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 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 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 29 April 2006
This album is something I have returned to after a long absence. I find it's perfect for listening to while I am sitting at my keyboard at work .... it a kind of meditation; but don't let that scare you ... no don't ... come back ... don't run away ;-)
The lyrics on this album are really 'out there' so don't be put off; focus on the music - you'll need to play this quite a few times to feel comfortable.
Ulimately Yes wrote haunting melodic tunes and this album is full of them.
This is not an easy album, but then again I have always found music that lasts takes a while to get into.
I would also recommend A lamb Lies down on broadway and ..... that you dont get stuck in a musical genre ... there is so much great stuff out there :-)
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 20 July 2002
This is it, the album that Yes' critics (not least Rick Wakeman)cite as evidence that Anderson, Squire et al had vanished up themselves fatally. It's an album I still listen to, and have done for many years, and whilst it certainly isn't the one I'd point people in the direction of who'd never heard Yes (that would have to be 'Going for the One') it has its moments. The bookending tracks 'Revealing Science of God' and 'Ritual ...' are both stunning achievements - the latter really gives Chris Squire a chance to shine. 'Remembering ...' stands up pretty well, but it is on 'The Ancients' that the group really lose their way (this features absolutely the worst piece of Steve Howe guitar work I have ever heard - eighteen minutes of your life you'll never get back!). So if you can handle two brilliant tracks, one pretty good one and a dire one, there is much to enjoy here.
on 10 September 2003
In 1974, I bought this album and as a 15-year old it was one of my prized possessions. I even bought one of those gatefold plastic sleeves to protect it. I always listened to it in its entirety and was always sad when it had finished. Apart from "90125" I had not heard Yes music until the 35th Anniversary Collection was released recently. I bought that, loved it and started to read up on the music I'd ignored (in favour of soul and jazz-funk if you can believe that) for close to 30 years. "TFTO" was almost universally slammed in print so to refresh my memory I felt I had to buy it on CD.
It's as treasured now as it was then. Yes, 20-minute songs are a challenge and yes, there are moments on the album where you question the band's taste. However these are more than compensated for by Rick Wakeman's dazzling keyboard solo on Side 1, Howe's lush classical guitar on Side 2, White's muscular (even funky...) drumming on chunks of Side 3 and Chris Squire's inspirational bass everywhere. In my 20's I took up the bass and Squire's work isn't the reason I did so (Mark King has that dubious honour) but in retrospect, he is a standout player and his contributions here are often startlingly good, both in their melodic content and his use of effects.
I know what's said about the part that music like this played in the upsurge of punk. To me, that's too simplistic; there were lots of other social changes going on which had a more direct causal relationship. Punk meant nothing to me then and in 2003 I find it an irrelevance. Not so this album. I can't fully share my memories of it with you because VR hasn't gone that far, but I urge you to hear it and make your own mind up and (hopefully) enjoy it in your own way.
on 7 May 2016
This is the album which divides Yes fans. You either really love it or you dislike it. It even divided the band members and it was the reason that Rick Wakeman decided to leave in 1974. The reason is that it is a huge album. It is a double album and contains just 4 full length tracks : one track per vinyl album side. It contains some excellent moments but the problem is that as an album it takes some listening to and it feels disjointed and spralling. After three great albums (The Yes Album, Fragile and Close to the Edge) Yes were attempting to take rock music to the outer limit of its capabilities. It could have worked had it been edited down to perhaps a single album. I have a close Yes friend who thinks that this is the best thing that Yes have ever done. I am in a different camp. I like it but it leaves me a bit empty at the end of it. There is no doubt that the musicianship and ideas are clever. You won't know which camp you end up in until you take the plunge and dive in. 'Tales' is the next Yes album to receive the Steve Wilson 5.1 treatment later in 2016. After a reported three years of mixing by Steve Wilson It will be interesting to see if any rare goodies from the Tales sessions have been unearthed for this new release.
on 27 December 2011
This album must be evaluated seriously by persons who are familiar with music history and theory. Too many reviews have simply taken the form of saying that it either works or doesn't work for them, with no substantive explanation of WHY.
To allow as much room as possible for a more detailed assessment, I have attached to this message detailed comments concerning each track of the CDs, but this core review contains only a general overview. For more specific musical details, please click on the "comments" text at the bottom of this review entry.
