Penk's Prog Odyssey: Yes - Close to the Edge

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Yes - Close to the Edge

Postby PENK » 29 Nov 2018, 22:17

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When I started this thread, my noble - yes, noble, dammit! - intention was to explore fully the depths and - presumed, unevidenced - peaks of prog rock. To this end, I would not dismiss any group on the basis of one album, and would commit to listening to at least two by all the agreed-upon giants of the genre (both Gentle and brutal [yes I mean you, Peter fucking Hamill]).

Having listened to one album by Genesis and one by Van der Graaf Generator, however, I realised that I had made a terrible mistake and that surely there were better things I could do with my life than listen to a man angrily shouting about murderous fish. Join a Buddhist monastery. Write The Great Comorian Novel. Learn to juggle piranha. Dedicate myself to becoming one of those newfangled "transhumans" with a bionic eye and a robot hand and Christ knows what in my pants. Figure out what kind of blunt weapon would do the most damage to my exposed face. You know.

But I have made a promise, and I am not the kind of man to go back on his word, especially not when that word has been written in an easily-edited post in a thread about prog rock on an irrelevant message board frequented by about 80 people.

So I'll go back where I started, to perhaps the biggest and most popular of the prog crowd, Yes, with what many people regard as their finest work - and interestingly enough the one with the least ostentatious cover art.

It starts off with what sounds like Yes trying to do a jazz-funk workout.

Did nobody tell them they shouldn't do a jazz-funk workout?

Why wasn't there somebody there saying to them "stop it"? Many countries in the developed world still struggle with high unemployment, but this could be solved if every record studio and producer in the land employed someone whose job it was to tell bands when to stop it.

They break off the jazz-funking in order to go "aaah", then they get back to jazz-funking.

But hey, about three minutes in, we get to the meat of it. And - and I'm going to get my criticisms in and say that the bass is still a little bit too pointy and overactive, and there are concerns about the overall production, and there is some kind of weird sitar-keyboard effect under the verse that sounds like prancing multicoloured deer, which is not an image I really want from my epic rock thanks all the same - what strikes me about this is that compared to other prog behemoths, Yes could write fucking tunes. Their music is all over the place, but I actually really like Jon Anderson's voice and he knows how to wield it.

And the chorus is lovely.

I should point out at this stage that this review is based on Steven Wilson's remix of the record. I own, and have on many occasions listened to, a copy of the record which was not remixed by Steven Wilson.

I much prefer the version that was not remixed by Steven Wilson.

Whatever Steven Wilson has done while remixing the record - I do not presume to know, as I do not myself regularly remix prog rock records and therefore assume Steven Wilson knows a lot more than I do about pressing buttons and twiddling knobs and looking at slidey things on computer screens, so it's not my place to judge his skills or knowledge really, but that's what I'm doing, I suppose - I do not like it. He seems to have foregrounded all the proggiest things, all the worst production choices of the original, all the brashest synths and fiddliest bass outbursts. He gives it all this kind of bright, sharp sheen, and he doesn't seem to realise that prog was already overdone: he has to overdo it some more. Damn his eyes. And everything they stand for while I'm at it.

Anyhow, when we get to the ambient breakdown it's all quite lovely. I'm in an elfin glen. Water is dripping and it sparkles as it does so. Everything is shrouded in some kind of beautiful mist, which I'm sure if I touch it will give me horrendous unwished-for visions of futures that may never and should never be. I'm progging out! Let's do it!

The last few minutes are something of a recap of everything that was good and bad about the first dozen minutes, with the jazz-funk nightmare returning (and topped off by dizzyingly widdly organ) but it has the most satisfying climax in all of prog (all of prog that I know, which isn't a lot, but I am pretty damn sure I know better than people who listen to a lot of prog. I've heard the kind of shite they listen to). It's anthemic and stirring, and it's a tremendous example of a band putting build, development and awkward time signatures to really effective use: the way they draw out the refrain and keep you waiting for the pay-off is killer. And there's a gorgeous outro, with Wakeman eschewing organ wizardry in favour of a piano lick that I'd be amazed to learn hadn't turned up on a Moby track on a car advert pretty much every time you turned on the bloody TV in the late '90s. It's why I moved abroad, actually.

