on 19 May 2004
I had read so many negative reviews of this album on the 'net and elsewhere, that as a result, the forbidding reputation of this album compelled me to buy it. And I really don't understand the objections - particularly from some Yes fans. It bears all the hallmarks of classic Yes - indeed, it appears to me to be the summit of their achievements so far. Perhaps in its day, it was one 'prog rock' opus too many: now however, we appear to live in an age where things can be appreciated for themselves, without being compared and contrasted with opposing trends.
There is much that is symphonic about this work - and if you have some appreciation of classical music and can happily endure the sublime enormity of the symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler, then 'Tales'will be an effortless joy. There is so much strong music here - both melodically, and in terms of the sometimes astonishingly original and vigorous 'orchestration'. Contrary to some opinions, 'Tales' is never boring - the material shifts and moves quickly and dramatically within each movement or 'song', that one often feels each section to be over far too soon. There are so many ideas here, realised with creative surety and strength. 'The Remembering' in particular, with its ethereal evocation of the tides of the cosmic ocean, has to be the most ambitious and magical of all of Yes' compositions so far. 'Ritual' of course is an absolute classic, which many fans will know well - particularly because of the (it has to be said, superior) version on 'Yesshows'. The same label of 'classic' can also be applied to 'The Revealing ...' Even the much reviled 'The Ancient' is really good - although it does perhaps provide the one moment (and it is only a moment) of weakness, during the percussive section when their focus is lost a little. But the piece soon rights itself, showcasing some glorious classical guitar by Howe in its second half.
'Tales' does not represent any shocking departure from anything the band had done before, and seamlessly flows into 'Relayer' - in fact, several themes on 'Tales' pre-echo that subsequent album.
'Tales' represents great artistic courage and ambition: it is an uncompromising and magical work, a work that all who care for music as more than just entertainment should own.
This has always been the most controversial album by Yes, both amongst fans and critics of progressive rock who use it as an example of why prog rock is not a good thing. But within the ranks of their catalogue it stands as being their most ambitious album. In context, the album is a huge achievement. Yes were after “Close to the Edge” at a critical and commercial high point. It would have been so easy to repeat that formula to maintain that position. Instead the band decided to push the envelope further and see how far they could reach. They took the bold decision to experiment with what could be achieved with long form compositions. The results are this album, four tracks all around the 20 minute mark. The first piece, “The Revealing Science of God” now has an added intro which sets the scene for Jon Anderson’s “Dawn of life” intro. “Ritual” is all tribal with a beautiful song in “Nous Somme Du Soleil”, but there is so much to enjoy here. The most audacious piece, “The Ancient” is bold in it’s execution. Steve Howe’s guitar shines all over a mainly instrumental track. The band are almost as frenetic here as they would be on the following “Relayer”, with layers of percussion, synths and guitars all fighting for attention.
Critics have called this album difficult and stated that there was an overstretching of musical ideas. This is not the case. I think the album evolves naturally over each of it’s tracks. It is complex, thematically and musically, but I think the whole thing holds together very well. It has stood the test of time very well. It is the album by them that I re-visit the most, finding new nuances from each listen.
This remaster has done the album the justice it deserves. The sound is full and clear, with all the detail finally brought out of the mix. The studio run-throughs are interesting takes on how the pieces have evolved. The digipak packaging is sumptuous. Rhino has done a remarkable job with this and the other releases in the Yes re-issue program.
Take the opportunity and listen to this bold album from Yes’s classic period. It really deserves to be re-evaluated and given the recognition it so widely deserves.
