I have provided thoughts on several YES albums, but held this one back. This is a phenomenal recording, YES at the top of their game. A master stroke of progressive rock.
In my opinion, Fragile (1971) and Close to the Edge represent the best work of the band and featured the greatest of the various band line-ups. Drummer Bill Bruford would leave the band at the conclusion of recording and be replaced by current member Alan White. The line-up of Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman and Bruford is simply outstanding. White is no slouch, a member of the band for 50 years, he has earned his praise many times over.
Close to the Edge is always listed as one of the top progressive-rock albums ever, it is a masterfully sculpted work, full of layers, blended musical genres, Tolkienesque and ethereal story lyrics, complex time signature and frequent changes in mood. The album rocks at times too.
Close to the Edge is one of the most written-about albums of the early 1970s, both in terms of creativity and influence on rock music. YES could go on to release Tales From Topographic Oceans and Relayer, which continued the use of very long suites of songs and both fine albums, but in my opinion, neither had the commercial or creative impact of Close to the Edge. Others would disagree.
“Close to the Edge” Jon Anderson, Steve Howe This song takes up one entire album side. In 1972, that was not unique, but most of these efforts, particularly by lesser creative bands, were self-indulgent, repetitive and boring. Not this song; “Close to the Edge” is one of the most brilliant combining of ideas since “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles.
I. “The Solid Time of Change” The first part of the song sounds like a jazz band warm-up with very intricate guitar and bass runs. It changes over into a mid tempo version, and changes yet again as variations of themes will be repeated throughout the song.
II. “Total Mass Retain” A mostly riffing segment on guitar with Anderson singing “I get up, I get down.”
III. “I Get Up, I Get Down” One of the cool parts of this song is the church organ, which was actually recorded on location and dropped into the mix. This segment is primarily Wakeman’s transitioning into ambient synthesizer sounds. Then the vocals take over and the song slows down, in what is called Beach Boys type harmonies. Wakeman’s church organ returns briefly for the transition to the next segment.
IV. Seasons of Man” The tempo speeds up courtesy of Wakeman’s keyboards and the jamming-style of the song’s first part returns. Wakeman moves to the forefront with his soloing. Anderson returns with fast-paced vocals as the song begins a slow exit bringing the various vocal and musical themes together, with a fade-out of nature sounds.
“And You and I” Anderson Anderson; themes by Bill Bruford, Howe (except “Eclipse”), Chris Squire 10:40
I. Cord of Life” The song begins with an acoustic guitar tuning up. The notes Howe plays are quite well-known, it is a gorgeous folk-flavored song, adding an electric guitar.
II. “Eclipse” Wakeman leads with his Mellotron and Moog synthesizer, followed by Anderson’s ethereal singing. This part of the song ends with Howe reprising his acoustic guitar harmonics.
III. “The Preacher, the Teacher” Howe shifts gears playing a more up-tempo acoustic melody with Anderson singing along. Wakeman uses a synthesizer solo supported by Squires intricate bass and electric guitar support from Howe. The song builds to a crescendo.
IV. “The Apocalypse” Howe re-enters with his acoustic guitar and Wakeman’s synthesizer as the song returns to a gentle acoustic sound.
“Siberian Khatru” Anderson, Howe, Rick Wakeman 9:50 This is one of the coolest songs YES ever released. It is one of the hardest rocking and Steve Howe provides one of his best solos. While some of YES’s prog classics can be ponderous, this song, clocking in at just under 10 minutes, flows and soars before you know it. YES fans often say this is their favorite song on the album, mine too. Howe’s playing is very showy, but underneath is a pulsating bass line by Squire and atmospheric keyboards by Wakeman.
Bruford’s drumming on the album unlike other rock drummers, his beats are otherworldly, which is part of the reason he would leave YES to join King Crimson.
Close to the Edge is a musical quilt of ideas, blending together, repeated in variations and brought to a boil by their creative energy. This is the best YES would ever sound.
There have been various reissues of the album with working tracks and different versions. in 2013, mixmaster Steven Wilson put together a multi-disc set including a new mix, a 5.1 version mix, DVD and Blu-ray audio discs with bonus tracks. Improved sound and more defined separation of musical instruments is great, but there is so much to enjoy from the original version, the way most people heard and engaged with the songs.
This album was the first to showcase the YES logo that the band has used in various styles.