There are two more songs (suites? opuses? monumental works of boundary-pushing progressive art? Songs.) on the album, and both are similarly fine examples of what prog should have been and how more bands should have married their experimental, epic and virtuoso urges with accessibility and melody.

'And You and I' has stark and memorable acoustic figures, and a pretty strummed section which unfortunately exposes the lack of delicacy in Anderson's vocals a little too much, while the swooping synths that come in are suitably tuneful and the backing foreshadows the cinematic themes of Vangelis; the drums, battling to get started, add to the drama. This is how you create an epic. Not by yelling about lighthouse keepers, Hamill. You knob. Effective tempo changes, drums like fireworks, laser synths, crescendoes and climbing melodies.

The album finishes with 'Siberian Khatru'*, another acknowledged prog classic. It opens with a bluesy riff and then we're plunged into another fusion thing, but it just about works. There's a feel of tension and release in there, and the oddly off-key riff does stick. The verse part, likewise, would be laughable in its bouncy riffing, if it weren't so damned catchy. Again, it's their feel for sheer tunefulness that saves them, as well as a lovely soft-focus break. This is, though, the most openly proggy number here - baroque-era keyboard instrument alert! - and, I must admit, the least successful. The calmer passages are fine, but the hyperactive wigging out elsewhere is a bit too much; they have, perhaps, earned their nine minutes of noodly release after being on best behaviour for the first half-hour of the album.

Which, overall, is a real success. Like the King Crimson album I reviewed upthread, I knew it beforehand, knew I liked it beforehand, but it's an example of the good that can come from this thread: I discovered it when the couple of songs I liked on Fragile got me to sift through other bits of the Yes catalogue. I don't like everything that happens on here, but I can appreciate the intent of much of it and there are moments that make sitting through the less successful explorations worth it. A question to prog fans: do you tend to like unconditionally everything that goes on on a classic album like this, or do you, like the rest of us, have, let's say, concerns about the jazz-funk jams?

I'll return to this thread in due course. Although most likely not to Van der Graaf Generator. They can fuck off.



*There is some debate, I understand, about what exactly a "khatru" is. I'd like to open up the floor for guesses.
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Yes - Close to the Edge

Postby Charlie O. » 29 Nov 2018, 22:44

Nice one, Penk!

What you said about Wilson's remix surprised me. I don't think he always gets it right with his makeovers, but in this case I thought he really worked wonders - clearing away a lot of murk and (this is key) turning Wakeman down.

(By the way, I believe the "weird sitar-keyboard effect" is actually Steve Howe playing an electric sitar.)
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Yes - Close to the Edge

Postby kath » 29 Nov 2018, 23:32

yayyyyy!

i can't read this yet, but i will return.

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Yes - Close to the Edge

Postby fange » 30 Nov 2018, 00:37

I like this album ok, but it needs more jazz-funk.



Nice work, Penky.
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Yes - Close to the Edge

Postby Hightea » 30 Nov 2018, 04:18

jazz funk problem :lol: :lol: :lol:
okay glad you liked CTTE

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Yes - Close to the Edge

Postby PENK » 30 Nov 2018, 07:11

Charlie O. wrote:What you said about Wilson's remix surprised me. I don't think he always gets it right with his makeovers, but in this case I thought he really worked wonders - clearing away a lot of murk and (this is key) turning Wakeman down.


Well, I can't pull out the physical album and listen to it to compare as it's in a box ahead of our moving, but what struck me listening to the remix on Spotify was that Wilson seems to want to clean everything up. I think that a little murk might not be a bad thing in some cases (especially proggy cases). I remember listening to that Porcupine Tree record and hating the production on it, all sci-fi whoosh and cyber gleam. No rough edges. There's a slight feel of that to his work here, in my opinion.
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Yes - Close to the Edge

Postby Charlie O. » 30 Nov 2018, 07:17

I felt exactly that way about some of his Tull jobs (Benefit and Aqualung particularly), so I think I know what you mean. I suppose the difference is that the murk and distortion on Close To The Edge always bothered me, whereas the murk on those particular Tull albums seemed to me a part of their aesthetic. I'm sure Ian Anderson would disagree, though!
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Yes - Close to the Edge

