Close To The Edge – The Re-Review 2! Kev’s Comeback.

Editor’s note – this is a response to Sam’s re-review which can be found here.

The road to Prog is paved with good intentions.  That doesn’t mean it has to end up with at a dinner date with Beelzebub in some rank Burger King, being forced fed forbidden snake burgers at a service station on the M42.  That privilege is reserved for a period of music known as the ’80s’.  Send in Vanilla Ice!

Close To The Edge was indeed made with the best of intentions.

It is a milestone in the history of prog and a good album.  Good musicians were on a journey in the right place at the right time.  Well, the time and place depends on which bit of the album you’re listening to.  Literally seconds worth of music were recorded at a time in various studios between concerts.  After several weeks of painstaking debate and frustration the bits were sellotaped together into a single cohesive piece.

Given this mode of operation it wouldn’t be surprising if the first side ended up like Rick Wakeman’s solo career – patchy.  Yet somehow, cohesive it is.  It works fantastically well as a complete piece and is a landmark example of how a 20-minute rock song can be structured.  This little nugget and Supper’s Ready by Genesis are often considered the standard bearers of how it should be done.
Anyone who reads Sam’s meditation on the profound meaning behind Close To The Edge would be astonished at the success of this track given Jon Anderson’s aura of mad hippy nonsense.  At this point in time he was just a guy from Accrington with big ideas and a fantastic sense of melody and scale.  No, really.  He didn’t know what he was doing, but what he was doing was awesome.  Obviously, it helped that three of the other musicians in the band were at the height of their respective muses, and the other not reaching his best yet simply because he was going to soar even higher.

The four sections flow together to create a journey from one extreme to another.  The crazy atonal – one chord intensity of the intro gives way to the ‘story teller’ second section which also introduces the main theme, then into the serene beauty of ‘I get up I get down’ and finally into a section of intense jamming with that euphoric key change as we arrive at our destination.

… or whatever arrangement of nice sounding words and bullshit you want to use to put the musical experience into text.  The guy who runs the Yes fan club cried the first time he heard it, man.

It’s easy to see how you could hang it onto Siddartha, but if the music tells the story of the journey of enlightenment, you could frankly apply it to pretty much anything you like.  It might even be about Star Wars.  It wouldn’t surprise me if the Siddartha thing was draped over the music as an afterthought – ‘This music is utterly amazing and I can’t put it into words!  Let’s find some words that are ‘good enough’ to match the music.’

The overwhelming success of this method would of course lead to them starting the process with ‘profound text’ and making a lot of music to match it.

As history proves, you don’t *really* do that.  Doing that kind of thing ‘for real’ simply compromises the music like some awful Lloyd Webber schlock.  Not that Tales From Topographic Oceans is as bad as Andrew Lloyd Webber.  It’s not as good as Close To The Edge but it is good.  But for sanities sake let’s not go down that rabbit hole.

So that particularly terrible idea isn’t what happened here.  Much is said of Yes’ lyrics simply having phonetic meaning and to most (yeah, not all…) Yes fans the Siddartha thing isn’t really relevant.  The music transcends, man.  You don’t need the music to be about some book on transcendence or something to see that.

Maybe Jon had the right idea after all?  About the music, I mean, not any of the stuff Sam said, which for legal reasons we must stress aren’t true.  Probably.

Sometimes you have to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks, or in this case maybe a better metaphor would be to throw a mellotron at some money hungry bath-water-wasting musos whilst shouting ‘play’ repeatedly in 17/8.

Importantly it should be pointed out that despite the adulation the first side receives, the second side is just as highly regarded.  The closing track – Siberian Khatru, despite the nonsense title, is a pretty straight forward rocker and became one of two main concert openers over the years.  The super catchy Hendrix style riff possibly being written by Bill Bruford, or at least matching his style of later solo pieces.  Which is a good thing.

More significant than this, the opening track to the second side – And You And I is an even bigger achievement than Close To The Edge in some ways.  Representative of a more straightforward uplifting Yes, soaring over our lives in a wave of positivity … or something like that.  Maybe that’s where their future lay if what the industry experts claimed – that they were destined for Pink Floyd levels of success – were to be true.

Industry experts talk crap.

When the band reformed in the 80s, without the bass player or name, both of which were messing about in America in a more streamlined version of the band, And You And I held a special significance for Yes fans.  Bruford who had left for pastures Fripp and Jazz after Close To The Edge was duped into returning.  He sacrificed musical reward and self-realisation for bags of money, nice recording studios and stadiums packed out with adoring fans.  Whilst displaying his usual refreshing sarcasm and dry humour when recalling this era, his recount of them playing And You And I for the first time is one of astonishment at the deafening wave of applause the band were treated to.  ‘Classic Yes’ had returned and it was this song that signalled it more than any other.

Like so much art, the music on this album ‘just works’.  The personalities involved, all the subsequent stuff that happened and stories of farmyard-themed recording studios aren’t relevant here.  Bill Bruford calls it luck, and it does appear that way.  Just the right people at the right time.  Alternatively if you’re a bitter journo who never got to be in a band and are a bit miffed you can’t follow this actually not that hard to follow music, the wrong people at the wrong time led to success of the wrong music.
And lo, it was foretold in the tomb of prog, the book of mad time signatures, the pamphlet of ridiculous wizard capes, the town crier of neo-classical jazz-folk-metal hybrid music, the blog of hated by people who’ve never heard it music, the tweet of not really that difficult and actually quite catchy music, the newspaper of multipart harmonies…

…that Close To The Edge is really quite good.  Better than that, it’s awesome!  Steven Wilson thinks so, he remastered it.
So why doesn’t Sam like it?  If he likes Metallica and Top Gear, a singer that sounds like a girl just isn’t where it’s at.

So why doesn’t Sam like it?  If he likes Metallica and Top Gear, a singer that sounds like a girl just isn’t where it’s at.
“If that was my album, and Jon Anderson was singing, I would say delete that track [in a Swedish accent]” – Sam, yesterday. Possibly.

One Comment on “Close To The Edge – The Re-Review 2! Kev’s Comeback.

  1. In the 1970s, in the prime of the group, it’s pretty clear that Jon Anderson was the main creative force behind Yes, and the strong musicianship brought it all to fruition from the advanced starting point set by Anderson. Not only did Jon write all or most of the lyrics, but I think many of the themes were his — the accounts I’ve read seem to suggest that he would compose them and play them to the rest of the group, and things would go from there. (At first, in my listenings, I assumed Anderson’s songwriting credits were just with respect to lyrics and I didn’t give him much credit, mainly because I thought his musical talent was in the lightweight category, but since then I’ve come to believe differently, and not least from listening to his solo stuff.) The first time Jon skipped out on a group venture (1980’s Drama), the lack of light, airy hippieness was evident. Not that it was bad, it was just the bacon quiche to the normal souffle the group’s normal output.

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