The Patch

March 17, 2009

I Don’t Like Mondays: Yes, Tales From Topographic Oceans

Filed under: and begin to slit throats.,I Don't Like Mondays,Music & Film — freshlysqueezedcynic @ 11:38 pm

Dear sweet Jesus.

I was prepared to defend prog rock, you know. Well, not exactly defend, but explain that it wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be. One of the big founding myths of punk was the early-70s-as-cultural-wasteland. Pop music, in the guise of “prog rock” had become flabby, flaccid, stale, too disgustingly arty and impure, filled with pretention and masturbatory attempts at marrying jazz style improvisation with classical pomp, detached from a world which seemed to be in decline, more interested in dragons, feudal Merrie England and Tolkienesque pastiches than the social situation in 1977. Something had to be done to destroy this, just tear it down, go back to basics with just three chords and a lot of rage and anger and bring the whole edifice of rock crumbling down. A new rock revolution.

This is, to say the least, an overstatement. The early-70’s-as-cultural-wasteland theory only holds up if you ignore the collection of personalities and bands that existed, fairly successfully, in an off-kilter sort of way; Lou Reed, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Roxy Music, all trying to do something interesting with music in a way that the more bloated prog rockers weren’t. And more than a few punks had early 70’s influences, especially the more experimental end; when Johnny Rotten stopped being a cartoon and became John Lydon again (helped by a legal injunction by Malcolm McLaren who insisted that he owned the name and the rights to use of the name) he waxed lyrical about his love of bands like Captain Beefheart, Can, King Crimson, and Van der Graaf Generator, many of which had a decidedly proggy lilt to them, not to mention Lou Reed and David Bowie come across as the original art-rockers. When the time came, once punk had stopped its’ useful function in tearing down and became a parody of itself, once bands had to make a self-conscious decision about building a new music and punk fragmented into new genres and new possibilities, there were certainly lots of bands that decided to make music just as self-aware and self-consciously art-rock as the prog rockers that were supposedly the enemy. Except this time you could usually dance to it.

Of course, just because it’s a myth doesn’t mean it’s not also true, in a way, and oh god, does Tales From Topographic Oceans make you realise how utterly awful prog rock could be at its most corpulent. This is an awful, awful album, utterly sure of its own artistic merit, which is non-existent. There are only 4 songs in what was a double album, each song taking up a whole side of vinyl. The songs (which are meant to be based upon Shastric scriptures; yeah, that’s obvious, isn’t it) continually change tack, moving on to different arrangements in what is obviously meant to be an attempt to do classical music for the late 20th century, all sparkling arpeggios and emotional heft. But since none of these fuckers are Mozart, it’s just pish. The arpeggios just become noodly, organ-grinding melanges, doing a lot and saying little, glorified church organ pieces. There is no emotional heft, especially when anything remotely interesting gets sidetracked by another twat trying to show off his virtuoso improvisation skills. They’re not Miles Davis either, so again, it’s pish. I can’t believe someone could try this hard to be self-consciously arty and come up with something that, at heart, says nothing. It screams “trying too hard”. It just goes on and on and on, saying bugger all about anything until the rocks have been worn away by the oceans and the universe has contracted into nothingness. It’s just boring. And really, that’s a cardinal sin.

I mean, for fuck’s sake, if Rick Fucking Wakeman thinks it’s a bit excessive, then you’ve got a fucking problem.

The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn): Fuckers.

I mean, what can you say to that? It means fuck all, the kind of pseudo-deep jizzspatter that hippies find interesting but the rest of us just want to blow our brains out to. When I first put this on, I thought there was a problem with my speakers; I heard nothing. Except a slight windy sound. “Thanks for that Mike, now here’s Yes with the weather.” Slowly, 50 seconds in, a totteringly slow keyboard begins to make itself heard, thin and reedy, like a Borg-assimilated organ that’s had the shit kicked out of it. We’ll be hearing a lot of that. The dirge continues. It’s all so desolate! Not really, it’s just boring the shit out of me. Fuck’s sake, the Ramones would be finished by now. I mean, how could anyone listen to this? Anyone? How would you go to a gig for this, how would you be excited to hear this pish? Would you clap? Laugh? Stroke your beard? God, a Yes gig must be the only place where someone shouts “Freebird” and expects a shorter song than the one being played.

The dirge is building up, slowly, ever so slowly. But there’s no feeling to this. I mean, I can take slowly as long as I know its’ going somewhere – that’s one of the big strengths of post-rock groups like Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Explosions In The Sky or Mogwai. Perhaps the closest we have to prog right now, actually, without all this wearying excess that makes albums like Tales of Topographic Oceans so annoying to listen to. A couple of minutes in, the singer starts to sing, finally, the Injured Borg Organ complementing his thin, reedy, nasal voice, but not in a good way. He’s almost chanting, but the effect is one of “fucking hippies” instead of “wow, this is really significant!”. Especially since he keeps using words like “amid” or “cached”. The monotonous voice makes me want to stick something sharp in my face. There is nothing nearby. Another monotonous voice kicks in, and I am now actively searching for something to stab myself with.