Postby algroth » 30 Nov 2018, 18:36

One of the things that I noticed about this era of Yes relative to what would come about right after this album is how, as you noted above, Yes were indeed concerned about having a solid tune or idea at the heart of their big sprawling behemoths - I think the downfall of what came after, from Tales onwards, is that they basically kept the grandness of sound and ambition but their songwriting started to feel very uninspired and secondary to what seemed more like a search for a mood or a narrative or whatnot. But as for the idea that it's something that *separated* Yes from its contemporaries, I have to wholly disagree there: most other prog acts out there, like ELP, Caravan, and yes, even Magma, Genesis and Van der Graaf Generator, had also really great tunes that drove their work - despite their fame as being 'difficult' here in BCB, even a classicist like George Starostin spoke to lengths about the accessibility of albums like H to He or MDK, in the former's penchant for groovy riffs or the latter's ear for melody and so on. Prog's ear for great songwriting is deeply underappreciated in general, I find.

Which also leads me to comment on the fact that, to me, "Siberian Khatru"'s probably the finest track Yes put on record and far from a mere hyperactive wigout - I think there's some monster riffs driving the thing, but on top of that even though the piece works on only a few ideas its through the crazy permutations of these same, and how each new passage, be it funkier, or calmer, or brooding, breathe new life and meaning into that central riff every time it springs back into the track. Some really great stuff right there.

VdGG and indeed Hammill solo have done better though. :)

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Yes - Close to the Edge

Postby Butch Manly » 01 Dec 2018, 10:57

fange wrote:I like this album ok, but it needs more jazz-funk.


Head straight to Relayer. Do not pass go.

(actually, for all of Moraz's jazzy flourishes, I can't say it's particularly funky)

Meanwhile, I very much enjoyed Ed's take on what is possibly my favourite album of all time. I lost myself in that record so many times in my youth and I still play it regularly. When I do, I always get a buzz. It's both muscular and delicate and Ed's right about Anderson's extraordinary talent for a melody. I also happen to think his lyrics are largely fabulous, though I know many would disagree. They're certainly singular.

Think I'll pop it on now.
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Yes - Close to the Edge

Postby Goat Boy » 01 Dec 2018, 11:55

Of all the big prog albums I've heard it's this and The Lamb that get closest to matching the prog hype. There are naff moments - their funkiness is a peculiar thing - but there is also an appealing grandeur and panoramic sweep to the music that really works. Even Andersons vocals, which I'm not totally sold on, have a school boy innocence that heightens the vaguely utopian spirit and wide-eyed explorer in a new world vibe of the record.

I think what seperates them is that they actually had a knack for a pop melody. More so that most of their peers that's for sure.
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Yes - Close to the Edge

Postby Quaco » 01 Dec 2018, 17:04

Penk and Doug have both mentioned attempts at funkiness. I don't hear it. Is it just that there's a big bass sound leading the way at times? This sound is all over every Yes album. I don't hear jazz-funk in the opening of "Close to the Edge" at all! It's all over the place, spasmodic white-person rock in excelsis.
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Yes - Close to the Edge

Postby harvey k-tel » 01 Dec 2018, 18:03

I always wonder why Squire thought that setting his bass to super-fart-tone (at around the 6 minute mark of CttE) was a good idea.
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Yes - Close to the Edge

Postby Charlie O. » 01 Dec 2018, 18:16

Quaco wrote:Penk and Doug have both mentioned attempts at funkiness. I don't hear it. Is it just that there's a big bass sound leading the way at times? This sound is all over every Yes album. I don't hear jazz-funk in the opening of "Close to the Edge" at all!

Funny - I hear the funk, but not the jazz.
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Yes - Close to the Edge

Postby Osgood » 01 Dec 2018, 18:19

harvey k-tel wrote:I always wonder why Squire thought that setting his bass to super-fart-tone (at around the 6 minute mark of CttE) was a good idea.

I love that sound, it's one of my favourite moments in the track, the other being when the full band retakes the main theme after the cathedral organ.