on 21 July 2003
Achieving great success with their acclaimed masterpiece and previous album "Close to the edge" in 1972 Yes made themselves a big task in fulfilling the expectations on the coming studio album. The band could have made it easier for each member of the band by doing another single album but of course as the band tended to make music in larger and larger formats they now wanted to wide their spaces on record as well. The result therefore became this ambitious double-album released in 1973, unmercifully plucked by the critics but concidered a very strong album by the fans (it did sell very good despite of the bad critics) and as i definitely stand by the dedicated Yes-fans i love this album. It had a remarkable inpact on me while i was digging into all the Yes-records during my early youth. I remember myself listening through "The revealing science of god" in the late evenings just floathing away into the airy movements of that 20-minute piece (there are four individual pieces of music on the album, each one clocks approximately at twenty minutes). It's the best track on the album for me and has captured some of the most enduring melodies in my mind to this day (Getting over overhanging trees etc.). The themes of the songs are inspired by eastern philosohy, a string of ideas that was generated by vocalist Jon Anderson during their 1973 tour supporting "Close to the edge" (a lot of the basic musical fragments to the pieces was also constructed by Jon Anderson and Lead Guitarist Steve Howe during the period of that tour). Second track on the album "The remembering" is also a favourite as it reminds a lot of previous track "The revealing..". It has the same mellow and ethereal feel in most of the song where good melodic passages and Rick Wakeman's flavish keyboard playing are highlights. The second and the third track is much more experimental. "The acient" goes more in the key of improvisation and avantgarde with less vocals. It's a very energetic and mystical piece of music. I think that the experimental side has always been a very interesting side of Yes. That side carries on through the last track "Ritual" a classic live track by the way. Especially when Jon sings the beautiful lyrics "Nous somme du soleil...We love when we play". So 'Topographic oceans' is a Yes album to explore for long happy days. It has so much to give in terms of moods and changes. It has a life of itself in the world of YES.
on 16 October 2012
Although I am a yesfan of some 40 years, I have three wonderful children, a gorgeous wife and loving family, listening to Tales is still the ultimate pleasure for me even after all these years. Of course most of the stuff the band did in the 'main sequence' period is music no other band has or ever will again, but Tales for me remains 'out there'; something magical and beyond anything mere words can really describe. I got into punk big time in 77 and my punk collection nestled quite happily against the Yes albums at the time. I have never accepted (and still don't) the 'difference'. It's all about the muisic. Great punk was GREAT. Neil Young is GREAT. But Yes were the GREATEST and Tales was for me the best. In a way the band were fairly angry young men at the time (certainly they were still quite young) but this 'anger' or perhaps 'intensity' is a better word, was focussed into something very considered, rather than a three minute scream of angst.
You can only really compare this album with classical music. It is Yes' classical album. Truly symphonic, full of deep meaning, high-minded poetry, wonderfully produced and brilliantly executed by all the players. Give it five listens and then decide....
on 1 July 2010
When I'd first acquired this album,back in the 80's, after I'd been turned on to Yes with the commercial 90125,and then having explored my parents 70's Yes collection and fallen in love with "Close to the edge",and "Relayer" and "Going for the One",I finally got around to buying this in the beautiful gatefold vinyl it was meant to be presented in.
"Close to the edge" had the jazz fusion into Baroque church organs,the folky ballad whimsy of "And you and I",and the crazy hoedown of Siberian Khatru with it's cyclical loop riff.Relayer had the Jazz/rock mania of the "Gates of delirium" and "Sound chaser" with the beautiful and a bit manic "To be over",and Going for the One had three quarters more commercial,but still with soaring guitar,fat bass riffs,church organs,and madrigalesque guitar topped off with the incomparable eastern delight of "Awaken".So what would I make of the album that had sent Rick Wakeman running a mile,but not before he'd ordered a curry in the middle of one live rendition of a track from topographic because he didn't have much to play on it.
