Friday, October 21, 2022

Yes 5: Close To The Edge

Seemingly at full strength by retaining the same lineup for two straight albums, Yes put all they had into Close To The Edge. To prove they weren’t kidding, the album consisted of one side-long epic backed with two other lengthy pieces to establish themselves as the prog trailblazers. (The simple green cover with the band photos on the back—including one shot of co-producer Eddy Offord—may seem oddly ordinary, but fear not: a trademark Roger Dean landscape takes up the gatefold.)

After bird song and water effects fade in, the instrumentalists take a couple of minutes to see how fast they can play and still keep in sync, and eventually a theme emerges on Steve Howe’s guitar. This first part is titled “The Solid Time Of Change” and sports lyrics and a chorus that will recur in the others. The second part, “Total Mass Retain”, is similar musically, except that the chorus hooks are sung faster. Rick Wakeman’s organ takes over the earlier theme, and we move to the more ethereal “I Get Up I Get Down” interlude, which ruminates on that theme with interlocking vocals before a massive pipe organ provides a very churchy atmosphere. A bleepy synthesizer shifts the proceedings back to the original theme and the final “Seasons Of Man” portion. After eighteen minutes, the “I get up I get down” melody is something of a relief and a release, and too brief before a calliope brings back the birds and water.

While “Close To The Edge” may seem indulgent and an acquired taste, we can’t say the same for “And You And I”. For our money, this is the quintessential Yes track, from Steve’s initial harmonics to check his tuning while the organ provides a melodic bed, and then that wonderful 12-string intro. This song too has parts, beginning with “Cord Of Life” over three simple chords played ad infinitum until finally there’s a switch to a pre-chorus that sets up the transition to “Eclipse”, an almost symphonic theme. A simple (for them) Leslie effect on the guitar brings in a slower repeat of the chorus, which hangs there until the 12-string intro returns. “The Preacher, The Teacher” speeds up the musical themes to a more jaunty backing, eventually building up to the pre-chorus for a reprise of the “Eclipse” section, which reaches a fermata (look it up), and “The Apocalypse” is the odd title given to the final 45 seconds and the final chorus.

All that happens in ten minutes, but we’ve still got the rest of side two to go. While it’s certainly intricate and complicated, “Siberian Khatru” is comparatively straightforward and rocking. A strong guitar riff always helps, and the band comes in with a driving rhythm of its own while Howe tweedled-ee-dees on top. They keep the energy going for the duration, there’s a harpsichord solo, and the lyrics make absolutely no sense.

Close To The Edge is a lot of people’s favorite Yes album, which we can understand. There is a lot going on, and most of it is, well, edgy and distracting, so it’s not the type of thing we can throw on at any hour of the day. As we’ve probably said before, we do respect certain prog performers because it does take a lot of work to write lengthy compositions with multiple parts that fit together, and Yes does that here.

Naturally the album was expanded when its time came. It’s always interesting when bonus tracks outnumber an album’s original tracks; while the single version of their cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” may seem redundant as the expanded Fragile included the full version, more interesting is the edit of “Total Mass Retain” used as its B-side. Early mixes of “And You And I” and “Siberian Khatru” just sound empty, because they are. Steven Wilson helmed the stereo and surround mixes for the later “definitive edition”, which had even more extras on the Blu-ray.

Yes Close To The Edge (1972)—
2003 remastered CD: same as 1972, plus 4 extra tracks
2014 Definitive Edition: “same” as 1972, plus 2 extra tracks (plus DVD or Blu-ray)

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