Review Summary: This is a classic album and an absolute masterpiece. This is simply one of the best prog albums ever.
“Close To The Edge” is the fifth studio album of Yes and was released in 1972. The line up on the album is Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, Chris Squire and Bill Bruford.
With “Fragile” Yes firmly established itself as one of the premier and best progressive rock groups in UK. However, they had yet to fulfil a kind of a rite of passage, needed to associate with the big shots, a side long composition. It’s true that they’d cracked the 10 minutes barrier with “Heart Of The Sunrise” on “Fragile”, but what would hardly do the trick. After all, Emerson, Lake & Palmer had “Tarkus”, Genesis had “Super’s Ready” and King Crimson had “Lizard”, not to mention the king of all, “Thick As A Brick” of Jethro Tull. Even groups that weren’t necessarily pure progressive rock bands, in the strictly sense of the word, had side long tracks like the title track of “Atom Heart Mother” of Pink Floyd and “In Held ‘Twas In I” of “Shine On Brightly” of Procol Harum. So, Yes just had to keep it up and finally they do it.
It was in this context that “Close To The Edge” was born. This album is simply one of the most unique and brilliant albums in the whole of the progressive rock canon, and sees a band finally emerging as a complete singular entity after a lengthy period of development and self discovery, the like of which no major progressive artists today would have the opportunity to enjoy, as the record business in the late 60’s and early 70’s was a very different place. So, what is about “Close To Edge” that makes it so special? Perhaps more than any other Yes albums, “Close To The Edge” embodies the exploratory and superior risk taking ability that this classic progressive rock band was capable of. The band had previously had major success with both “The Yes Album” and “Fragile”, certainly two major sellers and forever progressive rock classics, however, the world was quite naive as far as thinking that the group had written and recorded their most ambitious work to date. “Close To The Edge” simply remains, even to this day, a classic rock album in the genre and is considered by many progressive heads, quite simply, the best progressive album of all time.
The 18 minute title track is perhaps the most perfectly composed and structured side long composition from a progressive rock band. How many other tracks of such length can be said to be one seamless continuous song where the main part is based around a verse and chorus structure? Very few indeed, because most of them really consist of several songs and pieces tied together to a whole. But “Close to the Edge” works as really only one long song the whole way through. It’s the equivalent of a progressive rock dramatic symphony, complete with raging, complex sections, atmospheric interludes and furious battles of guitars, organ, synthesizers and bass. Anderson is the stuff of the legends and Wakeman’s massive organ work solo quickly made everyone forget who Tony Kaye really was. At the time, “Close To The Edge” was the great epic rock song, and really set the bar for all the others that fell in their wake.
About the other two tracks, “And You And I” meanwhile falls into the other end of the spectrum. This is pure and utter timeless magic. Howe’s lovely acoustic guitar strums under the spacey synthesizers of Wakeman, while Anderson floats above the mix with his spiritual and melodic vocals. All of the parts of the track work together beautifully, and it’s hard to pick out a highlight as everyone contributes to the height of their abilities and the song has a wonderful flow. “Siberian Khatru” is one of the most intense progressive rock songs ever made. Starting off with harrowing mellotron chords and acrobatic guitar passages, this track never lets down for the entirely of the song. Howe pulls out all the stops here, as he lays down an assortment of sounds, from ethnic sitar runs to soaring pedal steel, to searing hard rock leads. Wakeman adds every keyboards in his arsenal, while Bruford adds a multitude of nimble drum fills, making for an overall virtuoso performance. The real truth is that “Siberian Khatru” closes this magnificent album with a golden key.
Conclusion: “Close To The Edge” is a tour de force brought to life on the colourful canvas of music. There are very few bands that could accomplish this feat successfully and Yes did it all with a style and a preciseness that has yet to be matched. “Close To The Edge” remains to this day a classic of the genre and an absolute masterpiece. I firmly believe that with it, Yes reached the perfection, or at least as close as humanly possible. This album has been, all over the years, a constant source of inspiration and shall no doubt continue to be for years to come. The reality is that so many called progressive epics have been little more than a collection of individual tunes strung together to masquerade as a larger work. “Close To The Edge” and some of their follow up albums remain as a testament to a wonderful group of musicians and a spirit of wide eyed optimism that has been lost in these more cynical days, which is really a pity.
Music was my first love.
John Miles (Rebel)