Tales from Topographic Oceans



by USER (4 Reviews)
February 9th, 2005 | 13 replies

Release Date: 1973 | Tracklist

Yes - Tales from Topographic Oceans
Released: Jan 9, 1974
Label: Atlantic

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. :)

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el doctor
February 10th 2005


Good review... sort. I happen to like parts of the album. Overall, it's just a bit overpowering. I'd say this album deserves about a 2.5 or 3 (except the review system is so biased that a 3 looks like a bad score). I say that because like you say, it's a "love/hate" album. That score covers both sides of that. You just happened to take the "love" side of it, and while that's great, it's only presenting one view of things.

Tales is prog at its most pretentious and overblown moment, but at the same time, parts of it are simply beautiful. A 5 out of 5 would denote this album as a masterpiece for everybody, and quite frankly, I don't think I'll ever see it that way.

October 22nd 2005


Nice review...I like how you added Jon's notes from the cover. But I agree with el doctor...because of the love/hate should have compromised with your personal rating. Just a thought...keep up the good work.

January 18th 2006


Album Rating: 3.0

El Doctor neatly summed up my ideas of this album. I love certain parts of this album (especially from the first disc), but I don't really like the overall songs. The Ancient is a song which just overall fails to capture mu attention, there's very little to hold on to in that song, if you ask me. Still, this is one hell of an ambitious project and Yes actually pulls it off pretty good, despite some missteps. There's some crazy musicianship on this album though, which makes it a very interesting ride throughout the album.

January 18th 2006


Album Rating: 3.5

So when would be a good time to pick this up? So far I have The Yes Album and Fragile, and like them both. I would like to get this but I don't know if I should wait until I have heard more of their stuff.

January 18th 2006


Album Rating: 2.0

This is way too prententious, it's hard to enjoy such an overly epic album. ZoolanderHotept: Get Relayer or Close to the Edge, they're two of Yes' best.

January 18th 2006


Album Rating: 3.5

Thanks man, Ill save this for latter.

January 18th 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

I completely agree with Galapogos. This album is incredibly epic, and should be saved for after such albums as Close to the Edge and Relayer. Tales requires an immense investment of time and energy to be fully appreciated.

March 1st 2006


I really dig this album, and I like your review. I've always been a sucker for long prog compositions, so this one appealed to me right from the start. This Message Edited On 03.01.06

March 1st 2006


Album Rating: 3.0

I want this.

May 19th 2016


Album Rating: 5.0

Rating: 5.0

What I like about this album is that it veers the most away from the language of early 70s hard rock than any other progressive rock album Yes ever recorded. My favorite side depends on my mood: for devotional, "The Revealing Science of God," for meditative moods: "The Remembering," for a roller coaster ride: "The Ancient," and for bombast: "Ritual." No other band ever attempted such an effort, except perhaps Mike Oldfield in 1978 when he released INCANTATIONS, which actually took a step further toward a symphonic-scale work by using more orchestral instruments and a choir. The general complaint against Topographic Oceans is, "it doesn't rock enough," which is of course exactly why I like it. It spends more time luxuriating in warm melodies than any other album they did, and "The Remembering" is downright ambient for over 1/4 of the total time. And alternatively, side three is almost nonstop experimental arrangements aside from Howe's pretty acoustic solo and the brief song afterwards. Awesome stuff. It takes the most work to get into and fathom Topographic Oceans, but the payoff is also the greatest. However, if you are looking for guitar riffs and a singer screaming to be heard over the din, go elsewhere. This is a fully integrated symphonic scale prog epic. And it IS highly respected within the prog community of fans. When Prog magazine did their Top 100 Prog albums of all time, it came in at #22, a ranking far from something even remotely considered a failure. The year after the album was released and toured, Jon Anderson and Steve Howe were awarded the first prize as Best Composers in Melody Maker magazine's readers poll, while the album itself came in at #3. Rather impressive!

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