While we at Prog Talk love talking about all the new progressive acts hitting the music scene, sometimes it’s great to simply revisit the classics. As such we’re starting a new segment dedicated to precisely that; where all interested admins will discuss the albums and artists who have shaped prog history.
To kick it off with a bang, we have an album which many would argue to be the most iconic prog rock album of all time. It’s time to dive into Yes and their magnum-opus, Close To The Edge.
Let’s face it; this album needs little introduction. Originally released on 13 Sept. 1972, this was Yes’ fifth studio release and quickly became one of the defining works of the progressive rock genre. In this Roundabout, we will be tackling only the three tracks found on the original version of the album.
As per usual, all reviews are written independently to avoid influencing each other. Prog Talk as a collective never has an official view on any album, but the admins each have their own. So if your opinions differ from ours, let us know! So without further ado, let’s talk prog.
Close to the Edge needs no introduction, so let’s just get straight to it:
The album seeps in with a misleading subtlety in the first part of the title track: ‘The Solid Time of Change’s birdsong melts into technical chaos; where Rick Wakeman’s chattering keyboards, Chris Squire’s eerie climbing bass riffs and Jon Anderson’s crying intrusions act as a palette to what the rest of the song has in store. ‘Total Mass Retain’ never slows to faltering; though the song ebbs and flows, it does so seamlessly, pulling us to and fro down the fantasy streams in the artwork of Roger Dean’s world, where Squire’s glaciers carve out the valleys and push the album down its path of utopian landscaping. ‘I Get Up’ crowns the pinnacle of the album: the orogeny of Anderson’s whispers build to the soaring peaks of glorious choral mountains, all-encompassed by undulations of Wakeman’s crushing organs that’s as gushing and over-exuberant as this review – I’m stopping with the metaphors now; they’re making me nauseous. But even these words pale to the magnitude of what ‘Close to the Edge’ achieves both musically and historically – there can be no exaggeration here.
The problem I find here is that the title track is too intense, it’s too good. Why would I listen to the album’s second half when I could just listen to the first half again? The answer to that is ‘Siberian Khatru’. This track provides the funkiness and catchiness that the album needed to counterbalance its ground-breaking progressiveness with an accessible and fun track – why this song never became a single is beyond me. Whilst it lacks the intensity of the title track, the barrage of riffs is just so thrilling and enjoyable to bob along to; even the verses and final drum-vocal duet will have you trying imitate Anderson’s vocals, and Howe’s closing solo will have you laughably air-guitaring along to it.
‘And You And I’ is where I feel the album falters slightly. Though pleasant where Steve Howe’s acoustic noodling brings a folk essence to the album, the relaxed grip on instrumentation and the long, drawn out pacing makes this song fall short of the ambition of the title track and the energy of ‘Siberian Khatru’. Thankfully, Anderson is the centrepiece of the song with his consistently powerful vocals. It’s not a bad song by any means, hell, it’s a great song – if it were to be placed in any post-Relayer album, it’d be a standout track. Unfortunately it just so happens to be bracketed by two of Yes’ absolute best. The only real criticism of the production throughout the album is the infrequent oppressive presence the solos have in the mix, otherwise the faux-live recording worked really effectively in generating a spacious, open soundscape.
It is without a doubt that this album is not only the cornerstone of Yes’ discography, but can also be considered as being one of the most essential cruxes of progressive rock – the only problem is that Yes rarely came close to replicating such a magnificent album following it. Now whack on that Close to the Edge vinyl and let’s pretend Heaven & Earth never happened.
At the age of 15, I started to do some music investigation because of my ambition to expand my tastes. During that time, I was mostly a metal fanboy who had listened much to Dream Theater, but wanted more. Yes was the first progressive rock band that I checked, with one of their best albums, Fragile. However, I think the crowning achievement of this band, along with Relayer, is the one and only Close to the Edge.
The band was at their peak, in terms of both songwriting and musicianship, and the title track Is a statement to that sentence. Chris Squire’s unmistakable bass sound punches heavily along with Steve Howe’s incredible arsenal of riffs and Bruford’s percussion, Rick Wakeman’s dexterity on the keyboards – not to mention his incredible organ solo – demonstrates that he was one of the top players of that decade along with Keith Emerson, and to close this excellent line-up, Jon Anderson’s high-pitched vocals were at their best, in texture and power. This song goes many places, from calm sections to mind-blowing solos; it is considered a milestone of progressive rock.
The second part of this album is often overshadowed by its 19-minute predecessor, but it’s no slouch either. ‘And You and I’ is a beautiful ballad that demonstrates Yes’ softer side, with Wakeman and Howe stealing the show, especially at the end of the song, where keyboard and guitars collide to give it an amazing ending. ‘Siberian Khatru’ might be the catchiest and the most experimental song of the original 3 tracks of the album, starting off with each member not giving a single damn about coordination, making you wonder if you’re listening to a jam session. Anderson’s layered vocals step in to add more catchiness to the song before it grows up to another guitar-keyboard clash that closes off the album with pure ecstasy.
Yes never managed to make another album like Close to the Edge, and they suffered from the same thing as most progressive rock bands when the 80s appeared: trying to appeal to new sounds, but mostly failing in the process. However, let me not delve into that, because I’m talking about their magnum opus, which deserves every acclaim it gets, even more than 40 years after its release.
I’ve been a fan of Yes slightly after I started to move away from Dream Theater and discover more exploratory acts. While I don’t remember to which was the album I listened first, Close to the Edge and Tales from Topographic Oceans were, and remain, my two favourites, along with Relayer. Being the earliest of the three, coming right after the sub-par The Yes Album, Close to the Edge is by no means immature.
