Just in case it isn’t immediately obvious, music is a passion and hobby here at Vinyl Connection. There are several thousand titles in the collection and no imminent danger of a growth plateau. [Picture here, if you will, the crestfallen expression on Ms Connection’s face.]
Close to the Edge sits high on my list of all-time favourite albums. I thrill to its virtuosity, admire its ambition, expand with its mysticism, forgive its silliness, embrace its humanity and delight in its complexity. I wonder at its timelessness and the continuing relevance of its lyrical message. If this article leads someone to discovering or reacquainting themselves with the unique world of Close to the Edge I will be a happy writer.
Close to the Edge was released on 13th September 1972 as Atlantic Records SD7244. It was the band’s fifth album and was a critical and popular success, reaching the Top 5 of album charts in both the UK and USA.
There are three pieces on the album: the side-long title suite and two long multi-part songs on Side 2.
The cover was designed by Roger Dean and has the first appearance of the Yes logo. The inside of the gatefold is a Roger Dean fantasy landscape.
Many critics, fans and commentators consider the album the finest in the Yes catalogue.
“The title cut in particular must be considered one of the finest and most influential examples of the progressive rock style” [Macan, 1997; p. 95]
“Every element that was essential to the Yes vision was at its peak with this album. Indeed, as a totality, Close to the Edge represents something as close to perfection as we are likely to find in this world.” [Martin, 1998; p. 211]
“A work that transcends its time” [Mike Tiano, cover notes to the 2003 CD re-issue]
Lyrical themes embrace ecology, the impact of humankind and the symbiosis of ecosystems and society. Such concerns were emerging in the early 70s (though not commonly in ‘popular’ music) and remain relevant, probably urgent. A recent book on progressive rock observes that Close to the Edge
“… is a properly ecological critique of consumer society that connects with what is now used widely for scientific modelling of ecologies and environments. Its deep and multiple ambiguities mean it cannot be co-opted for an easy message.” [Hegarty & Halliwell, 2011; p. 145-6]
1. For those who place value on the lyrics – and there are many words on this album – how to introduce the indirect symbol-heavy imagery of Jon Anderson without sounding confusingly vague or cringingly new-age?
2. Can an often obtuse meditation on life’s spiritual and earthly journey be made relevant forty years on?
3. Will any of the following questions engage the reader/listener… What constitutes a border in the 21st Century ? Where is air cleaned ? Why are species dying out ? Who owns the farms?
4. How could a listener new to this album (or progressive rock generally) find an entry portal?
5. Where does one acquire an open mind these days?
3rd Portal: “Siberian Khatru”
First there is a mountain then a mountaineer. You stretch sinew, pant and gasp to glimpse new vistas, embrace the thrill of being out of your depth. But you are no mere adrenalin junkie; there is also the topography of the soul. The feminine does not alarm you. With purposeful step you look forwards and upwards to the high country; there is a rhythm and perhaps a martial beat, but it is your own. At the summit you pause, enthralled as much by your own potency as the sky that bleeds into heaven.
2nd Portal: “And You And I”
For you, astral traveller, dreams carry wisdom and reality is a waking dream. Connection is all. The cord of life that resides in your organic centre pulses with the life of the planet. “I and thou”. Voices join in an ecstatic chorus that honours both Gaia and sensual entwining. You are willing to move through the angles of the eternal triangle: pilgrim, preacher, teacher. You reach out to others and answer earth’s call.
1st Portal: “Close To The Edge”
Having avoided the simplistic and often just plain inaccurate banalities of much rock ‘criticism’ of progressive music, you are willing to sit down and have a go at something different. Recognising your own preconceptions – we all view the world through coloured lenses – but unwilling to be limited by them, you have given yourself permission to enjoy music for music’s sake. Incongruities are permissible; the world isn’t linear.
Perhaps you have some background in Western composed music and are undaunted by an extended suite that is suggestive of sonata structure. Maybe you just like the idea of a journey of more than three steps and have noticed a quiet calling to adventure like Spring’s germinating quiver at the end of inert Winter.
You sense that openness is cousin to innocence. You are the Mole leaving home without his overcoat, Bilbo stepping out his front door, Pooh venturing into the Hundred Acre Wood. You know that this is an expotition not a migration. Ramones and Machine Head will always be there for you.
The opening creeps forward like the heart of a sunrise. Birdsong and noise, nature and technology: a dichotomy that will unfold over the next twenty minutes. Suddenly the instruments crash: four soloists simultaneously clamouring for your attention, swooping and diving like seagulls after a thrown morsel. They screech and snap but never collide, an exquisite chaos that is exhilarating and just a little frightening. At 2 minutes a rich ‘Ahhh!’ of a voice bursting through; there is humanity here. Four minutes in and the lyric journey begins, the quest unfolds…
“The Call – Adversity and Triumph – Self-examination and Assimilation – Attainment” *
Yes Close To The Edge [Atlantic, 1972; 2003]
Edward Macan  Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture. Oxford University Press
Bill Martin  Listening to the future: The time of progressive rock 1968 – 1978. Open Court, Chicago
Hegarty, Paul & Halliwell, Martin  Beyond and Before: Progressive Rock since the 1960s. Continuum, NY/London
* Final line quote: Macan, p. 98