Yes- Close to the Edge (1972): 8 June 2020

Yes – Close to the Edge (1972)

Welcome back to YDCS! This week we’re listening to one of the most significant albums in the prog rock genre, Close to the Edge by Yes. Close to the Edge came hot on the heels of 1971’s Fragile, but went with a completely different style than the earlier album. This album would be the band’s first foray into prog rock before firmly cementing themselves in the genre with the follow-up album Tales from Topographic Oceans. Yes remained primarily a prog rock group until changing their sound again with 1982’s commercially successful 90125, but their mark on the genre would remain with this album. Close to the Edge would go on to be one of the most consequential albums in prog rock and mentioned in the same breath as albums like Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick, Rush’s 2112, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery. Each of those albums were significant to defining what it meant to be “Prog.” For example, Thick as a Brick solidified the significance of long-form songs, and 2112 introduced the idea of science fiction and fantasy in rock. What Yes did with this album was find a way to combine elements of classical and religious music with classic literature and rock music, some of which would pop up in other prog rock albums throughout the 1970s.

Close to the Edge is one of my favorite albums. I love the fact that the lyrics and message of the title song were based on Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha.” I love how the band didn’t tie themselves to traditional musical structures, instead composing the album more as a single musical movement than as separate songs. I the displays of musicianship, beautiful vocal harmonies, and odd choices for instrumentation. How many times have you heard a church organ solo on a rock album? If you answered ‘Never,’ the this is your chance! Finally, I love the fact that Yes let their music and their art speak for itself and tell its own story. Oftentimes, the lyrics are difficult to discern, either due to the fact that they’re sung in a high voice or layered on top of each other in post-production to make them sound spacey, but you don’t need to know what’s being said all the time. The music tells as much of the story as the lyrics do. You’ll find something different to enjoy about this album each time you listen to it, and I hope you enjoy one of my favorite albums, Close to the Edge.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Close to the Edge (I. The Solid Time of Change, II. Total Mass Retain, III. I Get Up, I Get Down, IV. Seasons of Man): The title track for the album is as epic as a song can possibly be. I’d like to break this song down by section to make it more manageable. The song starts with an extended jam session and the most frenetic, energetic guitar performances I’ve ever heard, both the lead and the backing acoustic guitar. The song lulls you with a calm section before launching into the main theme of the song. The vocals are so ethereal that they’re used more as another instrument than a method to deliver lyrics. That’s not the first time you’ll hear Yes do that on this album either.

The song changes to the second mood at around the seven-minute mark. The main ‘Close to the Edge’ theme continues through the song to help tie the track together, much like an orchestral piece. “Total Mass Retain” is the shortest section, acting as an interlude for “I Get Up, I Get Down” and primarily features a short bass and keyboard solo.

Once you get to “I Get Up, I Get Down,” you feel like you’ve instantly been transported somewhere between a cave and space. The music makes you feel as though you’re in an unidentifiable natural setting. Lyrically, it continues to draw inspiration from “Siddhartha” through the whole section, making references to characters and scenes from the book and slowly building into two peace-breaking, iconic church organ solos; the first thing I think about when I think about this song.

We close the song out with a much faster paced section, “Seasons of Man” that closes out the song both lyrically and thematically, continuing to draw from “Siddhartha” with the often-repeated phrase, ‘Close to the edge, down by the river…now that it’s done, go to the sea,” serving to show that life goes on from one body of water to another body, and emphasizing one of the major tenets of Siddhartha, reincarnation. Musically and lyrically, you’ll hear something different each time you listen to this song, and it’s one of my favorites for its depth, metaphor, and grandiosity. Dad’s Rating 10/10

And You and I (I. Cord of Life, II. Eclipse, III. The Preacher, the Teacher, IV. The Apocalypse): Again, because this is a multi-part song, I’m going to break this one down section by section. “And You and I” is less esoteric than “Close to the Edge” and is overall a softer piece of music than the relative chaos of the former. Section I, “Chord of Life” has a strong classical European influence, and it reminds me of backing music that I might put in a movie set in Ireland or Scotland. Musically, it’s not particularly interesting but it does set the scene for “Eclipse.”

The second section continues the main “And You and I” theme that you’re introduced to right off the bat, but gets really abstract, really fast. If “Close to the Edge” was written to put you in a natural setting, “Eclipse” takes that makes you feel like you’re travelling through space; it’s ethereal and artistic, keeping up the idea that you don’t need lyrics to understand the point of the song.

“The Preacher, the Teacher” begins to pick the pace of the song up as we approach the end of the song, and I’d like to highlight the bass work and guitar work in particular. The bass line is really complex, but gets hidden behind the lead guitar and synthesizer. Take a minute to appreciate the supporting section during this section. They could have easily gone with a simpler bass line and the song would have worked perfectly, but the complex structure contrasts nicely with the simple, but well-played guitar line.