Regarding the album, my least fave is And You And I, the bombastic part that I used to like a lot has not aged well IMO.

About their abilities to write good melodies I think it still shows in parts of Tales, an album that I have come to appreciate only recently, and definitely in Going For the One, an excellent album again. Relayer is a different animal, one I seldom feel like revisiting.
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Premiata Forneria Marconi

Postby Purgatory Brite » 01 Dec 2018, 22:48

PENK wrote:discounting the Kosmische lot, who are only prog because the prog boys want to claim some secondhand coolness


But they're not the only ones to do so, are they? Many of the so-called post-punk bands lifted the sounds of Can and the other Krautrock bands. I think it was a device by which they could claim influences pre-dating punk and not get nailed by the Punk Year Zero crowd.

I am always slightly amused when John "Mr Indie" Coan professes his love for Amon Duul II and Can. Now there's a distinctly uncool bloke desperately grasping for some secondhand coolness if ever I saw one!

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Premiata Forneria Marconi

Postby PENK » 03 Dec 2018, 11:41

Purgatory Brite wrote:
PENK wrote:discounting the Kosmische lot, who are only prog because the prog boys want to claim some secondhand coolness


But they're not the only ones to do so, are they? Many of the so-called post-punk bands lifted the sounds of Can and the other Krautrock bands. I think it was a device by which they could claim influences pre-dating punk and not get nailed by the Punk Year Zero crowd.


Firstly, I think you are overanalysing a flippant comment. Not the first time that would have happened on BCB, of course.

But I also think that punk and post-punk bands have always been by nature more fashionable (in music geek world) than prog. That isn't to disparage prog or anything, I just think it's objectively so. Prog had a couple of years in the sun but imploded in a mess of pomposity, indulgence and capes, while post-punk and punk have had lasting critical and commercial respect and have always been trendy name-drops and references.

Prog has had a bit of a resurgence over the last few years, but in general it has been pretty unfashionable stuff.
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Premiata Forneria Marconi

Postby algroth » 03 Dec 2018, 12:38

PENK wrote:But I also think that punk and post-punk bands have always been by nature more fashionable (in music geek world) than prog. That isn't to disparage prog or anything, I just think it's objectively so.


This really depends where one is talking about, really. I don't doubt the British music geek world sees punk and post-punk as more fashionable, but that is hardly the case in Argentina, where prog is usually held in high esteem and is far deeper engrained in our local music history than either of the previous genres were, maybe in part because of censorship reaching its absolute heights right around the time of the punk boom in the first world, leaving most prog acts as the voice of opposition instead.

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Premiata Forneria Marconi

Postby Hightea » 03 Dec 2018, 15:16

PENK wrote:
Purgatory Brite wrote:
PENK wrote:discounting the Kosmische lot, who are only prog because the prog boys want to claim some secondhand coolness


But they're not the only ones to do so, are they? Many of the so-called post-punk bands lifted the sounds of Can and the other Krautrock bands. I think it was a device by which they could claim influences pre-dating punk and not get nailed by the Punk Year Zero crowd.


Firstly, I think you are overanalysing a flippant comment. Not the first time that would have happened on BCB, of course.

But I also think that punk and post-punk bands have always been by nature more fashionable (in music geek world) than prog. That isn't to disparage prog or anything, I just think it's objectively so. Prog had a couple of years in the sun but imploded in a mess of pomposity, indulgence and capes, while post-punk and punk have had lasting critical and commercial respect and have always been trendy name-drops and references.

Prog has had a bit of a resurgence over the last few years, but in general it has been pretty unfashionable stuff.

I'll throw this out there. If the rock critics didn't continually throw prog under the bus as inferior uncool music I'm not so sure that Rock wouldn't be in the dire straits its in now. Because rock bands for the past 30 years have had to live up to an unrealistic punk attitude and didn't allow the bands to take there own decisions on what to play with the fear that the critics and fans will label them as not being real or cool has ruined rock music. Sure there were problems with prog especially in the later stages of the 70's but there were problems with punk and disco too. They could have been left alone and all genre could have flourished and maybe blended. Look at the 60's when bands competed with each other on new ideas and at the same time influenced and challenged each other. However, Punk/post punk/new wave were the music darlings of the critic world and ingrained this attitude into the fans because they spoke louder and had the so called cool crowd they won. I agree with Algroth get out of the UK and USA and you will see that prog bands are more respected and as leaders in opposition. Maybe its the reason when we see low level prog bands in clubs or small venues the crowd is very international.

