Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Close to the Edge- How YES’s masterpiece defined Prog Rock by Will Romano

 I was very interested in this book. I have never read a book on YES and clearly the majority of this book is focusing on their classic album from 1972. The book is broken up into a number of long chapters. There is a small section with some interesting pictures in the middle of the book as well. The first chapter is dealing with a sort of history of psychedelic and prog rock in the 60s and how the definition came about and the most important artists such as the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, King Crimson, etc..

The 2nd chapter (Sweet Dreams) is where I really learned a lot about the early line up of YES and the band that most of the members were in before called Mabel Greer’s Toyshop. This was very interesting and a lot of totally new information about Jon Anderson, Peter Banks, and Chris Squire. Bill Bruford came into this band at the very end before they changed the name to YES (Peter Banks suggestion).  A lot has been written about Peter Banks and why he left (basically the band was becoming to structured and he did not have enough space to improvise!). Also in this long chapter he goes through in a lot of detail the making of The YES album and Fragile as well. A lot of interesting information about these records to compliment the liner notes of the Steven Wilson editions, for those of you that have them!

Eddy Offord
The 3rd chapter (Spiral Aim) takes on the making of Close to the Edge (CTTE) in amazing detail. The authors spends quite a long time making parallels with a lot of spiritual stuff relating to the number 3, Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, Om, etc.. I am not sure everyone will buy this and wonder if he just got way too deep into this album. There is not that much evidence to support that YES were thinking so deeply about all this stuff. They were trying to make the best record they could and were inspired to try anything in the book and the amazing engineer, Offord, was keen to go for any idea and see if it worked so in the end, the album was cut and pasted from many many short layers, loops, multitracks to create a very artful piece of music. One thing I thought was interesting to learn was that the way they put music together in these few mins at a time to create the track, that they in the end actually had to learn how to play it at the end because they always ended up with something very different from where they started. Cool.. Very creative people and super talented.

The 4th Chapter, I did not really get. It is called What’s a Khatru and it is trying to pull out some sort of religious, otherworldly deep deep spiritual meaning to the YES lyrics, particularly relating to CTTE. He brings up a lot of questions and speculation that could easily be clarified if he just asked Jon Anderson. He has clearly met and spoken with him before based on quotes in the book, so why not just go to the source and ask, rather than spend 20 pages speculating when you can found out by asking Jon, who is still alive. This was a hard chapter to read.

Valley of Endless Seas is about the artwork of Roger Dean and relating to CTTE. Again, I think he tries to make too much of it all and spends a over a page just on why the cover is green and if this relates to some deep spiritual thing and relating that the cover can look like an green overflowing glass of Guinness is pretty far out!  The logo is cool but the album artwork on the outside is hardly mindblowing in anyway, it is the inside that is most impressive.  Again, he could just ask Roger Dean, rather than spend so many pages speculating about really deep, religious, spiritual meanings in the figures hidden in the art, etc.. It was nice to see reference to Ed Unitsky, an visionary artist that has done some album artwork for my band (Øresund Space Collective).
Artwork by Roger Dean
Seasons will pass you By, the 6th chapter, is mostly about the how and why Bill Bruford left the band. There is a lot of very interesting information and insight about him as a drummer and person as well. This also leads into how Allan White came into the band.

The Journey takes you away, is about the success of the album, the elaborate stage and sound set that they took on the tour. The tour was quite long for them running from July 1972 until April 1973 seeing the band play most in the USA but also some dates in Australia (New Zealand was all cancelled), Japan and three dates in the England. Europe never got to see this tour and there were more concerts in Japan than the UK!!  A lot of details are presented about the sound, lights, etc… a video (YEssongs) was shot on this tour and released (never on DVD though) and triple live LP as well but that material was not from the YESsongs video (except one song) and the rest was recorded in the USA.

They regard the summit, is about the impact YES and CTTE had on the world in general. I think some of this is a bit overstated and a bit too much. YES were for sure a huge inspiration but there were a lot of other super creative bands out there at this time pushing the limits of rock music, not only YES. Many of these get mentioned in the book, of course, and mainly a focus on ELP as it was easy to draw comparisons to them. 

For me, I actually think the band did not peak at this point as the author tries to push his point. For me, they took it two steps further and I would say that Tales of Topographic Oceans is the bands highest artistic achievement ever and they took what they did with CTTE and went even one step further. No one at this time in rock music had made a 42min song (The Ritual). The Steven Wilson 5.1 mix is just mind blowing. Also, I felt that Relayer even though Wakeman was gone, had the band pushing to it’s most extreme ever. I have always loved this album and its very aggressive nature but also multilayered, head music… After this, with Going for the One, the band became more polished, a bit commercial but still made great records.

Anyway, there is an epilogue, CTTE tour itinerary, band and artist discography of all their major works, and all the bibliography at the end. I really enjoyed the book a lot and I would have liked Will to have just got the answers directly from the band members on a lot of the stuff that you uses maybe 50 pages of the book to speculate on and theorize about. He could have just asked Jon and Steve, the two main music men in Yes.. A very cool book..

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