While, in my opinion, Yes reached their zenith on its successor, the 1972 release was a big step in the right direction. The 18-minute title track goes many places, each with its own character, and overall laying the grounds for a Zen experience, despite the whacky but impressive musicianship. Even more amazing is the fact that most of what’s on display here was recorded in one take, as they recorded analogically, rather than digitally. Sure, they could fix a few mistakes here and there, but the bulk had to be recorded in one sitting. The 2003 CD version has one such version of ‘Siberian Khatru’, while the 2013 Definitive Edition has an early mix of ‘Close to the Edge’.
‘And You and I’ is much less technically impressive, but still serves as a great, 10-minute track focused on the acoustic guitar. Arguably, it’s even the most memorable song on the album, given its catchy vocal lines and grandiose themes. After this, we’ve got the more psychedelic closure, ‘Siberian Khatru’. At 9 minutes long, it’s relatively short, but it’s probably the wildest of the trio, and would lay the foundations for what to expect on the band’s next album. Of particular note is the part starting on the 7 minutes mark. The disjointed, wordless vocal punches might be unsettling, at first, but it’s now one of my most anticipated moments on the album, and has influenced their later compositions and other prog bands as well.
Close to the Edge is a classic that every fan of progressive rock should listen to. I would understand anyone’s disliking of it, for various reasons, but these compositions are the very definition of ‘prog’, so disregarding them would be very unwise. For all the others, it’s an album to go back to when you start to think that modern prog is good, and then witness how deaf you were.
“I get up, I get down.”
There are few words as iconic to the progressive rock world as these, and though I would now gladly proclaim this to the world, a truth is that I wasn’t too fond of this album when I’d first heard it. Born in ’95 and as such more used to the clear-cut polish of the “modern prog” (as much as I hate that term) albums I was hearing at the time , Yes’ Close to the Edge at first felt somewhat rough around the edges for my tastes. However, as I listened again and again over the years (and listened closer) I gradually started drawing a vastly different conclusion.
The biggest reason for this change in mind was my closer inspection into the opener/title track. Simply put, this is one of the most infallible prog epics of all time. As I tried deconstructing this 18 minute behemoth, I simply could not place any fault on any major aspect of it. As such, I’m going to be doing something a little different and dedicating most of my section in this Roundabout to simply highlighting the little details which make ‘Close to the Edge’ so iconic. (I’m pretty sure most of my mates here will have covered the rest well enough for you guys anyway.)
The attention to detail is immediately made clear with the track starting up with a field recording of bird cries meshed delicately with crystalline synths, hearkening back to Yes‘ more psychedelic roots. From here, the rest of the band kicks in with a somewhat chaotic jam, yet is carefully harnessed in by the occasional break into Jon Anderson’s vocal harmonies, serving somewhat as checkpoints in the fray. These are essential to keeping the band from spiralling into what many detractors of prog have called the “nonsense solos”, and are placed with utmost deliberation.
The song’s theme melody then kicks in and a nice little thing you can notice is that even though the core melody is repeated multiple times at this point, it always builds upon variations of itself, staying fresh with each repetition and giving it a somewhat live feeling which even some of the most highly praised prog tracks to follow have been unable to achieve.
It’s interesting to note that in the verses of ‘Close to the Edge’ the lead is actually taken by Chris Squire’s bass, who works perfectly in tandem with Bill Bruford’s rhythms as opposed to merely playing riffs over them. As such every open hi-hat hit has even more impact and really emphasises the rhythmic complexity of the track.
And if we really want to go deep into just how well constructed this track is, we can delve as far into even the lyrics. Lyrics tend to be understated for importance in the prog world currently, yet even in this area ‘Close to the Edge’ shines supreme. Not just in the underlying meaning of the lyrics (though its underlying message of balance is both philosophically deep, based on the Buddhist novel ‘Siddhartha’, and as such riddled with clever extended metaphors that would probably make Wallace Stevens proud) but even the structure of words themselves. For example, the verses are built using near perfect iambic pentameter; the lyrics being built on the structure, and not the other way round. Most prog listeners would not even notice these details, as made evident by the Wiki for the song lacking any detail of the lyrics other than the overarching theme. Yet this lyrical finesse is still present; a result of the immense attention to detail involved in the track’s creation.
At the pinnacle of it all lies the section “I Get Up, I Get Down”. A slow contrast to the rest of the track, Rick Wakeman’s talent is on full display in this section. Synth layers are always subtly morphing in and out of the background, providing a somewhat un-static feel, and build as Jon Anderson hits his iconic crescendos before exploding into a damn-near perfect pipe-organ melody. The organic texture of the pipe-organ compliments the baroque feel of the section perfectly, whereas the lead saw-synth solo which follows makes for a great transition into the faster, proggier return of the song’s initial themes as a track closer.
So yes, put simply, this track is astounding, and sets the high standard for the rest of the album which follows suit almost just as well, as I’m sure my fellow admins will attest. As for me though, this has already run long enough, but I just hope you can all see why. Tracks like this come by rarely, so I had to give it the attention it deserved. Close to the Edge is a must-listen for any prog fan, and to summarise in any other way would be understating this fact.
So we reach the end of our first Classic Roundabout, and what a way to start! If there is one thing that can be gathered from all of our views on this album, it’s that it is an essential for any prog-rock album list. ‘Close to the Edge’ and ‘Siberian Khatru’ are masterpieces of prog and while ‘And You And I’ seemed to not quite hit the same heights, it would still be immensely strong on any other album.
So if you have yet to check out this landmark in prog history, please do so. It still remains one of the most creative, detailed and (most importantly) progressive albums you’ll find.