Friday, March 27, 2020

Close to the Edge (AM10)

Another of Bill's Signs - One of my father's favorites.
Close to the Edge is the zenith of fantasy rock, with all the stars aligned. It's all here - power, pretension, indulgence, bombast, grandiloquence, grace, conspicuousness, beauty - blended into one daring, majestic, ridiculously beautiful LP.  Antonin Dvorak, meet the Beatles.  This was Yes' high watermark and their most ambitious and cohesive album. For the third record in succession, Yes proved critics wrong in their generalized assessment of the band's chosen genre as emotionless, dry and empty.  40 years on, it's as crisp as a fresh head of lettuce. And the ease in which the quintet accomplished the extreme dynamics and shifting meters is mind-boggling.  

The music can be tense and unyielding one moment, cavernous and spacey the next. And not a seam showing. A novella could be written about the title track alone, which cultivates more ideas than most bands have in its career.  The intro is a kinetic locomotive that dances dangerously close to jumping the tracks, followed by a tightly wound verse and a sweet yet powerful Jon Anderson vocal.  Mid-way through, Anderson takes to repeating the dreamy "I get up, I get down" mantra, calming, soothing, until the skies open into a rhapsodic keyboard soliloquy by Rick Wakeman.  The band reawakens, plowing into an intricate combative groove featuring another Wakeman solo that rivals his brilliant turn on Fragile's "Roundabout." But it's Steve Howe who drives this airship.  His fusion of chops, innovation, and instinct contradicts any allegations of dispassionate precision.   It's Howe who also takes front and center on track two, "And You and I," with his lush 12-string acoustic work.  Wonderful melodies and a gradual building of mood from soft and meditative to gloriously exalted, layer upon layer, slowly adding elements of sonic complexity.   "Siberian Khatru" evolves from an uncomplicated theme that expands to an apex of pointed dissonant harmonies and a double-time coda of frantic but agile jamming. Top it off with Squire's inimitable fretless bass and the brilliance of Bill Bruford's drums. The album is indeed as bombastic as this article: overblown, gorgeous, compelling. The best album of a band’s canon is often called its "Sgt. Pepper." For the whole of the prog genre, the Sgt. Pepper may be Close to the Edge.