[Review] Yes: Tales from Topographic Oceans (1974)

The group’s most ambitious work yet, although it does occasionally topple over under its own excesses.

Kronomyth 7.0: Up their own Yes.

Tales from Topographic Oceans is based on four types of shastric literature, as Jon Anderson and Steve Howe explain in the album’s liner notes. I couldn’t really follow the whole concept, but that’s a small matter; the bigger problem is that the rest of Yes didn’t seem to follow it either. The result is a jumbled mess of brilliant ideas that fails to mesh the way that their last few albums did. There is unquestionably great music afoot on Tales from Topographic Oceans, but I can’t help feeling that, if the individual parts had been liberated from their side-long suites, Tales would have been hailed as the band’s white album. Instead, it’s more of a white whale.

That said, there is not to my knowledge a surplus of beauty in the world, and there are many beautiful moments hiding in these Tales. Yes detractors, whose disdain for Close to the Edge or Fragile could be dismissed as musical ignorance, were harder to ignore this time around because, honestly, they had a point, especially when The Ancient rolls around. But fans of this album are to be envied, not rebuked, for seeing the glass as three-quarters full rather than one-quarter empty.

Anderson and Howe do the lion’s share of the lifting on this album, and it’s here that you begin to see the band breaking into two camps. Rick Wakeman, who curried the favor of no one with his on-stage antics, already had one foot out the door. Chris Squire and Alan White rarely mesh like the rhythm section of old, Ritual notwithstanding. Even Eddie Offord seems to have trouble following along, as the mix sounds surprisingly muddy much of the time. (Or maybe it was the greenhouse gases from the cardboard cows.)

That’s pretty much the end of my griping. Now for the good stuff. The Revealing Science of God features what may be my favorite melody in all Yes canon, The Remembering has many isolated moments of beauty and “Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil)” is half a fantastic Yes album all by itself. At their best, Yes is celestial. Like Close to the Edge, passages here are God-breathed; it will (hopefully) be years before I encounter music so heavenly again.

The earlier Yes albums were works of unearthly beauty and inhuman precision. Tales from Topographic Oceans is a work of unearthly beauty. You can lament the loss of the tightly meshed gears that drove “Long Distance Runaround” and “Close to the Edge,” or celebrate Tales’ fearless pursuit of music’s sublime heights, but only one path leads to true happiness.

Original 2LP version

A1. The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn) (20:27)
B1. The Remembering (High the Memory) (20:38)
C1. “The Ancient” (Giants Under the Sun) (18:34)
D1. Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil) (21:35)

Words by Jon Anderson/Steve Howe, music by Yes.

CD reissue bonus tracks
5. Dance of the Dawn (studio run-through)
6. Giants Under the Sun (studio run-through)

The Players

Jon Anderson (vocals), Steve Howe (guitars & vocals), Chris Squire (bass & vocals), Rick Wakeman (keyboard), Alan White (drums) with Guy Bidmead (tapes). Produced by Yes and Eddie Offord; co-ordination by Brian Lane.

The Pictures

Cover design, illustration and logos by Roger Dean. Plates by Mansell Litho.

The Plastic

Released on 2LP and 8-track on January 8, 1974 in the UK (Atlantic, K/K8 80001), the US (Atlantic, SD2-908), Germany (Atlantic, ATL 80001), Japan (Atlantic, P-5508/9A) and Mexico (Atlantic, L2WA-5041) with gatefold cover. Reached #1 on the UK charts and #6 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in September 1989 in the US (Atlantic, 908).
  2. Re-released on remastered 2CD in 1994 in the US (Atlantic, 82683).
  3. Re-issued on remastered 2CD in Japan (Atlantic, AMCY-4032/3).
  4. Re-released on remastered high-definition 2CD in Japan (Atlantic, AMCY-6296/7).
  5. Re-issued on compact disc in Russia (CD-Maximum, CDM0600-45).
  6. Re-released on expanded, remastered 2CD in 2003 in the US (Rhino, 73791) with 2 bonus tracks.
  7. Re-issued on expanded, remastered 2CD in Japan (Rhino, WPCR-11685) with 2 bonus tracks.
Posted in Yes

2 thoughts on “[Review] Yes: Tales from Topographic Oceans (1974)

  1. One thing I would say to differentiate Yes from the others, especially modern day bands, is how many bands could even come up with the concept of music based on shastric texts let alone write an album based on them.

  2. From the first time I heard this album in 1975, it was my favorite Yes album. My immediate favorite track was “The Ancient” because it was wild and instrumental and unpredictable. Everyone has their own tolerance level for experimental and dissonant music, but mine is rather high especially if there is a melodic payoff at the end, and “The Ancient” has the “leaves of green” section and classical guitar solo that is particularly well loved.
    As I got into practicing meditation, “The Remembering” became a favorite for it’s mellowness and ambient contemplative mellotron/synthesizer passaged. Ending with a climactic chant and fantastic guitar solo, it’s one of the great epics of Yes’ career.
    The great thing about this album is that it is the album of a lifetime, not just a pop single of the summer of whatever. It’s a work of lasting meaning and the musical brilliance just becomes more fascinating as the years roll on.

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