Yes: Taking Progressive Rock To The Edge

Mar 11th, 2015 | By | Category: Canon Fodder, Reviews

yes_close(The following review is part 2 of 5 in a series of essential progressive rock albums)

Yes: Close To The Edge

While Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Lucky Man” was the first song I heard to feature the synthesizer, it was “Roundabout” by Yes that demonstrated to me how powerful a progressive rock song could be. Even the abbreviated version that would become a top 20 hit maintained the intensity. This was clearly a band breaking boundaries and I found myself intrigued and eager to hear more. On the heels of the success of the single “Roundabout” and its parent album Fragile, the band released their fifth, and what many consider to be their very best album, Close To The Edge in 1972. Composed of just three tracks, the album shows the band exploring with extended pieces. In some ways this was quite a risk. Having begun to garner chart success with singles like “Roundabout” and “Long Distance Runaround,” the band pushed further in the opposite direction, electing to create three epic compositions that would challenge fans and radio stations alike.

The title track opens the album and takes all of Side 1. It begins with ocean sounds and birdsongs slowly swelling until the band kicks in, quickly running through a number of melodic themes that they will return to throughout the song. The band’s trademark style is on full display. Chris Squire’s distinctive bass –played like a lead guitar– blended with Steve Howe’s exquisite playing that can be both delicate and aggressive at the same time, Bill Bruford’s impeccable jazz infused drumming, and of course Rick Wakeman’s keyboard wizardry and virtuosity. And finally there is that unique angelic voice of Jon Anderson, perhaps the most distinctive voice in all of rock. Over the course of 18 minutes Yes creates a piece of astounding music. It dazzles and delights. Its passion and fervor energizes. It is a rapturously captivating piece that continues to inspire even today.

“And You And I” starts Side 2 and begins with some beautiful acoustic guitar harmonics by Steve Howe. This slower-paced tune is a somber piece, and while it features some great keyboard parts, it’s the 12-string acoustic guitar that dominates. It doesn’t have the dynamics of “Close To The Edge,” but this doesn’t make it a lesser accomplishment. At just over 10 minutes it flows swiftly and succinctly and never becomes bogged down. It’s a lovely song that remains a fan favorite.

The album closes with “Siberian Khatru.” This incredibly powerful track features the band playing with controlled frenzy. All the dynamic range and fire spread out over the much longer title track seems to be condensed and intensified on this, the shortest song on the album. Listening to this song closely reveals what true artistry the band possessed. There is so much going on in any given portion of this track that it really demands repeated listens to truly come to grips with it all. The fleetness with which they play, the juxtaposition of melodies and counter melodies, the different meters played against each other, all of this and more is packed so tightly within this song. It is a crowning achievement.

A few thoughts on the lyrics. Much has been made of Jon Anderson’s obtuse lyrics. I still have no idea what a Khatru is. Still, it is clear that a spirituality pervades much of his words. On Close To The Edge there is a preoccupation with mother earth and a need to correct course before destroying this precious place. This concern is also exemplified by artist Roger Dean’s cover, which simply features a dark to light gradation of green along with the band’s name and album title. What color is more environmentally friendly than green? In 1972 the environmental movement was gaining in popularity. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970. If it was Anderson’s intent to encourage a more environmentally positive vision, then it’s a message that remains relevant today.

There can be no denying how important this album is in the canon of progressive rock or of Yes’ place in the genre. Close To The Edge is often cited as the No. 1 progressive rock album of all time. It surely demonstrates what a band could achieve when seeking to break out from the confines of simple rock structure. The year of its release saw so many other bands releasing strong progressive albums as well, but in many ways, Close To The Edge raised the bar to the highest level. A gauntlet of sorts was thrown, but many bands would take up the challenge.

Details

  • Artist: Yes
  • Title: Close To The Edge
  • Year of release: 1972
  • Year of first hearing by writer: 1972
  • Label of original release: Atlantic
  • Format listened to: LP
  • Track Listing
  • Purchase from Amazon: Close to the Edge
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