You couldn’t make up the lyrics, by the way. A more hilarious form of astral bullshit you will never see. “disjointed but with purpose,
Craving penetrations offer links with the self instructor’s sharp and tender love as we took to the air, a picture of distance” This is the Chewbacca Defense of music. It Makes. No. Sense. But Chewbacca lives on Endor. So yeah.

Meanwhile the Injured Borg Organ goes into death spasms, the drums kick in and a keyboard riff begins. It’s all very 70’s Doctor Who Action Sequence. A guitar riff plays in the background, and the noodling begins. Oh, the noodling. It is an endless array of despair which makes me weep pure tears of rage. And we’re only 5 minutes in. Of an 80 minute track. This is going to make my skull rupture. I am going to track down the members of Yes and give them a hydrochloric acid enema.

“What happened to this song we knew so well?” chorus the band, and I can give them an answer, though it might not exactly be Shastric. It’s buried in interminable noodling and wasn’t very good anyway, fuckers. At this point, I went to go cook some jambalaya, because jambalaya is fantastic and maybe it would stop me from trying to reach into the screen and strangle the notes from this song at birth. To prevent them infecting my ears.

Back with the jambalaya, and it is a spicy party in my mouth which I welcome. Meanwhile the Yes guys are still chorusing and not much has changed. Did they ever look at themselves and realise the disease which was inside of them? Wait! nine minutes in and a kind of tom-toming drum beat begins, everything gets a little more rapid and slightly easier to handle. I’m still not sure why this song needs to do in 20 minutes what most songs do in about 3 though. OOH YOU CHANGED TEMPO, NOW I TRULY BELIEVE IN THE ASTRAL STAR CHILDREN. Shitweasels. There’s a guitar solo at the moment, wailing its way through the chorusing Yes members. It sounds all a little too 70’s car chase, really. Basically Yes have been contracted to make one big chase sequence and fucked it up. This is my theory. We’re back to the Injured Borg organ again, as the crescendo dies down, but really, that was the most boring build up ever. And now they’re just playing arpeggios. Hell man, I understand why they are important to music, but really you can’t fill a minute or so of song with them and expect people to not wish your scrotum to be slowly grated. Another guitar solo, this time over that keyboard sound which makes it sound a little like a choir of people with too much reverb. I get it man, you’re obviously a good player. But that is how you choose to spend your time, and it is not a good way to spend other people’s time. Unless they’re mocking you, which is totally worthwhile.

This whole starchildren shit is getting me down. This was released about the time of the three-day week, two general elections in a year, a time when Britain was in the midst of political and social turmoil, the old certainties less certain, fascism gaining a fringe of support, a ferment where industrialism and Keynesianism seemed not to have any answers. And Yes are just noodling on about all this crap here. Now, I’m not one to ask everyone to come up with a political manifesto in every artistic endeavour they take on, that just seems like cultural Zhandovianism. Obviously people want to sing about different things, and that’s fair enough. But really, in the midst of social and political turmoil, you expect there to be cultural turmoil as well, some kind of acknowledgement of the times. But Yes just seems to have retreated into astral wankery, detached, loose, nowhere near the decline itself for actual comment.

Meanwhile there has been at least two guitar solos and one keyboard solo. Get tae fuck. I bet if you sped it up a bit you might have something interesting, a particularly crazy-ass proto speed-metal, or maybe some happy hardcore. Couldn’t be worse than it now. And oh, we’ve changed again, and it sounds like something out of the Bionic Woman. Seriously, Yes missed a trick not going into 70’s action movies and/or sci-fi series. Done a lot more work and people wouldn’t want to kill them for the pointless solos and that fucker’s deeply irritating voice and lyrics. We’ve passed the 20 minute mark! Hooray! And there is still nothing of any interest! Whatsoever! We seem to be in another crescendo, everything’s building up now, but in such a flabby way, with so much needless virtuosity, that it again provides no real way to connect with this music on any level. On an intellectual level it’s repetitive, stilted, and the lyrics are completely fatuous. On a gut level it’s too boring and noodly. Fuckin’ beard strokers.

And it’s over!

There’s three more songs, but.

Fuck.

The Remembering (High the Memory): Fuckers. I mean, that’s almost as bad as the first one. They’re begging me to take them seriously, but I just can’t when these song titles are so full of fail they could generate at least 0.5 milli4chans, which is an extremely dangerous level.

