than it did in 1973.

It is a shame, because there are many good points to the album. I regard sides one (The Revealing Science of God) and four (Ritual) as being amongst the band's finest. Once you get past Anderson wittering incomprehensibly at the start of Revealing..., a rich, complex tapestry of music unfolds. In addition, the opening sequence of Ritual (Nous Sommes Du Soleil) is quite lovely, before giving way to a complex jazzy sequence ending in a very brave and well played percussion solo by Alan White on his debut with the band. All that, though, pales into insignificance when you hear what follows this - quite simply one of the most beautiful, hair raising guitar solos of all time by Steve Howe preluding the end vocal and instrumental sequence.

This, though, summarises the album's problem - it is simply too long. In addition, nobody had a clue what they were on about - I still don't after all these years. The two tracks reviewed above, on their own, would easily attract five stars, of that I have no doubt. I listened to the other two for the first time in some while today, The Remembering & The Ancient, and whilst they have some very pleasant parts, in particular Howe's acoustic guitar on the latter, they are simply too long, overblown, and pretentious to make the entire album as a whole an essential listening experience.

Also, Wakeman is simply dreadful on the entire work. He clearly had no interest in it, ate chicken biriyani on stage during some of it, and even had to endure bathroom tiles in the studio on Anderson's insistence during its making. He left the band, and he still loathes the experience to this day, although I am glad to say that his Ritual performances live were latterly fantastic.

This album is, in my experience and opinion, a flawed masterpiece from a great band. I am awarding it three stars, but I must make the point that it is still an essential purchase to add to any prog collection, if only to understand the history of both the band and the genre. Don't, however, make it your first ever Yes purchase.

lazland | 3/5 |


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