Well,ironically,I think there's actually rather alot of great keyboard and synth playing on this album,which I get the feeling he rather felt was just a wash- blagging it out between ideas,and felt he was not really mad about it.But if you listen to Close to the edge,apart from the big organ solo's some of the accompanying keyboard is not that symphonic a palette wheras I think here the keyboards take a bigger role than piano or cathedral organ.Much nicer sounds than he's used since anyway. My first impressions were:
The revealing science of God mesmerised me with it's fantastic production,multi harmony vocals, eastern tinged guitar,epic sweep and exciting drumming. However,I did find that for all this,the track,compositionally challanged you,because just as the energy levels built up and took you to perhaps an interesting 1 minute keyboard/Guitar solo it would subside and resume the original tune.Wheras,perhaps you felt like it was time to go somewhere else altogether!! "High the memory" feels like that for the first 7 minutes or so,and to this day,it's marred for me by the fact that I just don't like the tune,and they keep returning to it!! So at a young age I could appreciate some peoples criticisms (including Chris Squire's and Rick Wakeman's!!) that it was a little bit padded out,and after having teased you,it would then you return you to an old melody. Having said that,years ago I basically Loved "Revealing" adored the second half of "High the moemory" so much energy and such a great guitar solo ending. I was mesmerised by the eastern feel of the "Ancient" with it's crazy out of tune style,which I love,and then still going into perfectly in tune sections..... which then segued into the Baroque english acoustic guitar coda. And then the last track "Ritual". I thought the chanting first section of "Nous sommes du soleil" went on a bit,and at the time wasn't exactly in love with the noisy percussive section.....despite it resolving in the quite beautiful last section. I would be a bit bemused that yes fans could say that it was their finest hour,but now,I'm beginning to feel that it very nearly is.Despite returning to certain melodies,you accept that that is the nature of what this album does,but there is SO MUCH music here!!!!!! So much fanatstic guitar. Apart from the beginning hysteria of Close to the edge, and the Siberian Khatru riff it is not necessarily full of solo orientated guitar.(And you and I is a 3 chord folk song let's face it,and I always preferred Steve Howe's live slide solo to the one on record) Relayer and Going for the One are riddled with guitar,but then you realise that so is Tales from topographic oceans but it also showcases so many more styles. The Close to the edge main tune and Siberian Khatru's loop tune are actually simple,short phrases but in Topographic the phrases become longer,more melodic,more complex and less tendancy to go into a loop.It's got all the riffs,the rock,the acoustic guitar,the slide..... plus,... the crazy eastern stuff! Some sections literally fly and really do break down the barriers of how different genre's of music can be intertwined. 3 of the four tracks have soaring endings with great guitar solo's,and though track 3 ends in a madrigalesque though dark,lullaby it finishes with a punch!
Over the years as I've watched people defending the quite atrocious and sickening mutation of Yes into a shameless AOR beast with awful quasi-new age lyrics,I had no sympathy for those who could not see the distinction between the virtuosic beauty, turbulence and integrity of the seventies with the bland puke-making middle of the road drivel that they've produced since.
In the seventies,the group said that they were left alone to get on and do what they wanted. In this age,where ethnic music, d'n'b Jazz rock trance eastern and symphonic are all mixed together, Yes could have been doing just that,instead they chose to only succeed at making bad 80's AOR for the next 30 years.
This album,despite it's faults,given time,has for me,matured from an album which I enjoyed some bits more than others, into an album which I thoroughly enjoy from beginning to end,and,showcases Steve Howe's prodigous gifts to a sublime degree.
It's stands right up there with CTTE,Relayer,and Going for the one.
on 18 January 2005
I give this album 10 star's if I could. It took me about 4 times to really understand this album and fully appreciate it musically. It's a journey that you have to go along with and listen to it all the way through, with peace and quite and no interruption. This was slatted at the time a little as people felt it was over the top, but given the test of time it has ripened with age and now people can understand what the band were trying to do.I really do prefer this more musically than Pink Floyd Dark side of the moon. This album has much more complex musical peaces and really draws the listener in. Rick Wakemans keyboard playing is out of this world he is really ahead of his time. You will here the melletron as you never herd it before well only King crimson that is.....
At times it will bring you to tears some of the peaces are quite moving.
I think Pink Floyd Dark side of the Moon is great and a testament to time but well over rated!!! .......this is a must listen as well as there next Album Reallayer 1974 it all nicely comes together this is there finest effort .