It’s actually quite lively to start with, descending keyboards underlaid with shimmering, sparkling sounds that segue into a slow, repeated musical phrase picked out on the guitar. It’s almost nice, and for a second I begin to think it can’t be all that bad, really, even after the horror that was the first track. Then I remember that this, too is also 20 fucking minutes long, and there’s no way my interest can be sustained for that long.

And sure enough, it goes on. And on. And on. And what was initially hypnotic becomes self-indulgent, torpid, depressingly dull. The lyrics haven’t gotten any better, meditations on bullshit, “forests of the sun”, “dreaming as one”. There are no forests of the sun you fuck because the sun would burn any tree there, there isn’t even any fuckin’ soil so how would a forest take root. After all, it is a mass of incandescent gas. Anyway, we’re building up the music here, but as usual, it’s hard to get involved in any of the musical parts, which this time are almost something listenable, since they get drawn out too long and anyway there’s going to be a fucking guitar solo that lasts 3 minutes along any second, which will rape your soul.

And there’s a really abrupt jump-cut here, about 5 minutes in, leading to a lot of astral-sounding wispy music which pisses me right off. Which reminds me of how much I hate fucking hippies, really. I’ve talked before about how hippies ruin everything, but this must be the key example. I know, I know, it’s probably a bit overgeneralising to suggest that Yes were all fucking hippies, but who gives a fuck about mystical Eastern teachings except the fucking hippies? I don’t think even the Yogis take all this stuff anywhere near as seriously as yer common or garden hippy, looking for something nice and postmaterialist to cling onto to build some kind of spiritual system, having been inevitably disappointed by the transformational power of bad weed, mud and gratuitous nudity. All three of which are good things, but alas, did not lead to any actual revolutionary content. So you get hippies looking for something more, which leads to the almost offensive Orientalism of yer “mystical Eastern” bullshit, which leads directly on to this overindulged crap.

Fucking hippies.

So now we’re onto some good ol’ fashioned finger-picking. It’s like we’re at ye olde folk fayre! Except even folkies have a better sense of themselves than this excuse for music. You know where you are with folk music, especially if you’re a woman, viz you will be up the stick, lamenting your lost lover who’s gone of to war, only he comes back and he ignores you so you top yourself and haunt him till he runs himself through with his bayonet to end the misery and you’ll both be together in the afterlife in torment, a too-lay whack-fol-a-diddle wey-oh.

Fuck Morrissey, no-one’s got a better handle on vicarious miserablism than yer English folk singer.

Anyway, meanwhile, we’re halfway through and we’re back to what happens when Yes try to do a fast bit. Yes, it’s 70’s action show again! This time I am imagining Bodie and Doyle kicking the shit out of a few long haired fuckers with capes, proto-synths, and too much time on their hands.

And a sudden shift back to ye olde Ren Fayre. I’m pretty sure that’s a mandolin, which just goes to prove that that instrument is truly a tool of the Devil. The fiddle just got a bad press. Actually, we’re oscillating between 70’s action sequence and Ren Fayre quite rapidly here, it’s intriguing only to wonder the kind of show that that would make. “Tonight, on Feudal Police, Bayliff Qualms has to track down the mysterious poacher of Abboten Wood, which by right belongs to the local Lord. Meanwhile, an bow amnesty is declared, as the village lashes out against the ever-rising effects of the archery culture infecting the area. Also the Black Death happens and some people fuck a chicken in the feverish, sweaty, bubo-encrusted hope of a cure.”

I’m not talking that much about the music any more. It’s kind of impossible at the moment, it’s gone all wispy again, like what would happen if ambient music had been invented in the mid-70’s by utter fuckwits. Aaaaaand cue obligatory guitar solo. I hate you, guitarist. What’s his name? I’ll wiki it. Steve Howe? You’re a dead man, Steve Howe. I will do to you what Patrick Bateman did to New York. Thank God! It’s over. Now on towards the valley of death!

Fuck, they’re making me pretentious now. Well, more pretentious.

‘The Ancient’ (Giants Under the Sun): Motherfucking fuckers.

More wind. And jingly bells. This does not make things portentious, Yes. It makes things sound like you’re recording it on Life Day whilst freezing to death on Hoth (look it up, kids.) We start with a quasi-funky 70’s baseline, like only candy-assed white boy crackers can do. I am getting black rage in sympathy. A guitar starts up, trying to RAWK. But failing, because it’s prog. And it’s Yes. A crappy, wailing solo plays on, over the faux funk and the crackly, rattling drumming. This is truly awful music. I think I am going to listen to some Einsturzende Neubauten just to stop my head being messed with here.

