Friday, 7 March 2014

Yes - Close to the Edge

Of these 3 favourite albums I find Close to the Edge the hardest to write about. Yet it inspires me just as the other two, although Yes still have many fans, it seems there was an attempt to wipe Yes' place away from Rock history. This album is regarded as a Prog Rock Classic, but people think of prog rock in terms of technical expertise and cleverness but for me this album is a deeply romantic work of art, it is highly intuitive and it moves me with its beauty. The eclectic ideas that have been poured into it fuse together into a seamless whole and I am so thankful that this truly unique work was created.

I first listened to this aged 11 years old, lying on the floor of the lounge, following the lyrics written out in Roger Dean's beautiful script, looking at the inner cover, this was perhaps my first experience of visionary art and it transformed me.

There are only 3 pieces on this album. It opens with the title track which originally filled the entire first side of the album. It has an amazing fade in of nature sounds, birds, water rippling and beautiful bubbling synthesiser which builds slowly and as it peaks Chris Squires distinctive crunchy bass comes in and the band are making an exciting controlled chaos which yet has themes introduced that churns over and is completely captivating till it breaks like sunlight through trees into an accapella wordless harmony then back again into instrumental intensity, after a little while the music seems to clarify and slow down until there is a break and Steve Howe plays the gorgeous main theme on guitar it is 4 minutes in before Jon Anderson starts singing lyrics which start

A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace,
And rearrange your liver to the solid mental grace,
And achieve it all with music that came quickly from afar,
Then taste the fruit of man recorded losing all against the hour.

Reading those without music might bewilder you a little, and maybe Yes does bewilder many listeners, but both the music and the words are abstract and impressionistic, they are not telling a linear story and it is the images and the sound of them that drives them. By being abstract it also means that are not sucked dry by repeated listening. The images are romantic and come from, or lead to, the land of hearts desire, they are speaking from the soul and in the context of the music they fit perfectly.

I will not follow the whole track through in a linear way, but it has many parts with very different moods, the stillness of Rick's keyboard section, sections with clear melodic lines and angular sections. The River theme recurs in Yes, here Jon said it was inspired largely by Herman Hesse's novel Siddhartha, where the title character comes to live by a river and listens to the music of its waters and finds peace through it.

Yes on this album had five members and as with the Beatles each of them was vitally important to the music they created, seldom in rock music have the bass guitar and drums been so important. Steve Howe's guitar playing is just so supple, Rick Wakeman although known as a very flamboyant keyboard player is also one who knows the importance of melody and then there is Jon Anderson the diminutive singer with the alto voice, who because of his spiritual interest and abstract lyrics is sometimes described as a waif, but he was the leader of the band and Bill Bruford (their drummer) described him as an iron hand in a velvet glove and was affectionately known within the band as Napoleon. I really think it was Jon's daring that sailed the Yes ship into unknown seas guided by a star that only he could see.

The second track is "And You and I" and I think the title track is my favourite but I'm never sure as this track is probably their most beautiful work ever, I suppose it's a love song, it certainly feels like Love, the lyric "Emotion revealed as the Ocean Maid" has stuck in my soul as a beautiful expression of the natural world being alive and loving.

Lastly "Siberian Khatru" this is more angular and oblique, but as in the album as a whole there are no wrong steps everything feels inevitable and artistically satisfying.

There are some works of art that just had to be, that map out a whole new territory and this is one of them. 

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