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Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans CD (album) cover

TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 2354 ratings

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bfmuller
2 stars On its days, Tales from Topographic Oceans certainly helped to shape the accusations that soon would surface from every corner against prog rock. In that particular case, I guess they were not entirely wrong. I'm not the kind of person that dismisses musicianship and ambition as "self-indulgent" and "pretentious". But as far as Tales is concerned, the Yesmen clearly crossed the line that divide them. There are plenty of intentions, but lack of creativity. What abounds in lenght, it lacks in substance.

The songs are all 20-minute long pieces that feel like an eternity. They lack variations in sound, and the main themes are repeted to the point of exhaustion. What a difference from the richness and originality of Close to the Edge, that never gets boring throughout its 18 minutes - actually, it's so compelling that I feel like pressing "repeat" and listening to it as many times as possible - without ever getting tired.

That is not to say that this album is absolute junk. You can spot good solos and melodies there and then. It has some beauty in it, but only it is ruined by its over-extended lenght. If I had to pick up a song as a highlight, I would go for The Ancient - Giants Under The Sun, instead of the more acclaimed Ritual - Nous Sommes Du Soleil, because The Ancient manages to explore some different sounds, and it has some beautiful acoustic parts and shows - to some extent - the true qualities of Yes. But then, again, the song would benefit from some substantial editing. I always wonder how it would be if this were a single album and the songs limited to half their extention (that is, about 10 minutes). Then it would be an album worthy of Yes - still not a masterpiece, but not such a pale parody of the band's immense talent. But, at that time, the guys wouldn't settle for so little. It seems like they devoted so much to the concept that the beauty of the music was relegated to second place. Now, THAT is pretentious. Either this, or they were just genuinely empty of musical ideas - what would be understandable, after two groundbreaking, instant classics in sequence, in less then a year.

The best measure of the failure of Tales resides in observing its consequences. It's probably no coincidence that Yes fell slightly off the radar after it. They would soon be overshadowed by Genesis and Pink Floyd, who were reaching their peak at precisely the same point. Some say Rick Wakeman left the band on account for the failure of this project. I guess he had a good point. The remaining Yesmen themselves, luckly, fell to their senses and produced more down-to-earth, unpretentious albums (that is, by Yes standards). Relayer and Going for the One were neither double, nor conceptual albums. Yet, they summarize everything that is great about Yes - musicianship with creativity and the search for new sounds - while Tales summarizes everything that prog detractors love to hate about the genre.

I honestly tried to think of this as a "good, but non-essential" album, but it seems to me that only Yes fans will truly appreciate it. Even though Yes fans make for a great number of prog rock fans, the observation wouldn't be less accurate: this is for "collectors/fans only".

bfmuller | 2/5 |

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