The final album to feature the revered early-70's lineup of Yes, Close to the Edge
remains the shining peak of their artistic acheivement. Recorded just a few months before keyboardist Rick Wakeman and drummer Bill Bruford exited the band (Wakeman would return in a few year's time), the title can be seen as not only a description of the far-out music within but a view on the state of the band's affairs: especially Bruford's conflict over singer Jon Anderson's mystical lyrics, and the resentment of the band members left out of the songwriting process with increasing regularity by Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe.
Still, Close to the Edge
remains an amazingly unified and challenging work which time has not rendered dated. The band's vision is as ever ambitious: the whole record consists of only three epic pieces, in which musical texture, lengthy solos and complex layers of instruments are more important than singable hooks or verse/chorus structures. Not that Close to the Edge
isn't a melodic or listenable album; indeed quite the opposite.
Let's look at the tracks individually:
"Close To The Edge" (18:36)
The side-length suite that opens the album is an amazing display of melody, focussing often on Wakeman's various keyboards (check out the trippy organ break from the third section). Anderson's colourful lyrics refuse to be analyzed, whether in parts or as a whole: rather, he relies on imagery and expressive phrasing, his role more of a instrumentalist than a traditional singer. Odd time signatures and a logical progression between the song's four parts add an elegant coherence to the piece.
"And You And I" (10:13)
Opening with Howe's excellent acoustic work, "And You And I" negotiates tempo changes and layers of various guitars effortlessly. Bruford's classy drumming is a major part of this track, leading the band through overwhelmingly beautiful cut-time passages and variations on the original 6/4 theme. Anderson's lyrics are once again mystical and catchy.
"Siberian Khatru" (8:57)
The hardest-rocking track is built upon Wakeman's creative use of his many keyboards, from the melodic synth theme to his lead work with electric harpsichord and synthesized sitar. With this framework firmly in place, Squire lays down a funky bassline with Howe's bluesy electric rhythms and slide leads, while Bruford drives the band through expert manipulations of time with his powerful yet jazzy grooves. The bass and guitar soloes near the end are the perfect conclusion to a great album.
Jon Anderson: Vocals
Bill Bruford: Percussion
Steve Howe: Guitar, Vocals
Chris Squire: Bass, Vocals
Rick Wakeman: Keyboards
Overall Rating: 5/5 Stars