Posted on February 25, 2017
Close To The Edge by Yes – A Review
Close to the Edge
“What we have here are a gay couple of witless dicks who are full of shit.” (TheYairisan, 2016)
Yes has a dedicated following, not unlike Scientology1 and I had been slightly-kind of-extremely dismissive of the Chairman of the Board of the Yes cult – Jon Anderson.
Every now and then I still feel the shadow of those sinister people following me, filming me, driving really close to the back of my car. Occasionally I still get a heavy breather on the phone, gently whispering ‘I get in, I get out.’ It happens less often now, ever since the police protection program, but it was pretty hairy for a while.
Unfortunately for us Youtube is a visual platform. Fortunately it is a very popular platform. Therefore it was important that we did absolutely no promotion whatsoever so that nobody would watch it and realise that we have nothing to say and no reason for doing it. Making a Youtube channel that nobody would ever watch was preferable to going down the pub of a weekend where we would look nervously around the room, hoping that nobody would try to engage us in conversation or point out that we were drinking coffee (Kev – decaf).
It wasn’t long before we bumped into the ‘what next?’ problem…
Yes was the second band we covered – six albums, one a week, reviewing every song, you can imagine how arduous that was – earphones on, push the rock up the hill, get to the top, watch rock roll back down, next album – Tales From Topographic Oceans – bollocks.
Given their widespread adulation, I can’t shake the feeling that maybe I’ve been wrong about Yes. There has always been a little inkling in the deep recesses of my dark place that I might have missed the boat somehow. Perhaps a sense of guilt about the amount of time I put in, maybe I was a little negligent, maybe my ears were just not tuned in. I like Genesis, does it make sense that I don’t like Yes? A guy who digs Marmite has got to like Bovril right?
I’m off on holiday for a couple of weeks soon. I was going to listen to Zappa but whoah if I liked Yes that could make the 16 hour plane flight sort of bearable, couldn’t it?
Sufficiently motivated I now feel like I’m ready, but which one should I start with? The prospect of listening to Tales From Topographic Oceans again is a little nauseating and a song about a Roundabout, I don’t think so…
The last Bruford album – Close To The Edge – is the one for me, it is their Selling England By The Pound, unquestioned by Yes fans and unanimously well received. What could go wrong?
There is something of the Sesame Street house band about Yes – Animal on drums2, Ralph on keys3, Mr Snuffleupagus on bass, Ernie on guitar and Big Bird channeling Beaker on vocals. Instead of songs about triangles and the letter E, some hippy bollocks about Karma and chickpeas or some such shit, but similar nonetheless.
I always hated Big Bird. He was such a boring lamppost of a character. He wandered in when nothing particularly interesting was going to happen and said some boring stuff. The Cookie Monster was fantastic, a real standard bearer for the greed inherent in the modern capitalist system, Elmo was cute and adorable, Bert and Ernie pushed at the periphery of what was socially acceptable. Big Bird was shit. A complete personality black hole who had trouble counting and spelling. He was what? Thirty-five years old or something like that4.
I don’t hate Sesame Street and I don’t hate Yes. It’s Big Bird I’ve got the problem with and similarly it’s Jon Anderson I have the beef with. It’s like he looked at the Beatles in the White Album era and thought, wow thats the direction my life needs to go. The world moved on, he didn’t.
I can imagine him sitting on the balcony of a beach hut, secluded from the world, his Apple notebook flipped open, josticks burning, hummus, olives and home-made bread on the table whilst the sound of the ocean creeping up the soft sand mesmerizes and stupefies a lightly dozing Golden Labrador under a wooden bench.
Anderson reaches into his pants, rams his hand up his ass, rummages around until he finds a huge stink nugget. His cavernous butt puts up a fight but eventually he pulls it out, looks gleefully at the effulgent dripping down his fingers and lobs it at the screen of his colorful Mac book pro. That is it. The album – 4th Declension – finished.
He lets out a gleeful sigh, rolls a joint and trundles off down the beach to crack one off in the sea. Literally loving nature.
Maybe I’m not approaching this with an open mind..
