And finally in our series of "Albums that make the Tangent Tick" here's the one that has been a frequently mentioned benchmark A Goal. A Gold Standard. As before though, this was not a chart, This is not number one in it. But if it was a chart, it would have a great chance.
Tales From Topographic Oceans By YES
There's a smugness that the seasoned traveler may feel as people get off the train at the more obvious destinations. They know that they are going beyond the capitals and large cities out into the unknown wilds. Exotic station names are being announced by the Tannoys as day to day commuters disappear into the centres. Places a long way away. The once full carriages are now emptied of the business suited, the train is shortened and the restaurant car closes. Yes. They are real travelers. Discoverers. Even pioneers in their own heads. Their destination may not take them through myriads of staggering scenery, although there will be occasional succulent examples. It will be long and tiring but the journey, no matter where it leads will be a journey that was worth making for its own sake.
In 1973 Yes made an album where many did actually get off the train. The journey that many had made with them, with Genesis, with ELP and Tull had reached that obvious set down point. They'd taken people on an Orient Express style ride across Europe and brought them to Venice. But Yes were heading for Istanbul. The scenery would change
Tales From Topographic Oceans was a defining point in the history of Progressive Rock Music. Those who'd been brought into the band's adventure by the rocky yet intricate "The Yes Album" and earlier work had been interested by the addition of Wakeman's mellotrons and 'wow' classical piano on "Fragile", seduced by the opulent and engaging melody of "Close To The Edge". Venice, as it were, was so appealing - why move on?
Wakeman himself is on record as not having either really come to grips with or having enjoyed the process of this album's creation. Journalists who'd written their first reviews of Yardbirds, Amen Corner and The Move just a few short years earlier were suddenly faced with the task of writing reviews of what was essentially a Symphonic Tone Poem in four movements based on the Shastric Scriptures. They were out of their depth and they railed against it. Railed and rallied.
Maybe it was fear of the unknown, maybe it was the beginning of the age we now live in where there is not really time for 80 odd minutes of intensive concentration demanding programme music. But everyone was pretty divided on this album, even within the band itself.
It opens with the remarkable, mysterious and indecipherable lyrical section, a rap before there even was such a thing, full of fleeting images of 'sharp and tender love'. A gift for the cynical, a get out of jail free card for the doubting, the opening preamble is enough to justify the rebellion of punk which came a few years later to anyone wanting to write a similar article from that other point of view. Yet it's arguable that this was in itself rebellion. That these apparently "meaningless" words were not pretentious, but were akin to the abstract brushstrokes and beauties that Kandinsky or Klee had put on paper earlier the same century.
Yes were almost magnanimous, offering a dignified retreat path for the faint hearted. Tales was your way out, should that be what you wished. No-one would blame you or think ill of you. There was no shame. The real problems were not for those who disembarked the train here. Those problems were for the people who stayed. It was a sharp edged invitation. The snorts of derision in Britain's 1970s pre-enlightenment days towards "Tales Of Topographic Oceans" and its fans were almost as ignorant as the language used by the people of the day towards Gay people - rife with a press fuelled type of quasi-racism, full of curled lip insults like "pretentious" and "pompous". The Dumbing Down was on its way, the discrediting of those who stood in its way began, in earnest on the release of Tales From Topographic Oceans.
It is almost as if the band are taunting us. Every so often there come flashes of the band that we already love, snatched away so quickly after an all too fleeting glimpse. How an album that is considered so long can leave people feeling that they haven't had enough of certain sections is almost paradoxical. But Yes' train is heading out through less familiar territory. This isn't the lush alpine scenery of Close To The Edge. Mountain ranges to be sure, yes, but visible in the distance across huge big-skied plains. Now and then huge spectacular gulfs and canyons open up under the matchstick thin bridges that crazily cross them giving gasp inspiring views before suddenly returning to the flatlands.
Stations flash past with no stop made, night comes and goes. The band are f***ing with our heads, pulling us in, building us up, dashing our hopes and digging down as well as building up. Throughout the album we are tricked, cajoled, surprised, delighted, entertained - all these wonderful things though have a price; our patience.
Somewhere in the middle of side three it all becomes apparent. We really have changed terrain. Bit by bit we've become used to it, but there's no denying here that we are worlds away from the safety of the first side. "The Yes Album" is forgotten, in another place that we're leaving behind. Almost a decade before the "world" music influence on Peter Gabriel really began to show through, Yes have fused musics together where stepped pyramids rise out of Hampshire and gothic cathedrals teeter on the side of the Himalayas. Howe's electric guitar work is like some cracked lonely horn ringing out into desolate valleys. There's no going back, there's no gift shop or café. We are now the helpless voyagers, and Yes have given us the journey. The only way back is through the rollercoaster ride of Ritual with its dangerous tracks and mindblowing descents.
In the 40 years since this music was created there are whole generations of people who have never experienced the thrill of a musical journey like that offered here. To blast off into the unknown without really knowing where the music is going to take you. And although the desire is certainly there as evidenced by the continuing sales of music by Stravinsky, Beethoven and even Mike Oldfield, the fact remains that there have been precious few thanks or good words to be said about this masterpiece, flawed or otherwise. The author would argue that it's one of the most imaginative works of the 20th Century and should take its place alongside The Rite Of Spring, The Planets Suite and Bitches Brew and the sooner the better. It took many years for acceptance of The Rite, and it looks as though the fate of Tales will not be decided for some time to come. One can only hope that the composers of this remarkable piece and those of us who held its values high will be rewarded in our lifetimes for our patience and new younger musical critics will rediscover the piece and elevate it to its true status as a classic.
For those of who who have enjoyed my little look at some albums I thought were important to our band, may I politely encourage you to read one of the best reviews that has been written about OURS? If, as I say, "Tales" is an album that I have held high on the horizon and aimed towards, then our new 80 minute long album with 5 tracks certainly aims for the format if nothing else. Why not have a look at what Progradar had to say.http://www.progradar.org/…/review-the-tangent-the-slow-rus…/