Tales From Topographic Oceans


Atlantic Records, 1974


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


If you're looking for a little sunshine in the form of music to brighten up this Income Tax Deadline day, well... see you tomorrow. (No, wait! Don't go! We need all the hits we can get!)

Yesterday I nearly fell over myself praising the work of Don McLean - and rightfully so, 'cause it deserved it. Today, we're going to talk about one of the biggest, smelliest pieces of dog shit ever to be released under the guise of "rock" - and in a double album, no less. Grab a sandwich and a beer, 'cause this one's gonna be fun to rip on.

Today's victim: art-rock band Yes. While there never was any question that the members of Yes were talented musicians, there is something known as too much of a good thing - and that is named Tales From Topographic Oceans. I know that art-rock is supposed to be somewhat pompous and overblown, but this is ridiculous.

While on tour (I'm guessing for Close To The Edge), lead vocalist Jon Anderson was looking through Autobiography Of A Yogi - nothin' like a little light reading in the john, you know - and became inspired to write music based around the "shastras". (I once had a similar experience, writing music about the "Shastas"... oh, never mind. Bad soda joke.) Eight months later, they had this monstrosity - and don't give me this "Just think, it takes two years for a baby elephant" jazz.

The album features one song on each of its sides - bad move. Doing a piece on a theme that is a side long is one of the biggest challenges any artist faces. Mike Oldfield successfully did it, Jethro Tull did it while making a few mistakes, then promptly messed it up by trying it again one album later. Yes takes possibly one or two good riffs and pounds the bejeezus out of them. By the time they're done, the once-good riff sounds like it's a sheep being butchered.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And it's not even the subject matter that inspired the music that is the problem. Christ, Anderson could have been reading the fuckin' Kama Sutra, and this album would still suck. Welllll..... maybe it would have been a little more interesting (and would have sped up the invention of the music video by almost a decade), but it still would have been a big pile of (forgive me, Dennis Miller), dog shiiiit that even Divine wouldn't have eaten.

Even the song titles are enough to fracture the jaw of an elephant - c'mon, "The Revealing Science Of God - Dance Of The Dawn?" (Betcha God was considering suing for defamation of character on this one.) Gee, I feel so cosmic... yeah, right. I've felt more closer to spiritual oneness sniffing nitrous oxide in my dentist's office. 'Course, he wasn't there when I broke in to do so, but I digress.

Awright, maybe some parts of it didn't stink. I'll concede side one starts off okay - the chant at the beginning is somewhat interesting. And there are some interesting riffs that Steve Howe is able to squeeze out of his guitar.

But the moments of brilliance are few and far between. There is only so much noodling that Rick Wakeman can do on the keyboards before it sounds like he's sitting on them to see what kind of noise will come out. Steve Howe has always been an incredible guitarist, but when you hear him recycle riffs from "And You And I" from the previous album Close To The Edge, you know he's got to be bored with the entire creative process this monster had become. We have four words for this: "going through the motions."

Alan White does provide a decent backbeat, though there's only so much he can do with the drums (unless you're Neil Peart). And Chris Squire... well, there are very few people who can make the bass guitar more than a rhythm instrument, those people I can think of at one o'clock in the morning being the late Cliff Burton and Geddy Lee. After a while, it's so much plink-plink-plink on a four-string guitar. Can you say "Zzzzzz"?

And what pisses me off about this half-ass effort from Yes is that they were so much better than this. No, really. The album Fragile allowed them to delve into their creative dreams and not bore the listener to the point of suicide. Even Close To The Edge, as indulgent as it was, was at least a halfway interesting album to listen to. This is just musical masturbation at its worst - so bad that it sent Rick Wakeman running for the exits not long after its completion. (He would return in 1977 for Going For The One, but after two albums, the honeymoon was over again.)

Tales From Topographic Oceans began a downspin for Yes that I don't think they fully recovered from until their first breakup in 1981 and their reunion album 90125. Sure, they had their moments - "Wondrous Stories" and "Tempus Fugit" (featuring Trevor Horn as lead throat) being two prime examples of what they could do when they cut the bullshit and got to the heart of the music.

With this release, though, Yes lost the credibility they had worked to build up, which is an even bigger tragedy. Avoid this album like you would a restaurant serving burgers suffering from mad cow disease. Remember what Uncle Ronnie taught us through most of the '80s: Just say "No".

Rating: F

User Rating: D


you cant rate an album F if it has ANY redeeming values! and its quite obvious that in any circumstance musicianship is a good thing... good musicianship can lead to bad things like pretention and whatnot but good musicianship itself can not be a bad thing... this is a very unproffesional score
and i really do believe that you are more self indulgent as a reviewer than all of the self indulgence of all the music yes put out
I think that's the nicest thing anyone's said about me in the 11 years of this site's existence. But you can't take a dog log and put it in a fancy box, expecting it to become fine jewelry. "But it's in a fancy box!" you cry. BFD - it's still shit. Similarly, you can't take talented musicians and expect them to spin gold from straw.

But, your comments prove that the debate over TFTO will continue long after we're dead and gone.

© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.