Photograph: Chancel & Altar of St. Margaret’s Minster, King’s Lynn

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Beautiful, speaks for itself. Photo by Francis Barker 2020

Rock Review: Yes, ‘Close to the Edge’ – Close to being perfect.

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The Classic 1972 Progressive Rock Album.

Probably my favourite all time prog rock album, ‘Close to the Edge’ (Elektra/Rhino CD) by Yes.

I was quite young when this came out in 1972 and didn’t actually hear it until later in the following year, when my elder brother brought it home. I think I had heard ‘Fragile’ by then too, the band’s 1971 release, which kicked off with ‘Roundabout’, one of Yes’ more ‘accessible’ numbers for a young boy. Nevertheless, I remember being pretty impressed by the whole album.

Spiritual sound

However, when my brother put ‘Close to the Edge’ on our family hi-fi, at first I wasn’t sure what to make of it. The slow start of planetary, naturalistic sound, the incredible weaving together of all the different movements of side one, took some time for me to appreciate, but now it’s like one epic poem, a vast spiritual movement of sound that is hard to describe, in words. It just has to be experienced, let it take you somewhere.

I still particularly like the ‘I Get Up I Get Down’ section, so beautiful, bringing together all the singing talents of the band, not just Jon Anderson, but also Steve Howe and Chris Squire.

Five virtuosos

Which leads me to a major point. Has there ever been a better example of five incredible talents working together, at the top of their game, producing such a masterpiece? I would doubt it.

Jon Anderson’s unique voice and inspirational lyricism; Bill Bruford’s peerless percussion; Steve Howe’s sheer virtuosity on six and twelve strings; Chris Squire’s uniquely lyrical bass and underrated singing; Rick Wakeman’s pure genius and dexterous flair.

It would prove to be a small window, sadly. Very soon, Bill Bruford would be on his way, followed soon after by Rick Wakeman. But what a beautiful, ornately made window it was. It was of its time.

Woven together

Side Two for me is equally impressive. I can still quite easily listen to ‘And You And I’ on repeat. I love the start, with Steve Howe hitting the harmonics on his twelve string, the way Rick’s synth plays over the top is so joyful, full of life. And like all Yes tracks, it’s difficult to envisage how they all put this together, so differing are the elements, but they come to together beautifully, woven by lyrics which are both hard to fathom, yet totally fitting – a Yes trademark.

And the final track, ‘Siberian Khatru’. Heaven knows what it’s about but if I had just one track to take to my desert island, I think it would be this.

Atmospheric

Great, catchy guitar riffs to start off and great rock playing by the whole band, but soon the wonderful group singing harmonies come in to play, adding a great atmospheric and naturalistic feel.

Then all the virtuosity of the band kicks in – indescribable. Especially, towards the end when they sing pairs of mysterious words with lots of reverb, which may, or may not, be related… but it works, it means something, though I don’t know what it is. And did I mention Steve Howe’s jazzy guitar on the outro?

Just how it should be, long reign the mystery.

copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019

Favourite Album Reviews: ‘Spirit of Eden’ by Talk Talk

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Few British bands changed so radically during the 1980s as Talk Talk.

Their early albums and singles were very much of their time, like their eponymously named single and ‘Today’, for instance. The early sound featured a strong, driving electronica dominated by synths and hooks.

However, even on those earlier pieces, there were hints of what was to come, that this was no ordinary, shallow 1980s band.

Veering Away

‘Life’s What You Make It’, their best remembered song, though still synth oriented, is beginning to veer away from ‘established’ sound and subject matter.

Yet, despite such progress and change, I don’t think anyone was ready for the 1988 release, ‘Spirit of Eden’ (EMI).

At the time it left many fans and critics dumbfounded with its often improvised, expansive, moody, melancholic, spiritual soundscapes. Then there was the use of a wide variety of session musicians, playing an array of instruments – brass, wind, harmonica. And there were only six tracks.

Unconventional

Then there is the Choir of Chelmsford Cathedral, even an obscure electronic device called a Shozygs to add to the eclectic, unconventional nature of the album.

But if the initial reaction might in some circles have been termed ‘puzzled’, or ‘underwhelmed’, over the years this album has achieved true iconic status, a literal masterpiece of modern music with many fans, myself included.

In some ways it’s a hard album to describe, or to breakdown in to what it’s really about. Yes, there’s an unconventional spiritual element to it, as the name ‘Spirit of Eden’ suggests. You just have to listen to it. It’s perfect background music, good to concentrate on, good to talk about amongst friends.

Sparse Ambiguity

What’s more, the lyrics, though relatively sparse, have enough ambiguity to allow you interpret things your own way, to lead you back in again and again.

Take Track 1, ‘The Rainbow’ which sets things off as they are to carry on. It’s sparse to begin, wonderfully atmospheric with great usage of piano and organ in solitaire mode. An electric guitar pitches in suddenly with a bluesy riff, over the top of a simple drum beat – the latter a feature throughout the album until the last track. And the harmonica is something else too.

And what can one say about the late Mark Hollis’ vocals? I would’ve gladly listened to them on their own, without lyrics; they sound just like an instrument which complements all the others. He is forceful, thoughtful, emotional, tender, a kaleidoscope of feeling in one voice: no better British singer in the past forty years, in my opinion.

Sublime Torture

Then there’s ‘Eden’, another soundscape beginning with brass and wind. There is a particular melancholy here, but a beautiful one, like some sublime torture as each chorus leads up to a desperate statement of faith, or maybe the lack of it. But there’s hope here too.

I particularly like the electric guitar cameo, almost ‘Beatles-esque’ in its playing, to take you off in some beautiful diversion. An extraordinary song which I still don’t fully understand, but I love it.

‘Inheritance’ carries on with the improvisational sense, evoking space, yet might seem a little more conventional sounding.

Gospel Edge

Track 5, ‘I Believe In You’ might seem even more conventional to start with, with a regular, gentle beat. And there’s a soulful, gospel edge to this one too.

This leads us on to the use of The Choir of Chelmsford Cathedral. It’s not overdone, it accents everything tastefully, merely to illustrate the song, finally taking you out into the ethereal at the end.

‘Wealth’ ends this collection of sounds, with another understated sense of melancholic peace, with a twist of gospel. We’re back to the gentle minimalism of the organ and piano, with no percussion at all. It evokes a rare sense of space, reflection, the general feel throughout the album.

After all these years, I still can’t truly say I understand what this album is about. But it doesn’t matter, it’s all the better for it and will remain one of my ‘go to’ albums.

copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019

 

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