Yes: ‘Close To The Edge”

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In 1968, five like minded souls put the band Yes together and a little over 12 months later released their first self titled album.  Listening to that album today still sends out a positive vibe of a genuine group trying to establish their mark, a joy to behold.

The following year a follow up album was released, “Time and a Word” (1970), by which time fractions were beginning to open up within the ranks as the battle for band leadership started.  By the time the album was released, lead guitarist and star of the live shows, Peter Banks, had not only been unceremoniously dumped from the band and replaced by the far more manageable Steve Howe, but also Banks’ guitar parts had been remixed so low as to be almost inaudible.

One more album was released in the shape of the pompously titled, “The Yes Album” (1971), after which another band member, keyboard player Tony Kaye, was thrown out as the others were laying a beady eye over new keyboard sensation Rick Wakeman, who was hastily lured away from his job with the Strawbs.  At this stage it’s fair to ask if the band is still Yes – having already lost the two leading instrumentalists in the band.

Another album was released, “Fragile” (1971) – the title perhaps referring to the band’s individual egos, whilst the musical content amounted to two band compositions (both of which are Progressive/Rock paint by numbers affairs) and a selection of solo efforts by each individual member of the band, which when listened to show the different directions that each member wanted to go, and they are quite definitely not on the same path.

Bill Bruford obviously wanted to go on and become recognized as one of the world’s leading drummers, a feat he was to achieve when he headed out on his own after jumping from the Yes airship (that’s hot air) after the next album, the one under review, which we will soon get to.

Chris Squire clearly wanted to play bass for The Who, as his hero John Entwistle did, whilst Rick Wakeman was blatantly using the band to turn himself into a keyboard superstar and launch his solo career, to sponsor his hobby: drinking copious amounts of alcohol and wearing capes that even Batman would be embarrassed by.

Steve Howe had set off on a course where he wanted to be able to play the guitar half as well as his predecessor, an achievement he wouldn’t even come close too, whilst lead singer Jon Anderson was moving himself closer and closer to the edge of La-La land.

Then this incantation of Yes entered the studio to record another album, one of the few times this lot went into the studio for consecutive albums with the same line-up.

The results are laughable.  “Close To The Edge” (1972), was, at the time, either proclaimed as a masterpiece or pretentious rubbish.  Listening to it today, even calling it pretentious slop is one of the nicest things you can say about it.

Jon Anderson in 1973. (Wikipedia commons)
Jon Anderson in 1973. (Wikipedia commons)

Upon arrival in the studio it was quite clearly decided that if they wanted to stake their claim in the progressive rock field they had better come up with a song of epic proportions.  Well, it’s certainly long.  The first track on this collection (mercifully there are only three, although they are all excruciatingly long) took up the whole first side of the vinyl edition, and sounds like a mixed bag of ideas; bits of this and bits of that, all thrown in, and held together by Steve Howe’s feeble twiddling on the six-string.  This had actually been done to good effect by a more talented musician (try Peter Banks’ solo album “Instinct’’ where he twiddles away for sixty minutes without losing his audience’s attention once, and there are no vocals on the album at all to distract you).

Chris Squire plays as many bass notes as he can squeeze in no matter what the rest of the band is doing whilst Bill Bruford is quite clearly baffled by what is going on, probably the reason he left halfway through the tour to promote his album that followed.  Rick Wakeman plays the odd keyboard flourish, which almost yells at you to wait for his upcoming solo album, and singer Jon Anderson seems to have stumbled one step closer to the edge when he sings the opening verse:

“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 recording losing all against the hour”

I mean, I ask you, what does any of that mean?  Try and come out with that gobbledygook as your opening gambit whilst sitting round a table in a pub in Pattaya and you would be carried out in a very straight jacket.

“Close To The Edge” it certainly is, before they went into the studio I wish someone had pushed them over it.  It’s music from the Seventies that quite honestly should have stayed there.

Somewhere out there, a bunch of musicians are still going around playing under the Yes banner for whoever will listen to them (every so often Rick Wakeman rejoins the band when he needs to top up his beer token rations).  I could tell you who is still in the band, who has left, who has left and re-joined, the name of their 35th album etc, but who really cares?  Listening to this album today, the production is so weak you wonder whether there was any in the first place.  The early Seventies is responsible for some fine music, but this is not it.

The one consolation is a nice Roger Dean inside cover, at least you get something to put on the wall, and for that reason alone it gets a solitary one star.

Musicians:

Jon Anderson – unnecessarily twee and high vocals.

Steve Howe – covering Peter Banks guitar work, badly.

Rick Wakeman – keyboards and solo promotion.

Chris Squire – bass guitar.

Bill Bruford: desperately drumming from the back and looking forward to being in King Crimson.

Album Tracks:

Close to the Edge

And You and I

Siberian Khatru

Note: Written by Mott The Dog and Hells Bells.  Mott can often be found in his kennel at Jameson’s on Soi A.R, North Pattaya.