Some say this is the high point of Yes’s career… although I’m sure you can find people who say that about all their albums. After this, Bill Bruford joined King Crimson, who promptly reached their own career peak… so maybe the Close to the Edge apologists have a point. Being composed of three songs of significant length yet clocking in at less than 40 minutes, this album is both short and long depending on how you look at it, oscillates between dynamics, tonality, and rhythm quite violently, and is full of the distinct vocals and lyricisms of Jon Anderson. Could be quite a task to talk about, but not one I shy away from, folks!
Since this is a progressive rock album, all the emphasis here is on the compositions, which I labeled as being of ‘significant length’ mere sentences ago. However, it’s probably worth noting that the title track, at the very least, is internally divided into several sections that were also used as guidelines to chop up excerpts for sale as singles. It was a common practice in ’70s prog, anyways. Luckily, Yes isn’t just cramming several short, unrelated songs into one track; it reflects well on them that excerpts from their tracks are well developed enough that they end up coherent and full-featured in isolation.
What separates Yes and Close to the Edge from many of its companions (such as the violent, chaotic improvisatory frenzy of Bruford-era King Crimson) is the level of control Jon Anderson exerts over the band’s aesthetic. What he writes and performs here is… highly intense at the expense of its own coherence – a lot of the concepts here sound like a person coming off a drug trip and believing themselves in communion with abstract concepts like time and love and lossy compression. “And You And I”, though, has more intelligible concepts, rather leaning towards the utopian… but does any of that REALLY matter? I don’t listen for the lyrics. Anderson’s voice isn’t conventionally strong, but it suits the words he writes, and as a corollary, the other members of Yes have the know-how to compose and perform relevant backing. The aforementioned “And You And I” comes with some of the most consonant and accessible guitar and keyboard work on this album, while other tracks travel deeper into dissonance; the title track even begins with what you could reasonably call a freak out, although with enough familiarity, you should eventually hear the bass and drum work holding that section together.
If you’ve been conditioned to follow my writing formulas, you’re probably wondering whether it’s worth developing that sort of familiarity with Close to the Edge. For once in my life, I can cite the name of this band as the answer to that question. In recent months I’ve probably been pushing a lot of really basic works on my readers, but I value complexity and elaboration in my music. Oddly enough, I’ve yet to give similar attention to the rest of the discography of Yes, but I do know they vacillate in their commitment to prog, if only by virtue of having shuffled their lineup through the years.
Highlights: “… are impractical on an album with as few tracks as this one,” he said, before lazily floating into the air and exploding.