Sunday, January 29, 2017
"Tales From Topographic Ocean" by Yes (December, 1973)
And so we move from a rock opera to symphonic rock.
I remember some great Yes songs, but what I remember most are the gatefold covers that I could easily get lost in. Yes had some of the best covers of the period. Unfortunately, my favorite Yes songs and covers come mostly before this one.
This is not an easy album to write about, especially in a short-form medium like a blog. Four sides, four tracks, and a little more than 80 minutes of music. What I like about Yes is that it consisted of brilliant musicians, most with lengthy musical pedigrees. These guys knew how to play, and they created tight, almost-too-perfect, atmospheric soundscapes that teleport you to the worlds depicted on their covers.
On the other hand, Yes (especially on this album) exemplifies the excesses of this musical period and of prog rock in particular. They are highly listenable here, as usual, as they slide from movement to movement through their dense electronic symphonies, but they also make it clear why the back-to-basics CBGB's scene that brought us the Ramones a couple years after this was released were necessary. Especially when you combine the studio mastery of bands like Yes with the corporate studio transgressions of the about-to-arrive disco era. Something had to balance the excess.
I enjoy listening to Yes and to this album. They are smart and absorbing, full of imagery, and they play very well. Nobody can look at this band or listen to this record and claim these guys couldn't play or compose. This is good stuff, especially if you like rock keyboards, which Yes did better than anybody. Rick Wakeman might not have loved this album's concept, but man did he play it. And much of the fretwork is mind-blowing. Plus, for so-called symphonic rock, this record sometimes rocks pretty hard. Then again, sometimes it mellows out and takes you to a blossom world. (Wait. That "blossom world" thing was that one band. That other one.)
Thing is, everything this album has, there's a ton of it here. Like eating ten scoops of ice cream, it can become too much. Whether you can get through it all depends on whether you are into this style of music. I suppose that's true of any album, even those that are much shorter or less pretentious.
So just kick back and listen. Let the music carry you away. I'm Dad, so I'm not going to suggest you ingest the chemicals that were sometimes used to amplify this kind of album back in 1973 but, honestly, you don't need them. The music will take you there by itself. After a while, though, it might feel like it took you there, dropped you off, and forgot to come back and pick you up.
Only 4 tracks over 80 minutes is as scary as it sounds, The songs move along and change so smoothly though that it's easy to forget that it's only just 4 tracks.
It's hard to discuss favorite parts within each song. You just have to trust me that it's all really cool! Like my dad said, it may be a little too long for someone who isn't into this kind of music (like me), but this is actually a very fun listen. The music here is beautiful at times, rocky at times, spacey at times, atmospheric at times, synthesizer heavy at times... It really has everything. Just a lot of it.
Like my dad said, these guys really know how to play. There's so much going on in each of these songs, it's incredible to think that they are this tight of a band! I'm not sure how much studio magic there was back in 1973, but I can't imagine there was too much editing of these songs, and that's crazy to me. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during the recording of this album.
While this album is amazing to listen to for the first time, it really is a LOT of music. I was pretty tired by the middle of the second track, which was still about 30 minutes into the entire album. Each track though has some really awesome parts! It made listening to the entire thing not feel like much of a chore. I just needed to take a couple breaks here and there. I shouldn't have drank a huge Coke while sitting here listening to this and the last Who album...