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High the Memory-Great eastern turbulent eclectiscm before they went AOR
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.