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Close To The Edge

Atlantic 7244
Released: October 1972
Chart Peak: #3
Weeks Charted: 32
Certified Gold: 10/72

Jon AndersonWith Close to the Edge, their fifth album, Yes have formed a coherent musical language from the elements that have been kicked around by progressive rockers for ages. The fears raised by Fragile that they might work themselves into a technically superb but emotionally destitute corner are washed away by three extended pieces whose only failings are an over-concern with making sure that every moment is marked by the highly identifiable Yes sound (where a bit more variety and daring would by a welcome change) and lyrics that too often serve as a barrier rather than a link between listener and music.

Side one is completely devoted to the title track. As usual -- and that "as usual" could get to be a real problem very soon if more attention isn't paid to varying what has become an almost formulized pattern -- it opens with a long introductory instrumental break (after a shimmering sound effect fade-in of pattering rain, chirping birds and tinkling bells) led by Steve Howe's guitar and seguing into the modestly majestic main figure. When Jon Anderson's voice enters the scene it's knockout time again. Though a noticeable distance between his singing and direct, basic emotion is established through a stylized phrasing and a slightly lofty, diffident tone, he is nonetheless engaging and human, although it's too bad the words he's given himself to sing are often inaccessible.

Yes - Close To The Edge
Original album advertising art.
Click image for larger view.
Convolutions are unfortunately prevelent in Yes' songs. Their best lyrics are brief, straight-ahead phrases that don't try to mean a lot internally but simply add a quasi-literal dimension that supplements the music's mood -- like the recurring "I get up, I get down" that first appears toward the end of this initial movement ("The Solid Time of Change").

In "Total Mass Retain" the music bunches and becomes more urgent. A soft organ solo leads us into "I Get Up I Get Down" proper, in which the complex vocal interplay among lots of Andersons, Howes and Squires gradually builds up to Wakeman's gorgeously bombastic multi-keyboard workout.

Howe's echoey acoustic 12 string is the focus of "And You and I," which, with some editing, is the best candidate for a follow-up single to "Roundabout." Featuring Anderson's happiest, jauntiest singing and a catchy melody, it is a fine example of Yes' gift for a subtly building from a soft, contemplative mood to a mighty plateau through a slowly shifting emphasis and gradual layering of elements within an instrumental break.

"Siberian Khatru," the final cut, is built on a simple pattern that is nicely developed and modified through the course of the song. Cryptic words and phrases abound, but they don't get in the way of some beautiful vocal interaction, a surprising, well-integrated sitar segment and a cascading harpsichord solo by Wakeman that almost tickles.

Yes' music is best looked at as a sound painting, with no more meaning and little less beauty than a Monet canvas. Actually, Chinese painting might provide a more appropriate analogy, in both style and concern. Yes' colors are subtle, almost imperceptible tints, but the main strokes are bold and thick, applied with sureness and natural instinct.

"But is it rock & roll?" they scream.

Does it matter?

- Richard Cromelin, Rolling Stone, 11-9-72.

Bonus Reviews!

With this, their fifth LP, Yes have progressed to the point where they are light years beyond their emulators, proving to be no mere flash in the pan. The sound tapestries they weave are dainty fragments, glimpses of destinies yet to be formed, times that fade like dew drops in the blurriness of desires half-remembered. All involved deserve praise and thanks, this being not a mere audio experience: transcending the medium, it brings all senses into play.

- Billboard, 1972.

What a waste. They come up with a refrain that sums up everything they do -- "I get up I get down" -- and apply it only to their ostensible theme, which is the "seasons of man" or something like that. They segue effortlessly from Bach to harpsichord to bluesy rock and roll and don't mean to be funny. Conclusion: At the level of attention they deserve they're a one-idea group. Especially with Jon and Rick up front. C+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Despite the major compositions on Close To the Edge being divided like classical suites each into four sections, no attempt has been made to use the CD indexing facility to mark out these subdivisions, leaving this as a three-track CD.

The strongest expression of the distinctive Yes fusion of rock with classical music form is found here and on the Fragile album that immediately precedes it. Close To the Edge is densely recorded: it still lacks dynamic freedom and extension at the frequency extremes from CD, sounding a little dull and compressed (particularly "Siberian Khatru").

This Alsdorf produced CD however has little of the sting and grittiness or the "small sound" found on both European and Japanese vinyl issues. Rick Wakeman's gothic organ sound (Tony Kaye having left immediately after The Yes Album) remains hard and penetrating. Overall sound quality however is much improved and is at its best when the music is simple, as in the introduction to "And You and I." Niether lyrics nor Roger Dean's gatefold inner artwork are reproduced.

- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.

The group's sound broke more boundaries here, as side-long suites allowed Jon Anderson even more opportunity for vocal acrobatics and Wakeman an even bigger canvas on which to paint his electronic-synthesizer swirls and organ arpeggios. The poetry also had a peculiarly hypnotic quality, which overcame its relatively obscure passages. * * * * *

- Bruce Eder, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

This remains the apotheosis of prog rock itself. First, one encounters Roger Dean's enigatic jacket design, presented in a gatefold format that is ideal for both contemplation and joint-rolling. The track listing is the next hallmark, boasting only three titles, two in four-movement, ersatz-symphonic structure. Pull out the sleeve and Jon Anderson's delightfully obtuse lyrics reveal themselves in all their florid glory.

As ripe as it is for parody on the surface, the music on Close To The Edge is a wonder. Whereas Yes had showcased their individual talents on their breakout disc Fragile earlier the same year, on Close To The Edge they forged a more cohesive whole, striking a balance between esthetics and audacity. Their determinedly eclectic approach had them moving from furious jazz to gothic organ flourish, then on to a driving rock groove -- one false move and it would all fall to pieces. However, here was an assemblage of stellar musicians, each of whom sought to stretch the limits of the rock idiom. The melodic, stop-time rhythms of Bill Bruford and Chris Squire were the perfect grounding for Steve Howe's funky, Eastern-tinged guitar lines and Rick Wakeman's rococo keyboard noodling. At the center was Jon Anderson's high-flown tenor. It was something that should not have worked, but it did -- beautifully.

The fragile equilibrium of their approach would prove to be too good to last. Bruford quit the band shortly after completing the disc to join King Crimson, and their follow-up, the four-song double album Tales From Topographic Oceans, proved to be an over-ambitious attempt to one-up themselves.

- Tim Sheridan, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

Fragile has "Roundabout" and "Heart of the Sunrise," but Yes reached its apotheosis on this opus, with its resplendent title track (in four movements) and cosmic-elfin lyrics about the "colour door of time." An essential classic-prog album.

- David Browne, Entertainment Weekly, 5/13/05.

Sessions for this album were so taxing that Yes' monster drummer Bill Bruford left the band due to stress. It was worth the hard work, the title track, an 18-minute odyssey in four distinct parts, remains the most majestic moment in the history of progressive rock.

Close to the Edge was chosen as the 445th greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.

- Rolling Stone, 10/20.

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