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Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 2347 ratings

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Symphonic Team
4 stars The only way is down when Yes reached the summit.

I have been putting off reviewing this controversial and yet indispensable much mailigned anti-masterpiece album for years, but the time has come. It will not be a lengthy review as I think 690 ratings, 230 reviews, tells the story, the album divides loyalties among critics right down the middle, love it or loathe it. Suffice it to state that the album is not designed to appeal to everybody and raised the hackles of the music industry due to it's over indulgence in prog excess. Perhaps it is the peak of over progging an album. The thing has 4 monsters that devour entire sides of vinyl, and music companies were less than impressed. But Yes soldiered on relentlessly and proudly with their behemoth, performing it in its entirety on the stage to baffled audiences, and effectively transformed the way people perceived music. Does it have to be 3 minute pieces for the radio? Obviously not. Can we have 2 albums with only 4 songs? Obviously yes. Someone had to do it and Jethro Tull enjoyed parodying it on his opus Thick as a Brick. When is too much of something simply too much? Yes created the concept of the 'Topographic' category of albums.

The album has taken on a life of it's own creating it's own folklore, the term used by music artists is to create their own 'Topographic' album. What are they talking about? The peak of success, the album that all others are measured against. A work of art that becomes the pinnacle of success, yet it is widely hated. Yes were taking huge chances with the album content, would people want an album of 4 massive epics? Furthermore, nobody understood the lyrics, though you will hear critics rattle on about some ancient religious new age Shastric Scriptures mumbo jumbo that Anderson seemed to be obsessed with, reading the "Autobiography of a Yogi" as a launching pad for the themes. The lyrics effectively become as surreal as the music, as inseperable as Howe's guitars and Squire's bass, and there are some wonderful lyrical moments with mantras, chants and estranged singing, "Nous Sommes Du Soleil", Anderson creating his own mythology, here at his bombastic best, translating it as, "We love when we play."

The music is essential in every sense of the word, it even divided the band itself, Wakeman took off on extended leave such was his angst over the musical direction. And it signified the end of a Yes era with Wakeman out of the picture. The caped wonder actually was so bored during one concert performance that he had his roadie order a chicken curry vindaloo and devoured it, much to the astonishment of Anderson, "I don't believe it, he's eating a curry!" Wakeman scarpered for greener pastures and eventually discovered it was found in The Centre of the Earth. Much to the chagrin of Yes members, Wakeman loves to trash the album and for good reason as he is virtually invisible musically.

The songs on TFTO range from brilliant, the opening and closing track, to mediocre, the middle section. I have heard the middle section only a few times as it is rather dull to be honest. But this is how the album plays out like a 4 act play, the stunning intro that hooks in the listener, followed by a lull in the action, a calm before the storm, almost a dreamy sleepy section, and then finally culminating in a majestic stirring epic finale. I rediscovered Ritual on the Tsongas DVD and what a version it is! The middle is sandwiched between inspired musical genius, and therein lies the problem. Were yes being too clever for their own good? The album is a testament of overdoing everything to the point of parody. Indeed, Spinal Tap parodied the lavish sets on their film. Dean's artwork was translated to the stage and practically dwarfed the band members who were lost in their own fantasised 'Stonehenge' creation.

Everything on the album is upsized and overblown, even the infamous cover artwork is the best of Dean with fish swimming in dreamscape oceans, captured in enigmatic glorious vinyl gatefold. 'Relayer' brought the band back down to earth in some ways but 'TFTO' will always remain a symbol of prog excess, and it is just about the most discussed album in history. I award it 4 stars for it's sheer status in music history and for the amazing musicianship.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |


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