Give it long enough and you should be able to tune Jon Anderson out – like tinnitus. After five albums5 he should be imperceptibly offensive, like a fart on an aircraft carrier. Yet for some reason each album is like another dose of white torture. Training can prepare you to persevere with the monotonous and noninflected syllables of crap that bounce off the diaphragm of your speaker, the true progger has done the time, can see past the rubbish, can forecast the exciting pay off. The true progger sticks it out.
Quoth Kev – “I liked it immediately”, he likes to prove me wrong.
The average human being needs things like tonal variation to keep things interesting for nineteen minutes. This is where Jon Anderson falls short – apart from the ridiculous subject matter of his music – the guy started singing a song in 1969 and didn’t finish until 1980. When most people look at track titles on an album, they think ‘ooo these must be different songs’, the fucking idiots, this is Yes! The USP of Close to the Edge was a song that lasted the whole length of one side of the album, this is of course subterfuge, the actual gambit was making a song that lasted a whole career, punctuated by periods of silence – under the pretence of writing new albums but were actually extended weed and meditation breaks, with one simple rule – do what the hell you like as long as it sounds the same.
Jon Anderson’s apparent lack of awareness about how ridiculous his approach to music is can only be equaled by the absurdity of the band, apparently over burdened with talent, sticking Bruford and Wakeman on the side lines. Two musicians with greater reputations cannot be found6 and somehow they were on the subs bench, a crime of profligacy against Hector the Prog god. Well I say somehow but really it is obvious what happened – the whole basis of the album was bat shit bonkers. Two perfectly ordinary people with at least one foot in the real world would not be able to engage with this bollocks. So they ostracized themselves and hoped for plausible deniability.7
Twice I’ve tried to read Siddartha to see what all the fuss is about. A story about a cocky teenager that buggers off on the path of enlightenment with his mate – Govinda who has a huge man crush on him – judging people, having conversations and engaging in some really clunky story telling.
“Just loved the way Siddhartha was written: beautiful words, peaceful rhythm, simple plot, and so many “quotable” passages that gives you a lot think about it.” – Review of Siddartha on Goodreads.
What I actually read was – ‘Siddartha suddenly realised all teaching was a load of old tosh and the world seemed different to him’. Yeah great story. It’s right up there with – “the famous man looked at the red cup.”8
I’ll give you a clue if you haven’t read it, Siddhartha makes it, he becomes like a super guru. What the hell Close to the Edge has to do with this completely bypasses me.
Rick Wakeman: Seriously? You want to put one mans journey to the realisation of the **ineffable** oneness of everything – that time doesn’t actually exist and that reality is only the present and there is no past and no future, that everything: the rock, the river is it’s own past and future and that there is no pain and suffering, that everything is just one side of an infinitely sided oneness which cannot be communicated via words, can only be experienced…that? You want to put that on the album?
Jon Anderson: Exactly!
Steve Howe: Genius man.
When you read it like that, it actually sounds impressively ambitious and that’s just side one. Side two has even more nonsense, I’m surprised they didn’t try and distill quantum mechanics into the liner notes.
After listening to the album for a bit, and you get past all that crap, there is some awesome music there. You just need to get to the point where you can tune in to it. Steve Howe is a wonderful plinky plonk guitarist, Rick Wakeman’s solo’s aren’t all like ear ache, in fact some of it is amazing. You’ve also got to appreciate the time that it came out. It must’ve sounded other worldly. From a reviewers point of view the anecdotes are quite good as well. Bits of tape being chucked in the rubbish and the notoriously difficulty of recording the bloody thing, it’s all great stuff.
I bloody love Close to the Edge. This makes me angry. It means that I was at least partially wrong – the Universe must have had a slight hiccup or something. I still stand by my criticisms: Jon Anderson should not be let within three hundred miles of any sort of writing implement. This is no way to make an album. Speaking as a vegetarian peace monkey myself who actually found the book kind of rewarding in the finish, I can honestly say that this album adds nothing to it.
But as a piece of music. Once you can get that ringing out of your ear there is some great stuff to enjoy. The organ solo at the end of Close to the Edge is amazing and the other two tracks are pretty solid. Kev’s convinced that Bruford had a lot more to do with Siberian Khatru than is widely let on, that fact doesn’t make it any more or any less interesting or enjoyable.