As a long-time listener to classical music, and someone who knows a lot about the history of Western art music, I will first simply state that this is one album that must be taken seriously, out of the entire rock genre, as demonstrating that rock music has occasionally reached historic levels of artistic and musical accomplishment. Persons who are only familiar with popular genres can and do debate forever (as seen on this website) about such totally subjective trivia as whether Jon Anderson's voice is too soft, whether they found the work "boring" or inscrutable, or whether the guitar work "rocked." All of that is quite irrelevant for a serious evaluation of what may turn out to be the most historically significant large-selling album in the late 20th Century rock genre.
The late 20th Century... Rock fans know that 1973 was in the midst of a brief phase where progressive rock actually produced top-selling albums such as this originally was. But a larger view of western music would identify it as a period in which some of the last pre-war master composers were writing their last works (Dmitri Shostakovich died in 1975, Benjamin Britten in 1976...) and when several phases of innovation were taking place: (1) the exploration of total serialism, especially inspired by certain late works of Anton Webern, (2) the avant garde - of the style of Penderecki and Ligeti and Xenakis, in which sound collages and mosaics emphasized new types of tone color as well as new techniques of instrumentation and electronic sound production, as informed by the harmonic accomplishments of pre-WWII composers such as Schoenberg and the Impressionists, and (3) minimalism, in which small musical phrases are repeated and manipulated with few radical variations so as to better realize the significance of each melodic phrase and also to help make music more accessible to mainstream listeners again, and still also to avoid re-using many of the then-standard types of large-scale forms and thematic development procedures, in favor of smaller-scale contrasts between specific and repeated musical ideas.
What is the place of rock music within this scheme? If we ignore for a moment the often artificial distinction between art music and popular music, I consider that the practically all the "popular music" of the second half of the 20th Century has been rooted in exploring the following three innovations:
1. The use of electronic instruments and recording technologies (laboratories had been set up, particularly in Germany, for the formal examination of these innovations, but the relatively small scale and formal nature of that exploration made progress somewhat slow and limited in comparison to the experimentation that occurred with the use of electronic instruments and amplification in rock music and some kinds of jazz. This especially became true by 1965 and afterward, when the Beatles used their popularity and creativity to start bringing some of these new electronic sounds into the mainstream, with their Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper, and White albums. The "progressive rock" genre was made possible by the successful reception enjoyed by these Beatles albums.
2. A more thorough exploration of the types of sounds producable by the human voice. While some of these sounds, in the recordings of some pop/rock groups, can justly be accused of being childish and amateurish and crude in nature, nevertheless popular musics as a whole have been exploring as fully as possible all the types of sounds producable by the human voice, as well as all types of human voices. The use of electronic amplification and the advance of recording technologies made this exporation possible on a large scale, and it still continues to this day with the "new" subgenres of rap and hip-hop. Far too often, people reject a band on the basis of its singer's tone, without really considering the quality of the band's music overall. Tons of famous rock bands can be criticized for not using singers who've received "sufficient" formal training, with the unfortunate result that a lot of interesting music gets dismissed and ignored by those who do research and write textbooks. In the meantime, the untrained go in circles about why Robert Plant's voice is more tolerable than Mick Jagger's, or Mick Jagger's is "more expressive" than Paul McCartney, or why Bob Seger is a better rocker than Jon Anderson. All of that is trivia that will be forgotten in the historical perspective 100 years from now, in which the stylistic similarities of all their music is what will be most obvious... not their vocal differences.
3. The development and use of rhythmic innovations. This is especially true for those who label jazz and world musics (as well as rock) as part of the world of "popular music." Pop music has indeed demonstrated its rhythmic sophistication, and jazz has earned a place in our universities. Whether Led Zeppelin or Rush, L.L. Cool J or Yes, or the Lion King, rock/pop/rap bands have been using lots of different types of syncopation, rhythm (including polyrhythm) and meter (including polymeter) and have done so in ways that have gained much more attention than contemporaneous classical works for percussion ensemble, or tape/electronics, or orchestra. Often, the rhythmic aspects of "pop" music are far better integrated into the work as a whole. (It might be likened to the middle ages, in which rhythm was for secular/profane works while non-rhythm was for artful and sacred works.) Electronics have also proven valuable in developing rhythmic complexity past the point where humans could reasonably be expected to organize such sounds in live performance, as well as to place recorded sounds into such electronically-generated rhythms.