Finally, we go ambient again, and your basic look-my-keyboards-are-faking-being-a-string-section happens. A blarting, crappy sound keeps playing, like the heartbeat of a 200 pounds overweight 6 Million Dollar Man running up some stairs, beating its last. Inexplicably, this keeps breaking up the song. And will continue to do so throughout. Yes obviously think it’s a DRAMATIC NOISE, but I just keep wondering when they’re going to get the poor guy a treadmill. It’s killing any kind of song that might be salvaged at some point through this song, breaking up any kind of consistency the song has and to boot is just a really fucking annoying noise, the kind of squelchy electronic noise that makes you begin to grind your teeth. Bizarrely, real strings have begun to join the fake strings. This doesn’t make anything much better, since the disjointed heartfart starts up every so often with soul-crushing inevitability. Mind you, it does mean less time for endless noodling, which is essentially what this whole song is made up of and continues to be. I won’t get any of this out of my head, you know. It’ll just be forever, some psychedelic Windows Media Player visualisation flashing against my brain like an epileptic’s lament, and always, everywhere, that fucking noodling. This is the shortest song on the album, a mere 18 minutes and 35 seconds, and it’s by far the worst.

Ren Fayre! Up next, on “When Classical Guitar Goes Bad”. Yup, it’s a solo again, just a single acoustic guitar, which simply means compared to everything else, it just sounds like a Learning Zone ident. I’m reminded strongly of Look Around You, and begin to youtube “Little Mouse”. But I have to keep going on this, because we’re already late and there are important things for my dear readers to do horribly to my precious musical collection. Can’t keep them waiting longer. Only two minutes of this song left! There’s another one, but the end is in sight!

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW THE RAAIIIIIIIIIN HAS GONE

I CAN SEEE ALLLLLLL OBSTACLES IN MY WAYYYYYYY

God, this project truly is fucking me up royally. Ha, we’re back to the heartfart again, because of course they had to remind me of that horror, and a tinkling of sleigh bells finishes the masturbatory session. One more to go…

Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil): Fuckwitted Fuckmonkeying Fuckspasms from Fucknut, Fucktopia.

I am mildly annoyed by now. As you can probably tell. But this just sounds like all the other song, noodly, utterly devoid of feeling, pretentious shit. It’s killing me, it really is, and I’m close to tears, so bored am I with this ongoing spasm of musical wrongery. Babababababababababababa, is what they’re singing. Hey, I can dig it. It’s closer to anything intelligible than has been sung before, thank God.

I’m pretty sure this is the kind of music a BBC Micro would compose. Maybe there’d be a few more dragons. I don’t know. We calm down again to the sloshing of the waves, it’s calming, innit. Only if you’ve not been brought to paroxysms of blinding rage by the fucking continual noodling that swithers all over it, drunkenly groping its way over your ears. you feel sick, and slightly dirty. I need a shower. The waves stop, but the noodling continues. And he’s singing in French! How debonair! What elan! In reality, as supposed to outside the singer’s gurning, tosspot head, it of course sounds overbearingly self-indulgent. This is a boy who always got all the Jammy Dodgers when he asked for them, surely. You can’t produce work like this without being fundamentally broken in some way, mentally. I know, I know, I can talk, being a full-strength brainwrong, but it takes one to know one, to quote that supreme philosopher, That Kid In The Playground.

I can’t really say anything now that I haven’t repeatedly said, not even getting onto the bizarre, triangle-clanging tribal drumming section that, whilst as close to original as this album gets, still has to deal with what I’ve been complaining about all along; the motifs hammered into your brain with no poise or suspense, no emotional core, a dead-eyed eternity… If I get any more plain, I’ll be in danger of becoming a Rake. I suppose that’s the problem, really, with the three albums I’ve looked at so far, the core problem I mean; they are, fundamentally, trying to do different things, but when you get down to it, they’re all incredibly one-note. They hammer in the same musical style, the same lyrical bent, with a complete lack of self-awareness and subtlety. It’s boring because they can’t do anything else. And I kind of pity them, when not hating them for every torment they subject me to. Because to only really be able to express yourself in this one note, turgid fashion, completely without recourse to any alternate viewpoints, alternate sounds… I mean, this album was meant, in a way, to be experimental, but it comes across so one-note as to sound as ancient as the Caveman Sonata for Bone-club and Skull-drum in the key of Ugg. It’s obviously, permanently “of its’ time”. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I suspect the reason why it sounds so dated is because by this point, especially, they weren’t going for any kind of “new sound”. It was just an attempt to indulge their inner whims as far as possible, without reference to anything but a massive, spoiled ego, and thus we get music that cleans colons, so up it’s own arse is it.

And I weep. I’m not afraid to say that. This album produced much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

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2 Comments »

  1. Poor, poor Alan.

    Comment by Colin — March 18, 2009 @ 12:27 am | Reply

  2. Jesus, stay the hell away from Brain Salad Surgery then!

    Comment by Mark — April 9, 2009 @ 5:30 pm | Reply


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