We will not even think to comment on your thoughts about Krautrock not being a side sub-genre of prog. Krautrock is a sub-genre of prog if you don't think so you can party with Trump and his fake news.

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Premiata Forneria Marconi

Postby algroth » 03 Dec 2018, 16:28

Hightea wrote:I agree with Algroth get out of the UK and USA and you will see that prog bands are more respected and as leaders in opposition. Maybe its the reason when we see low level prog bands in clubs or small venues the crowd is very international.


The owner of a fairly iconic underground record store here in Buenos Aires, who I on occasions speak with, once theorized that the reason for prog's popularity outside English-speaking countries over several other genres of rock was because as a genre prog tends to be more about the instrumental side of the matter than the song/vocals - which is inevitably a more universal expression since lyrics usually require the listener to know the language they're being sung in in the first place. I dunno if this isn't a bit post hoc and so on, but it's another observation worth bringing to the table. Personally I tend to enjoy music regardless of whether I understand the lyrics, but that's also because I don't often listen to the lyrics even when they're sung in a language I understand.

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey: Premiata Forneria Marconi

Postby Deebank » 03 Dec 2018, 19:32

Hightea wrote:
PENK wrote:
Purgatory Brite wrote:
But they're not the only ones to do so, are they? Many of the so-called post-punk bands lifted the sounds of Can and the other Krautrock bands. I think it was a device by which they could claim influences pre-dating punk and not get nailed by the Punk Year Zero crowd.


Firstly, I think you are overanalysing a flippant comment. Not the first time that would have happened on BCB, of course.

But I also think that punk and post-punk bands have always been by nature more fashionable (in music geek world) than prog. That isn't to disparage prog or anything, I just think it's objectively so. Prog had a couple of years in the sun but imploded in a mess of pomposity, indulgence and capes, while post-punk and punk have had lasting critical and commercial respect and have always been trendy name-drops and references.

Prog has had a bit of a resurgence over the last few years, but in general it has been pretty unfashionable stuff.

I'll throw this out there. If the rock critics didn't continually throw prog under the bus as inferior uncool music I'm not so sure that Rock wouldn't be in the dire straits its in now. Because rock bands for the past 30 years have had to live up to an unrealistic punk attitude and didn't allow the bands to take there own decisions on what to play with the fear that the critics and fans will label them as not being real or cool has ruined rock music. Sure there were problems with prog especially in the later stages of the 70's but there were problems with punk and disco too. They could have been left alone and all genre could have flourished and maybe blended. Look at the 60's when bands competed with each other on new ideas and at the same time influenced and challenged each other. However, Punk/post punk/new wave were the music darlings of the critic world and ingrained this attitude into the fans because they spoke louder and had the so called cool crowd they won. I agree with Algroth get out of the UK and USA and you will see that prog bands are more respected and as leaders in opposition. Maybe its the reason when we see low level prog bands in clubs or small venues the crowd is very international.

We will not even think to comment on your thoughts about Krautrock not being a side sub-genre of prog. Krautrock is a sub-genre of prog if you don't think so you can party with Trump and his fake news.


It flies in the face of your post that while post punk was at its height prog had a huge resurgence in the UK.

Marillion, lest we forget, were one of the biggest live draws. They sold out the massive Milton Keynes Bowl after only one LP. And there were a bunch of other less successful acts too that were doing good business. I think IQ sold out Hammersmith Odeon for a few consecutive nights for example.

At the same time Genesis were more popular - though less prog maybe - than ever and Floyd were shifting huge quantities of The Wall.

All in all probably just as significant as post punk - albeit for a brief time. It’s funny how many marillion fans ditched the band when The Smiths came along... I know of three, so it must be a thing!
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