Finally, even though the song picks up tempo through “The Preacher, the Teacher,” Yes slow it back down for the last section with a beautiful vocal harmony that puts you right back in that space mindset and a brief acoustic section to tie it all together. The simple, folk style suits this song well as it contrasts with the harder styles of “Close to the Edge” and “Siberian Khatru.” Overall, I rate this lower than “Close to the Edge” because, while it’s still a great prog rock piece, it shows less musical diversity than the former. Everything was played perfectly and well-thought-out in terms of song construction, and the album did need a slower piece, but after listening to the other two songs, I know that there was a way to eek more musical diversity out of the band on this trac. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Siberian Khatru: “Siberian Khatru” is another fantastic example of what Yes was able to do with rock. Half the time you can’t understand what Jon Anderson is saying, and when you can understand what he’s saying, none of the words seem to fit together. Like the rest of the album though, the lyrics don’t matter in relation to the song, they only matter in relation to how they sound with respect to the rest of the instruments. That feeling is the most important thing; to me I feel like I’m flying underwater every time I listen to this song; the airiness of the music just puts me in that headspace.  Instrumentally, this is a superb song. Steve Howe’s solo at around the mid-mark and at the end of the song are some of my favorite moments in recorded music. The keyboard and bass-work during that end solo are also amazing. The way that Yes closes out “Siberian Khatru” is the benchmark by which I judge the endings of all albums. It crescendos into this huge sound with vocal harmonies before fading out, fittingly, without much being said. Dad’s Rating 10/10

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Yes- The Yes Album (1971): 4 February 2019

Yes – The Yes Album (1971)

We’re going back to 1971 this week on YDCS to take a look at one of the acts most responsible for the creation of progressive rock music, the English rock band Yes. For the thus far uninitiated, progressive rock was a subgenre of rock music that started developing in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was characterized by the use of unusual instruments, time signatures, fantastical, philosophical, or science fiction lyrics, and breaking the traditional moulds of song structure. Fortunately for the band, The Yes Album was a commercial breakthrough with songs like Yours is No Disgrace and I’ve Seen All Good People, especially considering that they were at risk of being dropped by their label if this album, their third, didn’t perform to expectation.

The Yes Album was the first Yes album to feature guitarist Steve Howe who would ultimately stay with the band through its most successful period through 1981 before the band broke up and reformed later in the year without him. This was also the last album to feature Tony Kaye on keyboard after he refused to branch out and play the mini-moog or synthesizer on their next album, Fragile. Kaye was quickly replaced by Rick Wakeman on Fragile leading to the band’s most successful lineup. If this is your first Yes album, don’t be off put by the runtimes on the songs. Yours is No Disgrace is the longest track on the album at around 9:40, but there are two other songs that give it a “runtime” for its money. Sit back and just enjoy letting the instruments weave between each other to create a stunning album.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Yours is No Disgrace: This is a rockin’ start to the album! The song transitions between a few themes including some fantastic keyboard playing from Kaye and insanely catchy guitar riffs from Howe in the middle of the track. The guitar solo in the middle of the track is my favorite because of how it uses the wah to add some groove to the track before transitioning back to a more traditional picking technique. Around that midpoint in the song is when we start to see the bass come more into the forefront too and drive the song forward. I think you’ll like the vocal harmony from the band through the entire song and don’t find it to be a disgrace! Dad’s Rating 9/10

The Clap: The Clap is a great little folksy guitar solo written by Howe. This is one of my favorite songs on the album even though it doesn’t really fit with the sound of the album. As he describes it, it was the first solo that he felt comfortable performing. I particularly enjoy the quick changes between picking and strumming that give this song a unique sound. Howe’s technical ability really shines through on this song. I’m not a guitar player but I definitely appreciate the difficulty of the song. This song always brings a smile to my face, and it’s hard to not be happy and smiling with a calm little ditty like this playing. Try not to bop your head along to the song, I dare you! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Starship Trooper (A. Life Seeker; B. Disillusion; C. Wurm): Starship Trooper is the first of two songs on this album that’s split into three parts. This is fairly common amongst progressive rock bands, where songs would be split into multiple parts that would explore a different theme in each section or would try to evoke a different emotion in each section. Yes did this on multiple albums, but most notably on Close to the Edge and Tales From Topographic Oceans (stay tuned for album reviews on those later!). The song transitions between the different sections very nicely and it’s very clear where the transition from Life Seeker to Disillusion occurs, the same is true for Disillusion to Wurm. Disillusion is my favorite part of the song and sadly the shortest. It shows more technical guitar ability from Howe Dad’s Rating 7/10

I’ve Seen All Good People: a. Your Move, b. All Good People: This song is the second multi-part song on the album after Starship Trooper, and where Wurm was slightly lacking on the former, there’s not a bad part of this song. This song is classic Yes, classic prog rock, and is one of Yes’ best-known songs. Good People gives you a little bit of everything that makes Yes such a quirky band and so much fun to listen to: vocal harmony, accompaniment on a church organ, and a rocking up-tempo part after Your Move opens into All Good People.  Dad’s Rating 8/10

A Venture: A Venture is one of the more unique songs on the album, and like The Clap, it doesn’t seem to fit with the sound of the rest of the album. It’s much more restrained, features significantly less vocal harmony, and there’s not unusual instruments. A Venture gets credit for displaying Kaye’s skills on the piano with his solo at the end of this song. The solo feels fresh and, in my opinion, actually provides a breath of fresh air on the album. When every song on an album sounds the same, the album can become stale, but the different tone of this song actually refreshes the sound for the last song, Perpetual Change, which is more of a return to the more familiar “Yes sound” on this album. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Perpetual Change: Yes wanted to close this album out with a bang and a return to their signature sound. This song has philosophical lyrics, masterful instrumentation from the band members, and more time signature changes than you can count. That’s actually my favorite part of this song for two reasons: firstly, they keep you on your toes and make you actively listen to the song as opposed to passively listening to it and letting it wash over you, and secondly it fits the title of the song very appropriately! The song is titled perpetual change for a reason and the song does exactly that! One minute you’ll be listening to a soft ballad, then the song shifts to a ripping guitar solo, then it goes back to ballad, then you’ll be listening to something that sounds like it should be the song to lead in the evening news! (see if you can spot that part of the song) Yes was unapologetically themselves with this last song on their last ditch effort album, and it ended up paying off. Dad’s Rating 7/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.