This album fits within this broader context in the following ways:
1. The rock genre makes heavy use of ostinato motifs that can be conceived of as a variant on the style of minimalism. The fact that rock music uses a frequent repetition of melodies, as part of its structure, should not be considered a weakness of the music (at it would have in the days of Schoenberg and Ravel's "Bolero") but rather a defining part of its style and formal organization. One does not justly criticize Mozart or Haydn for including a repetition of the exposition section in a symphony, since it was part of the style of the day, and in accord with the aesthetics of the time. Similarly, this album "Tales From Topographic Oceans" should not be criticized for using ostinato motifs as a backdrop to the main musical ideas and their developments, because that is a part of the musical trends that were being utilized at the time (including classical "minimalism"). Such ostinato should be considered the equivalent of the basso continuo in Baroque music. One doesn't properly criticize Baroque music for the presence of a harpsichord.
2. This album "Topographic Oceans" has a symphonic conception... not in terms of the "classical period" symphony that uses strict sonata form, but rather in terms that are more appropriate for the late 20th Century. It has 4 large movements, with a thematic tie unifying the entire work, and although not using an orchestra for instrumentation, the sounds of the rock (chamber) ensemble prove sufficient to provide a symphonic scale to the sound (tone color), purely because of the late 20th Century innovations in electronic instruments and sound production. Also, as a late 20th Century work, the album makes use of dissonant chords and chromatic melodies and modulations, although usually with enough repetitions to make their point clearer to listeners in a way that most pre-WWII music tended to avoid. There are also many musical ideas that are fundamentally rhythmic rather than melodic, again in tune with broader 20th Century trends.
3. The vocal style frequently focuses on the use of falsetto voices, which should not be criticized from the standpoint of any particular cultural or gender preconceptions, but accepted on its own as part of a legitimate musical choice within the period/style of music this work represents. If one doesn't complain about the lack of classical voice training in the singers, but accepts the singing style as one of the options made possible by electronic amplification, the voices are a vital and often appealing part of this work.
4. The Yes musicians may be numbered among the important innovators in electronic music of the time... especially Rick Wakeman...although the focus is obviously more on the use of new technologies than necessarily on the quality of composition. Nevertheless, the innovative sounds on this double album include two things of probable historic significance: (1) electronically-produced soundscapes (in track 2) of the form that would later be called "New Age" music, which became an entire subgenre in itself, and (2) an electronically-engineered rhythmic section (late in track 4) that has much in common with what would later be called "industrial" or "mechanical" music, which became an entire subgenre in itself.
5. The band "Yes" proved capable of playing and merging many different "pop" styles when it wanted to use them. Their first two albums were heavily jazz-inspired, the next two were heavily folk-inspired. The "Close to the Edge" album was a very carefully balanced mixture of diverse guitar styles, vocal harmonies, rhythmic sophistication, larger-than usual formal structures (for the "pop" genre), and intriguing lyrics. As such, it has rightly earned widespread praise. This "Topographic Oceans" album has suffered undue criticism for not replicating the precise balance that was enjoyed by many on other albums of the band. The band was flexible and not rooted only in a single style of playing. The Topographic Oceans double-album is clearly the band's most classically-leaning work, in that it was conceived and executed on a symphonic scale. What many rock critics have failed to note is that, like "Close to the Edge," this double-album has deliberately avoided the use of improv-styled solo parts and instead the band has taken care that, although many sections are focusing on a guitar or voice or percussion-led idea, nevertheless there is none of it that is actually improvisational in style, as the band was to include in its next album "Relayer" (in that album's emphasis toward the heavy metal subgenre of rock). This double-album is most appropriately evaluated in terms of classical music rather than by the standards of any genre of rock music. Topographic Oceans never takes on the consistent tone of any particular subgenre of rock music that would invite such a comparison... rather, the band uses it's trademark sounds and musician's enormous skills in the crafting of what is perhaps the only widely selling rock symphony to have seriously earned the name. (Works such as Jethro Tull's "Thick as a Brick" or Rush's "2112" are insufficiently structured in formal terms to qualify, and works such as those by Pink Floyd do not adhere as closely to the traditions of symphonic forms as "Topographic Oceans" does.)
Tales From Topographic Oceans is in four large sections, as follows:
1. Dance of The Dawn
2. The Remembering
3. The Ancient
4. Nous Sommes du Soleil
Comments attached to this review provide additional detail to allow readers to evaluate the merits and functions of each of these sections of music within in the work as a whole.