TALES OF THE BRAVE YES
by Maurice Doubleday
In the early to mid 70s prog rock bands felt the urge to create the concept album. And oft-times these concepts became long winded enough to encompass a double album. Yes' TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS is usually considered the worst example set by adults in rock music. But to call these 4 twenty minute long songs based on a fucking footnote of the AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI anything but brave and inconsistent with the norm is to betray the truth of their success with this project. It is scarier than punk and a lot more endearing later.
Created by the band as a reaction to the weighty concept of the previous LP CLOSE TO THE EDGE that the guys would set the Bible to music, TALES was as much of a spitball back at the cynical critical junta that despised prog on principle as it is a Jack Handey style daily affirmation. A true example of “word dancing” that vocalist Jon Anderson picked up from Blake, TALES is like a baby dictionary for mantras. There is no narrative. No linear design. The songs all clock in at about 20 minutes because of restrictions with how long a song could be on one side of vinyl. That seems to be the only flaw with this project. I never imagined spirituality coming in album side increments. In rehearsal; “The Revealing Science Of God” was a 28 minute piece. But Yes being ever so mainstream made it into your standard 20 minute straight-to-radio fluff. A 28 minute straight thru tune would be great with CDs, I guess. But this scares me too. Think of some neo-prog nut deciding to redo TALES as four 80 minute CDs!!!! (Tangents in a review of TALES are necessary and preparatory for anyone even remotely interested in prog.) Despite the anal irony of my complaint tho, TFTO sails away as the freest piece of art since Dali's watches saw the Lindsay Lohan video. The instrumental work is simply what Yanni would be doing if he smoked something besides Virginia Slims. This mixed with a mantra-a-moment and bam! you have Rolling Stone's Worst Album Ever Made...but to understand this music is truly an undertaking and worthy of the feeling of accomplishment.
TALES google list:
AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI
The Holy Bible
These references occur in sometimes subtle manners. But any attempt to understand any of this warrants a little side reading.
The funny part about TALES is that its biggest detractor was its shining star -- keyboardist Rick Wakeman. A schism of culture grew within the band as Wakeman maintained a hearty carnivorous diet and drank much beer whilst the other four smoked marijuana before eating a tempeh thing-y. As odd as it sounds...diet broke up this band. Wakeman left calling it names. Now this has happened many times since in one particular genre....straight edge punk. And some have compared the noisy experiments on side four to Sonic Youth. Spinal Tap jokes aside, Yes engendered bravery in rock with aplomb. Sometimes brutal, sometimes silly -- TALES and all of Yes' product put a daisy in the rifle chamber of the angry youth.