Saturday, October 22, 2011

Close to the Edge (1972)

I'm pretty sure the general consensus on Yes is that Fragile is the best album they did, with maybe The Yes Album in there too, though I suspect there's another quarter who would argue for Tales From Topographic Oceans, a double LP with four songs. I like Fragile, I never warmed to Tales (and I have nothing to say about the '80s comeback, except I did kind of like that hit). Close to the Edge, the album that came between, was the one I owned and was fanatical about for a time, a daily habit even, mostly for the side-long title song, although I thought the flip was worth the time too when I was in the mood for more where that came from. But I was done with it more years ago than I like to think. So I approached it again recently with some trepidation. Boy howdy what do you know, it still sounds terrific. Visiting Wikipedia, I am reminded that two of its three tracks, including the long one, are presented as suites composed of titled sections: "The Solid Time of Change," "Total Mass Retain," "Seasons of Man," "Cord of Life," and like that. I probably didn't need to remember that, because it only emphasizes the silly pretensions of a lot of the progressive-rock I consciously walked away from. But it doesn't mean even so that there isn't a good deal of soul and energy and imagination incorporated here, not to mention a good groove once in awhile, and always a kind of sincerely felt yearning after transcendence. I am also seeing that the long one has something to do with Hermann Hesse and one or another of his novels, but the thing is they really could get it worked out on the musical plane and that's the level on which it operates still. In fact, setting aside all the ponderous conceptual hippie (or post-hippie) shtick is not hard at all with the thing playing. As far as I can tell it's a real band working things out the way real bands do—rehearsing, jamming, locking up with one another, and knowing what they're all about all the way from the inside, each connected equally to all the others, and then just playing until it comes together. I mean, it's possible that what I'm hearing is a sentimental hit of nostalgia, re-embracing with an album I remember well loving, and all the memories and lost youth and all that associated with it. Or, on the other hand, maybe it's just a really good album.

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