The weakest part of the album is every vocal section, unfortunately they are necessary because otherwise it would sound like a mad mans notebook of noodly doodlies and not in a good way. You could argue that this is in fact genius. The insipid malaise that the vocals inspire draw parallels with the steady drone of the river that Siddartha learns his final lesson from. He has to listen really hard to learn the final lesson in much the same way you have to listen really hard to enjoy Close to the Edge. Is that genius? Fluke? Or am I staring at clouds and seeing dragons? I don’t know.
Egging it is difficult. 4 seems so cruel given the scope of what’s going on but out of three, two of the tracks are decent but not awesome. Even though instrumentally it is perfectly fine with some excellent bits, the most memorable thing on the album is the ‘I get in, I get out’ nonsense. This is not a good motif.
Close to the Edge is a perceived as a Prog milestone and therefore we should be looking at five or six eggs, but it’s not. There aren’t enough of those jaw dropping moments it is a solid 4 egg album.
There will be a lot of Yes fans who disagree strongly and hopefully they will leave some lovely comments telling me so. I’m a lot more positive about it than when we initially reviewed it, on the current trajectory it will be bumped up to a 5 egg album in about fifteen years. It is a notable album that’s a good yardstick for judging other albums by and not wholly offensive. Sure I’ve taken a swipe at Jon Anderson, mostly because it’s funny, but his metaphors are so cryptic that it could have been about crop rotation in the 14th century9 and it wouldn’t have changed very much. It’s just a shame that something so inventive musically can have such boring vocals.
TheYairisan (2016, Oct) Re: Tales From Topographic Oceans review. In the Court of the Wenton King part 14. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdYSMas4FX8&lc=z13tuxjwhl24tv3mp22ehlrrpofwddr4w04
Siddartha for Those Who Haven’t Read It
A precocious kid called Siddartha did lots of ablutions in the river until he decides to leave to seek enlightenment with his mate Govinda. After really putting his foot down his Dad lets him leave and they bugger off.
They join a bunch of guys who fast a lot and beg a lot. They do it for a few years and Siddartha decides that he’s not learning anything. So they bugger off from there as well. They run into a living Buddha and Siddartha says to him ‘learning is for chumps’. Govinda decides to stay and follow the Buddha guy. Siddartha leaves and everything looks and feels different.
He stays with a ferry guy for a bit and then goes to the town and learns business and sex. He’s really good at it and eventually gets suckered in, he becomes like the towns folk. Then after a couple of decades or something he thinks ‘shit’. He has sex with Kamala, his ‘teacher in the ways of love’ one last time and then heads back out into the forest.
Man is Siddartha depressed. He tries to chuck himself into the river but catches himself at the last moment. Govinda finds him and looks after him but he doesn’t recognise him. Then he does ‘oh wow how you’ve changed’ etc.
Siddartha has no money and then remembers the ferry man. He always got a good vibe from him. He thinks he’ll go bum around with him. Which he does and they listen to the river a lot. Ages go past, they really get on quite well. Then the Buddha is on his death bed and everyone is travelling to see him along with Kamala with her son Siddartha!
Kamala sits on a snake and dies.
Young Siddartha doesn’t want to live with his Dad but his Dad tries to make him. Young Siddartha runs away. Old Siddartha goes after him, realises that he has to let go when he gets back to Kamala’s garden and goes back to the Ferry.
Siddartha listens to the river a lot, it tells him something about the universe and time and all that crap, the old Ferryman wanders off into the woods. Govinda turns up to use the ferry. Again he doesn’t recognise Siddartha. He asks him to teach him a lesson, Siddartha tells him to kiss his forehead … Govinda realises Siddartha has become like the Buddha.
Awesome! Mission accomplished.
1 Defintiely not a religion.
2 On secondment from the muppets
3 Also seconded from the muppets
4 Complete guess, no doubt he was like 8 or something but that’s just not believeable.
5 Yes – (1969), Time and a Word (1970), The Yes Album (1971), Fragile (1971), Close to the Edge (1972)
6 Bruford obviously had very little reputation at this point but nonetheless.
8 Stewart Lee satirsing Dan Brown’s writing style – https://youtu.be/-yUDh_IErT4?t=39s