Yes - Tales from Topographic Oceans
Released: Jan 9, 1974
Jon Anderson - Lead Vocals
Steve Howe - Guitars/Vocals
Chris Squire - Bass/Vocals
Rick Wakeman - Keybaords
Alan White - Drums/Percussion
WARNING -This is one of the single most conceptual and cerebral albums of all time. YOU WILL EITHER LOVE OR HATE THIS ALBUM.
Yes is one of the highlights of 70's Progressive Rock, and this album, "Tales from Topographic Oceans", is one of the biggest in Progressive Rock history. This was an incredibly ambitious project that took several months to prepare and five months to rehearse and record. "Tales" was so large-scale and so ambitious that it seperated the casual fan from the true Yes fan, and even caused Rick Wakeman to leave temporarily after they toured it. This album is one of the greatest examples of a "love it or hate it" in all of history - you either get it, or you don't.
After a couple listens through, I finally "got it".
For this review, I will include Jon Anderson's liner notes for the album and the songs.
Jon's album notes (abridged) - "We were in Tokyo on tour, and I had a few minutes to myself in the hotel room before the evening's concert. Leafing through Paramhansa Yoganada's "Autiobiography Of A Yogi" I got caught up in the lengthy footnote on page 83. It described the four part shastric scriptures which cover all aspects of religion and social life as well as fields like medicine and music, art and architecture. For some time, I had been searching for a theme for a large scale composition, so positive in character were the shastras that I could visualise there and then, four interlocking pieces of music being structured around them. That was in February. Eight months later, the concept was realised in this recording."
With that in mind, let's plunge into this masterpiece.
The Revealing Science of God - Dance of the Dawn
(running time - 22:37)
Jon's notes - "Shrutis. The Revealing Science of God can be seen as an ever-opening flower in which simple truths emerge examining the complexities and magic of the past and how we should not forget the song that has been left to us hear. The knowledge of God is a search, constant and clear."
This first track is an absolutely amazing opener that encompasses the ideas of the album within itself: long, epic, pulling, emotion, subliminal, deeply complex, and brilliant. The song starts with sound effects similar to both a bubbling ocean and sounds of a formative Earth. After a while, a lone guitar is added, playing languid single notes, eventually two or more, before a multi-tracked Jon Anderson enters. As his almost monotonous vocal line continues, everything builds until the whole band enters and creates subliminal riffs that pull you through the greater part of this very long track. The music grows increasingly complex - Steve Howe playing excellent riffs while Rick Wakeman provides sweeping keyboard and Chris Squire lays down supporting fire... just as an example - until it climaxes, then shrinks back and fades out. This track perfectly reflects the title, and sets the tone for the whole work.
The Remembering - High the Memory
(running time - 20:53)
Jon's notes - "Suritis. The Remembering. All our thoughts, impressions, knowledge, fears, have been developing for millions of years. What we can relate to is our own past, our own life, our own history. Here. It is especially Rick's keyboards which bring alive the ebb and flow and depth of our mind's eye: the topographic ocean. Hopefully we should appreciate the given points in time are not so significant as the nature of what is impressed on the mind, and how it is retained and used."
This track continues the epic sense of grandeur created by "Revealing Science", and very effectively pulls the listener along through the whole piece. This track doesn't build up the way the prior track does, but works off of the established groundwork, using deep, mesmerizing riffs and strangely chorded sections. "Remembering" has a lot of power, but only in certain sections reaches the height of "Revealing Science".
The Ancient - Giants Under the Sky
(running time - 18:35)
Jon's notes - "Puranas. The Ancient probes still further into the past beyond the point of remembering. Here Steve's guitar is pivotal in sharpening reflection on the beauties and treasures of lost civilizations, Indian, Chinese, Central American, Atlantean. These and other peoples left an immense treasure of knowledge."
This is the most interesting (and most different) track out of all of them. There seems to be very little sense of direction throughout this one, and that may have something to do with the integration of an array of cultural influences (see Jon's notes). "Ancient" gets the point accross, and moves away from the safety and security of the previous two tracks and sets up the final, confrontational track.
Ritual - Nous Sommes du Soleil
(running time - 21:52)
Jon's notes - "Tantras. The Ritual. Seven notes of freedom to learn and to know the ritual of life. Life is a fight between sources of evil and pure live. Alan and Chris present and relay the struggle out of which comes a positive source. Nous sommes du soleil. We are of the sun. We can see."
Jon Anderson's notes describe this track brilliantly. There are soaring, flowing parts, and tense, dramatically dissonant parts, all accenting and offsetting each other and creating the overall mood of a struggle, with a distinct sense of resolution, not only for the song but for the album. Yes even references earlier tracks on the album, making fairly explicit reference to the main riff that really started the momentum of the album. You don't really have to like Yes to admit that they were quite talented at self-reference for the sake of strengthening a work and sustaining it over long periods of listening. There is some brilliant instrumentation in "Ritual", and some moments that feel genuinely brilliantly inspired. A great closer.
This album is a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, and as a whole is a brilliantly executed Progressive masterpiece. If you "get" this album, it might just change the way you look at/listen to Prog. Also, if you're interested in Yes, don't buy this one first - this is the least accessible Yes on the market.
Overall score: 4.5/5
Side note: The remastered version includes two bonus tracks - early studio run-throughs of "Revealing Science" and "Ancients". These bonus tracks, if you listen closesly have specific differences as opposed to the album versions, but if you're going to sit through these very long tracks again to hear what was different, you a)have too much time, and b)are just that hardcore of a fan. :)