Sunday, January 29, 2017

"Tales From Topographic Ocean" by Yes (December, 1973)

Dad's Take:

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.

Brad's Take:

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...

"Quadrophenia" by The Who (November 1973, US release)

Dad's Take:

It's hard to believe The Who only released six albums between 1965 and 1973, considering how many other major bands like the Beatles were expected to put out. But it's true. Quadrophenia is the sixth studio album and second complete rock opera by this band. The advantage of not releasing as often as other bands was the ability to fully develop their material.

Quadrophenia is an excellent example of The Who's work, despite its length. It is not as well known as Tommy, their fourth album, but they were able to complete the rock opera, unlike Who's Next. It's an ambitious project full of ambitious music, approaching prog rock, at times, but with the emphasis on rock.

The album sold well, reaching number 2 on n the U.S. album charts--higher than any other Who album, held from number one only by the phenomenally successful Goodbye Yellow Brick Road-- and going platinum, despite the fact that none of the three singles from the record cracked the Billboard top 40, and only one made number 20 in the U.K.

Because this was conceived as an album and wasn't really a singles generator, it's hard to talk about individual songs. There are good ones--plenty of them--but most work best in the context of the whole. The best known songs, "5:15" and "Love, Reign O'er Me," were obvious single choices, but they are far from the only reasons to listen to this album. "The Dirty Jobs" stands out for me. "The Real Me" and the incredible "I've Had Enough," and some other songs illustrate the surprising introspection that makes this record stand out over other Who albums. "Sea and Sand" and "Drowned" have also gained a lot of popularity over the years, and for good reason. Interestingly, "Drowned" actually dates back to the Tommy period, although it wasn't included on that album.

As for the whole, the story is more relatable, perhaps, than most of Tommy, more real I suppose, but in typical operatic fashion, it's exactly Tommy's strangeness and bigger-than-life feel that makes it stand out. I don't want to say Quadrophenia isn't as good. It's so different that the albums are hard to compare. But there are reasons why people remember Tommy more. For one thing, Tommy has been more successful as part of The Who's live show, giving it more exposure. The film version was also more successful. But Quadrophenia is more subtle, and is often better played (part of why it was hard to do successfully live). Keith Moon's drumming is especially good here. It's not hard to argue that this is the better album of the two, if they have to be compared.

For sure, Quadrophenia requires more effort to listen to than most rock albums. It's long, for one thing, clocking in at over 81 minutes. It also takes some work to follow the story. It's not really an album for casual listening.

So, why should you care?

Because putting in the effort is worth it. It's one of the Who's last truly great albums, and deserves its place in lists of classic albums, both because of its ambition and the quality of the execution.

Brad's Take: 

Ah, another long one here... But since it's The Who, I feel like I need to give this my full attention, hence why it's taken me so long to finally make it happen.

"The Real Me" follows the album's intro and it's relentless! This is a fantastic classic rock song filled with amazing drumming, and even cooler bass lines. If the entire album was like this, I wouldn't mind 80+ minutes of it.

Good (unsurprising) news though! There are lots of great songs on here! So many that it would be silly to list them all because it would end up being the majority of the tracklist.

A few favorites though:
"The Real Me", "The Punk and The Godfather", "The Dirty Jobs", "Drowned", and "Belly Boy."

I honestly didn't follow the story much. I'm horrible at paying much attention to the lyrics the first go around, let alone how they all connect to the other songs. That's something that will come with multiple listens, I'm sure.

There isn't much else to say about this. It's a long album, but if you have the time to sit and listen to it as a whole, it's worth it. So many great songs! A few of which will get put onto future "Best of The Who" mixes that I make eventually. Just listen to "The Real Me." If that song doesn't make you want to listen to the rest of album, then maybe you should listen to that song again.