Middle ground isn’t always easy to find. Ask any fan of Yes where they think “Tales from Topographic Oceans” ranks in the band’s album catalog and you will almost always find it listed near the top or bottom of the list. Rarely, if ever, in the middle.
Then again, “Tales…” was not an album that offered much middle ground. And it did so very unapologetically. It is the epitome of self-indulgent rock and roll. That in itself is the pivotal point of this 1973 double album. Four sides. Four songs. No singles. No apologies.
Take it or leave it.
Most took it…at first. It’s pre-orders from record stores almost immediately placed the album into gold status (500 thousand copies sold)…but it fizzled after reaching that mark. Many copies would shortly thereafter remain buried in record collections, or like mine, end up on the shelves in used record stores.
When I ran across of “Tales…” again at a record show a few years ago, I decided to give it another chance. Maybe it was life and experience. Maybe I just didn’t really listen to it the first time. Maybe I was just stupid. The second time around, I absolutely loved this album. It is a masterpiece of musicality and interpretation!
The four sides of “Tales from Topographic Oceans” were based on the four bodies of Hindu Shastra. One side each dedicated to a philosophical teaching. I think maybe it was too deep for me decades ago. The lyrics and music both require a desire to interpret and understand. But as in life, when you take the time to analyse and truly understand, you finally realize the fruits of your labor – and it’s no longer a labor. It’s a beautiful thing.
Today, that’s my take of “Tales of Topographic Oceans” with no middle ground:
It’s four sides of a beautiful thing.