Buy it buy it Buy it........
on 20 February 2000
Yes had previously released Close to the Edge which had taken them further towards Jon Anderson's dream of combining rock with classical themes and structures, but the critical tide was starting to turn against such so-called pretentious ambitions when Tales was released. Don't believe what you have read about this album, however, as it is abundantly rich in melody, intricate harmony, atmosphere, changes in mood and sheer excitement. You have to listen carefully, and repeatedly, to appreciate this composition. If you do you will gain far greater pleasure than from more superficial rock forms. Sides 1 and 4 are the highlights, whilst Side 3 "The Ancient" features some of Yes's most daring music, at times more alienating and less lyrical than usual. Yes's recently acquired drummer Alan White brings more agression and less jazz to the music than previously. It is a pity that the production, even in remastered form, is less clean that what we are now used to these days, but this stands as the definitive progressive rock album of the seventies.
on 7 December 2014
Tales from Topographic Oceans was released on December 14th 1973 and my brother Tony bought a copy the next day. Tales would divide opinion amongst fans and critics alike: overblown and pretentious or symphonic prog masterpiece.
The presentation of the album was quite special. It was less ostentatious than the preceding Yes offering, the triple live set Yessongs in a triple gatefold and it was more elaborate than Close to the Edge which, perhaps more than any other album, was responsible for creating a link between the sonic vision of a band and a visual representation of the music. The imagery used on Tales took in some obscure iconography and utilised ideas put forward by the band themselves, such that it could have been a bit of a dog’s breakfast. But somehow, it all hangs together. I was more worried that the four words of the album title featured three basic colours. Both the front cover and the open gatefold work as complete images, as the eye finds different focal points for the two potential presentations: the Mayan temple on the front cover; the waterfall for the open gatefold. I used to try to ascribe meaning to the position of the photographs within the song words but I no longer believe there is any association other than they are literal illustrations of Anderson and Howe's use of 'green language' in their lyrics.
This cover is wrapped around roughly 80 minutes of music which, though it can be plotted on a line of general progression between Close to the Edge and Relayer, there has been nothing like it in terms of ambition and scope either before or since. The original release was of course on four sides of vinyl and though I own a remastered and expanded edition on CD, I still have a vinyl copy and that’s how I prefer to refer to the album.
80 minutes of complex and challenging music makes Tales a fairly difficult listen. With each side acting as a suite in its own right it's quite easy to see why the casual listener might have difficulty understanding why Yes should record such an album. There are a bare minimum of passages where there is a straightforward rhythm defined by bass drum and snare and, with its lofty, philosophical concept, this could be the reason why most critics were so averse to the album as it moved ever further from the narrow confines of rock ‘n’ roll.
I personally love the album though I believe side 2 (The Remembering/High the Memory) is comparatively weak. Side 1 (The Revealing Science of God/Dance of the Dawn) is relatively accessible because it does seem a natural progression from Close to the Edge but that’s not the reason it’s my favourite track. There's a good deal of sonic variety and what comes across as shared input. I particularly like that around the same point on Close to the Edge where there's a Wakeman organ solo, there's a synthesizer solo on side 1 of Tales, and I love the sound of the moog. As an atheist, the title of the track did use to cause me some concern with its reference to ‘God’ and there’s also the line ‘Young Christians see it from the beginning’ but my apprehension was reconciled when I placed the album in the context of a quest for enlightenment that doesn’t necessarily require a specific deity.
Side 2 comes across as having most of what Wakeman has described as padding. Though it’s necessary to regard this movement as part of the whole, I still find that the relatively slow pace of the piece tends to drag and, whereas Close to the Edge and to a lesser extent The Revealing Science of God are densely packed with sound, The Remembering (forgive the allusion) has space between the notes. What’s more, this side contains music with the least contrast.
Side 3 (The Ancients/Giants under the Sun) comes across as almost pagan. From the different languages used to name the Sun to the percussive sections and then the end ‘leaves of green’ section which, though by no means folk music, does call to mind a plainer, less advanced or mechanised way of life. It’s no surprise that the band should use The Firebird Suite as opening music for their live shows. I think that stretching the possibilities of rock music by incorporating some of the ideas of Stravinsky was brave but also something that perhaps only Yes could have done and, if you’ll let me draw another parallel, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring not also caused something of a stir when it was first performed in Paris in May 1913, dividing critics and the ballet audience with its deviation from the accepted form. I think that The Ancients and Ritual are the best illustrations of the influence of Stravinsky on Yes music.
