Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Close To The Edge


Just how close can one safely crawl out to the edge…before falling over and plunging headlong into the dark abyss? Such was the precarious perch on which Yes found themselves when it came time to record their fifth album in the spring of ‘72. Having finally achieved high artistic and commercial success with their previous breakthrough album, Fragile – the one that cemented the classic Yes sound of mind-tripping time changes, extended multi-part arrangements, maestro-like musicianship and chirping, high-pitched vocal harmonies – it was now time to flex their newfound creative muscles and take it to another level altogether. Mind you, this was an era when the root of the word “progressive” (progress) actually meant something, inspiring bands to ignore commercial considerations, push the musical envelope to the max and milk the refreshing lack of creative restraints that had previously existed in rock music. So, what the hell, for starters let’s make the title track 20-minutes long, taking up an entire side of the (vinyl) album! Kicking off with a gradually fading-in trickle of burbling, tweeting synthesizer arpeggios, “Close to the Edge” explodes into a harsh, almost freeform dissonant attack, before settling down and morphing into a classic Yes pattern of segueing movements (many recorded separately and connected via tape splicing in the studio) and beautiful melodies. It’s all held together by soaring, recurring musical themes and Jon Anderson’s journey-up-the-spiritual-creek lyrics that generally made no sense to anyone but himself:

“A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace,
And rearrange your liver to the solid mental grace,
And achieve it all with music that came quickly from afar,
Then taste the fruit of man recorded losing all against the hour.”

Got that? Good. Now, in Anderson’s defense, it couldn’t have been easy to write lyrics for this high level of intelligent, sophisticated, head-scratchingly arranged music. Or even sing the lyrics, for that matter, at times being forced to spit out some real tongue-twisters at light speed:

“My eyes convinced, eclipsed with the younger moon attained with love.
It changed as almost strained amidst clear manna from above.
I crucified my hate and held the word within my hand.
There's you, the time, the logic, or the reasons we don't understand.“

Try saying that three times fast. Yet, surrounded by Steve Howe’s mind-bending fret work, Chris Squire’s metallic Rickenbacker bass thumping, Rick Wakeman’s organ/synth/mellotron arsenal and Bill Bruford’s busy-bee drumming…it all made perfect sense. Easing up on the intensity a bit for what was Side 2 of the vinyl album, Yes would devote this space to a whopping two tracks – the lush, shimmering “And You And I” with it’s sweet, crystalline vocal melody and the gorgeously symphonic-orgasmic mellotron-laden middle section; followed by the intensely aggressive, weirdest-song-title-on-the-planet “Siberian Khatru” based around Howe’s stuttering, woodpecker-on-acid guitar riffs and Wakeman’s galloping mellotron lines. In a sense, the heady Close to the Edge could be considered the first “green” album. Its Roger Dean-designed cover is, after all, literally green. And the water-world graphics inside its gatefold sleeve visually imply an environment of naturally flowing beauty while augmenting Anderson’s river-of-life lyrical/spiritual meanderings. The album has assumed legendary status over the years, topping many polls as The Best Progressive Rock Album of All Time. That would be a tough one to prove, but there’s no denying Close to the Edge remains an iconic testament to an era when rock musicians truly thought anything was possible (although it didn’t hurt to sell a few million albums while you were at it, just to keep those record label masters happy). There is an amazing freshness that continues to emanate from this music, almost as if it was still 1972 – if only you close your eyes, crank up the headphones, and put the last 38 years right out of your head. For this one, brief shining moment, though, Yes had taken their musical and philosophical pilgrimage to brave new heights, to the very edge of limitless possibilities – blissfully unaware of the murky Topographic waters in which they’d soon find themselves adrift.

Essential Tracks: “Close to the Edge” “And You And I” “Siberian Khatru”



  1. Wow, I need an aspirin after those lyrics! Twenty minutes of that? On purpose?

  2. Listened to it last night and still can't keep up with the lyrics and the intensity of this classic album. To this day I LOVE..."Close To The Edge"

  3. That second set of lyrics is from the section "Total Mass Retain" which was actually released as a single!

  4. I still remember where and when I bought that album - in the student center at Oakland University during my freshman year. It's amazing how music connects the dots in your life.