It’s one of those challenging albums that grows on you. It’s up there with Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, Electric Light Orchestra’s Out of the Blue, Magma’s Mekanik Destruktiw Kommadoh, and Jethro Tull’s controversial magnum opus, A Passion Play. Yes’ sixth controversial album released both in the UK and in the States between 1973 and 1974, has divided lines in the sand between fans whether they will appreciate it or not. It also marked the beginning of the end of the Progressive Rock genre.
When this album was released during that time period, it was savaged by some of the critics, but it went gold in the UK selling 5 million copies that skyrocketed in the charts at number 1 and at number 6 in the Billboard charts. But this was also the album that Rick Wakeman would later leave in disgust during one show he would eat some curry in Manchester during the promotion of the album and would later would release his classic live album recorded at the Royal Festival Hall, Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
But let’s get to Tales From Topographic Oceans. For me, it took me a few listens to adore this album. When I first heard this when I was in College, I didn’t like it. I thought Yes had crashed their boat with these insane ideas of making these songs 20 and 18-minutes long in four tracks. I thought they had run out of steam. But then, I listened to it again and again. It’s one of those albums as I’ve mentioned, that grows on you.
Sure it’s pretentious, it’s self-indulgence, it dinosaur music, but I love each and every bit of this. This year, the 3-CD/Blu-Ray set of the Definitive Edition shows that it is finally getting the recognition it deserves thanks to Steven Wilson’s new stereo and 5.1 mixes of this album. This was three years in the making for Wilson to do thanks to his amazing mixes he’s done with Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, XTC, and Steve Hackett to name a few.
It’s a big challenge for him to do this ambitious project to clean it and make it clearer to make the instruments come in front. You have the original flat transfers, the UK and US needle drop vinyl transfers, instrumental mixes, single edits, studio run-through’s, and a rare live recording of a performance in Zurich, Switzerland in 1974. Wilson himself has done another spectacular job of giving Tales another chance.
Taking the inspirations of Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, thanks to a conversation Jon Anderson and King Crimson’s Jamie Muir were having during Bill Bruford’s wedding. The book tells the story of a spiritual journey with different levels and divisions between the Hindu scriptures. The music tells the story of going a magic carpet ride between these worlds that you’ve never seen before thanks to the amazing artwork done by Roger Dean.
I love how the intensity throughout the section where it becomes this weird-out improvisation between Chris Squire’s wah-wah Bass, Howe’s guitar, and Wakeman going into a frenzy on the Moog before relaxing into the atmospheric voyage on his Mellotron on The Ancient Giants Under the Sun. With mixtures of classical between Sir Edward Elgar as to prepare for the next adventure and stop-and-go moments, you can close your eyes and the thunderous moments that hits like at you with voltage coming at you out of the blue.
Alan White who took over Bill Bruford after his departure to join up with King Crimson during the Close to the Edge tour in 1972 on drums, is still killing it on the kit and he’s not trying to be Bruford, but he knows where the band wants to go into next during those moments in the compositions. It’s evidential on Ritual Nous Sommes Du Soleil.
Anderson’s scatting, followed by the speed-driving rhythm between Squire, Howe, White and Wakeman, it’s spectacular of heading back to our home planet. The voice and Howe’s melodic guitar, sends chills down my spine before the avant-garde twist in the last 7-minutes of the piece which shows White in full force on the percussion and drums.
He is not just all over the place, he can bang those percussions like a cannon going off before the nightmarish Mellotrons and chaotic Synths come into place. It is the “Holy Shit” moment right there! It’s insane, unexpected, but mind-boggling at the same time. The vocals and instruments are very clear. Gone now is the first two minute ambient introduction of The Revealing Science of God (Dance of Dawn) as Anderson sings “Dawn of light lying between a silence of solo sources/chased amid fusions of wonder/In moments hardly seen forgotten.”
The harmonizing vocalizations, and setting off for an adventure setting for lift-off, it is a wonderful way to start it off with a bang. The watery yet beautiful effects take you into the deeper dark caves for a chance of searching for one self is where my arm-hair went up a notch on dealing with the impressed mind for The Remembering High the Memory. This was an amazing reissue that the Pangyeric label has done along with the other Yes albums (Close to the Edge, Fragile, The Yes Album, and Relayer) have done.
For me, it’s a perfect gift for Hanukkah, Christmas, or for your birthday. The set contains the mini-LP formats including the original LP gatefold sleeve which includes the lyrics and story of the album along with the band performing the promotion of this album. A 20-page booklet features liner notes done by Sid Smith, notes about the audio sources of the album and the set up information of the Blu-Ray disc.
It contains pictures of the band, tickets, rough draft sketches by Dean of the stage sets for Topographic Oceans, posters, a Hot Air balloon to each venue of the ’74 American tour, and New York area shows between Nassau Coliseum and Madison Square garden of a full-page advertisement, and international LPs. I have enjoyed what Wilson has done with this album.
And I’m very pleased with what the New Stereo Mixes has accomplished to as I’ve mentioned get the recognition it deserves with some clarity and cleaning up from the tapes. And as Jon Anderson says, “And I do think very well, that the song might take you silently that move fast/they tell me/there’s some rainbow alternate tune.”