Side 4 (Ritual/Nous Sommes du Soleil) is something of a cross between the more straightforward prog of The Revealing Science of God and the percussion movement on The Ancients. It may be that Wakeman also thought that this was an unnecessary inclusion but again, in the context of what Anderson and Howe had envisaged, it’s actually stunningly dynamic, especially (so I am told) when performed live. The resolution of the track into the Nous Sommes du Soleil is a powerful piece of musical drama, drawing threads from the other three sides together into what always feels to me like a very satisfactory conclusion; you have to have listened to the other three sides before this to get it to work. It’s uplifting and very positive and ultimately very satisfying.
When I first used to listen to the album I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more overt keyboard work but I’ve since realised that the subtle mellotron that pervades the entire album is a vital part of the overall orchestration. I believe it’s important to see the work as ‘orchestrated’ because of what Anderson and Howe had originally conceived. Equally, the percussion (and Alan White was something of an unknown to me) should not be regarded as rock drumming because it’s often used as musical colour around guitar lines, rather than the other way round.
As a fourteen year old, listening to the album and poring over the lyrics (and I used to be able to recite all of them) this was a natural successor to Close to the Edge. It’s only since then that I’ve read how it divided fans in a manner similar to the schism caused by the release of 90125, but I do understand why. I accepted Tales because I believed that Yes music had the power to transform; the music and the concept of Tales may be challenging but they are ultimately rewarding but it’s not surprising that the further they deviated from the idea that rock ‘n’ roll is an expression of simple rebellion, the more chance there was of losing fans.
on 29 January 2014
I bought "TFTO" on the first day of its release, wrapped it immediately in a gatefold plastic sleeve and smuggled it into my school assembly hall, where I put it on the inhouse system (I also brought a BRAND NEW stylus... no mucking around with MY copy of a Yes album!), and played it LOUD to a group of neophytes and devotees. That moment (OK, that 83 minutes!) will stay with me for the rest of my life. As, indeed, will this album. There was a general expression in the days when rock was referred to as "underground" and the expression "progrock" was only just being introduced, and that was that you had to "really GET INTO" an album. This is the ultimate "get into" album. Complex beyond the dreams of its peers, using folk, ritualistic percussion, symphonic construction, choral techniques, every guitar and keyboard that existed at the time and huge DOLLOPS of Jon Anderson's pantheistic beliefs, it was as close to setting the Bible to music (well, the history of the world, to be honest) as possible, and you either went with the flow and absorbed and appreciated its outright audacity or you just stuck your fingers in your ears and slagged it off without trying to listen. Some forty YEARS later, I am still hearing new things in this masterpiece, and if I was only allowed just the one record on my desert island, then this is the one (although GFTO comes DAMN close!). Mine is, at present, the NINETY-FIFTH review of this album, and I would beg that you try to put some time aside to read all the other reviews. I am not going to dissect and analyse the suites/tracks/songs/tone poems (others have, thankfully, done THAT task for me!) but ninety-five is a goodly number to let anyone know that this is AT LEAST some special kind of album, and once you give yourself the time to LISTEN to it, you will come to agree with that. I hope I am not preaching to the converted, I just feel that there is SO much more to music than the likes of Coldplay and One Direction, and THIS is where you should start educating yourself of the possibilities. "Prog" meant "progressive", and that means that there should be progress, not stasis, in music. Rant over... just cough up a few quid, BUY this album and thank me later!
on 19 August 2012
In releasing 'Tales from topographic oceans' as a lavish, sprawling, four track double album at the height of their popularity in 1973, Yes took a deliberate, calculated risk. Was releasing a double album of such scale and breadth really the next logical step in Yes' musical development? Would the Yes public accept such an epic, grandiose musical statement? In truth, the outcome was only partially successful and in its creation the album over-stretched the band's musical resources and drained group morale. 'Tales from topographic oceans' is, in fact, a bit of a mixed bag - wonderful passages of music and sublime melodies sit alongside more mundane, mediocre fare and half-baked experimental material. Overall, it isn't the flawless prog masterwork that some people claim, but neither is it the worthless folly that others portray.
A brief track-by track appraisal is probably the best way of conveying the album's overall strengths and weaknesses.
1. 'The revealing science of God': A fine opener and probably the album's strongest suit. The 2004 re-mastered version has inherited an entirely pointless two-minute introduction consisting of nondescript, ambient sound (ironic, since the album has often been criticised for having 'too much padding'), but no matter, the track itself is an impressive blend of melody, bombast, whimsy and emotion, produced and arranged with sublime skill. The tunes are great and the constant changes in mood and tempo fuse the twenty-minute piece into an uplifting, coherent whole. In truth, it follows the same basic template as the much-lauded title track from 'Close to the edge' and matches it more or less in all departments.
2. 'The Remembering': Hampered by a low-key and rather pedestrian opening half. It could be argued that after the intensity of the preceding track the change of pace is a necessary contrast, but the opening section of 'The Remembering' is lacklustre by Yes' standards and sounds rather laboured. By contrast, the final half of the track kicks into gear and builds to a rousing finale. Overall, not bad, if rather uneven.
3. 'The Ancient': An unsuccessful attempt at a more loose, experimental type of composition. The track lacks Yes' customary sense of melody and sounds 'thrown together' and contrived. Although an audacious failure, it nonetheless served as a blueprint for the far superior 'Sound chaser' from the following album, 'Relayer' (1974). 'The Ancient' closes with a nice classical guitar composition from Howe and a pleasant, folksy Anderson song, although what the connection of these short pieces is to the main bulk of the track is anybody's guess.
4. 'Ritual': Almost the reverse of 'The remembering', 'Ritual' starts strongly, propelled by Squire's bass and Howe's incisive guitar work, laying the ground for a couple of great Anderson songs. Unfortunately the track runs aground about two-thirds of the way through, making way for an entirely pointless percussion solo, which lasts a full three minutes. This may have gone down a blast in concert with a half-decent light show and some dry ice, but it destroys the continuity of the studio track, which never regains its momentum. A subsequent reprise of the side's main theme feels like a disconnected afterthought and the album's climax fails to match that of either of the first two tracks. A strange, slightly disappointing finale, which in the context of providing a satisfying conclusion to the album doesn't quite deliver.
I suppose how you come to regard 'Tales from topographic oceans' really depends upon whether you see it as the ultimate, iconic achievement of the progressive rock era and embrace its eccentricities and extravagances as part of that ideal, or whether you judge the album purely on its merits as just another Yes album. From the former perspective, 'Tales from topographic oceans' is an untouchable masterpiece and the definitive 'prog rock' statement - inspired, indulgent, technically brilliant and slightly bonkers. From the latter viewpoint, the album's unevenness in quality will always frustrate and tends to mark it down against other more coherent classic Yes albums, such as 'Close to the Edge', 'Fragile' and 'Relayer'.
'Tales from topographic oceans' was also a divisive album in terms of the band dynamic. Its 'concept' really amounts to a personal Jon Anderson manifesto, promoting his favourite themes of individual and communal spirituality, with Steve Howe acting as his main musical accomplice and foil. Rick Wakeman appears to have had little input into the creative process and many of his keyboard contributions appear perfunctory and incidental, often amounting to little more than sterile washes of synth and mellotron, or minor embellishments that add little to the overall sound. Having said that, Wakeman stuck to his task and put a commendable shift in during recording sessions that he clearly had little enthusiasm for. However, such lack of unity was to the detriment of the album and prevented the band really pulling together and delivering the cohesive, seminal work they were striving for.
Ultimately, it's not the religious or spiritual concept that really holds this album together, it's the music. Some of Anderson's melodies are sublime and his lyrics, love them or hate them, were never better. Howe's guitar work, although not his most exuberant, is immensely varied and technically brilliant. Squire's bass is unsurprisingly excellent, particularly prominent on the final track, and White's drumming adds much-needed energy and vigour to an album that occasionally struggles to maintain intensity and vitality. A double album was almost certainly a bridge too far, but recorded at the height of the band's creative powers and progressive ideals they almost....almost pulled it off.