Friday, 7 April 2017

"Close To The Edge: Definitive Edition CD+DVD Version" by YES (November 2013 Panegyric 'Definitive Edition CD+DVD' Version - Steve Wilson Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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It's April 2017 and I'm currently pouring over a rather cool paperback called "Close To The Edge - How Yes's Masterpiece Defined Prog Rock" by author and uber-fan WILL ROMANO. 

Published by Backbeat Books in early March 2017 (only weeks ago) - across its 304 oversized pages the acclaimed New Yorker and Music Journalist puts up a strong case for "Close To The Edge" being 'the' greatest album of the Prog Genre. I don't know about that personally - how about Genesis and the magnificent "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" double on Charisma in late 1974 or the single LPs "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" on Bearsville (again late 1974) or even Jon Anderson's own solo debut "Olias Of Sunhillow" in July 1976 (and so on)?

You could of course argue that point until the Topographic Oceans come home - but what isn't deniable is that the three tracks on this one YES album from September 1972 have spawned four and a half decades of devotion, endless critique and even awe amidst those who rather get a rash on their favourite appendage than listen to Progressive Rock. The layered multiple-parts "Close To The Edge" has had legs and for many is a pinnacle of many musical sorts. But which issue of CTTE do you buy? I want to concentrate on that...

This new 11 November 2013 Reissue/Remaster of "Close To The Edge" by YES on their own 'Panegyric' label comes in two forms:

The CD+DVD issue in standard 5" card packaging on Panegyric GYRSP50012 (Barcode 633367900128)
Or a CD+BLU RAY issue in Mini LP Sized packaging (roughly 6") on Panegyric GYRBD50012 (Barcode 633367900227).
Both variants feature new Remasters from STEVEN WILSON of Porcupine Tree and Exclusive Bonus Material. This review will concentrate on the CD/DVD variant.

Disc 1 - Definitive Edition CD (66:31 minutes):
1. Close To The Edge (18:43 minutes)
(i) The Solid Time Of Change
(ii) Total Mass Retain
(iii) I Get Up I Get Down
(iv) Seasons Of Man
2. And You And I (10:09 minutes)
(i) Cord Of Life
(ii) Eclipse
(iii) The Preacher The Teacher
(iv) The Apocalypse
3. Siberian Khatru (9:03 minutes)
Tracks 1 to 3 are their 5th studio album "Close To The Edge" - released September 1972 in the UK on Atlantic K 50012 and September 1972 in the USA on Atlantic SD 7244. Produced by EDDY OFFORD - it peaked at No. 4 in the UK and No. 3 in the USA.

4. America (10:31 minutes)
5. Close To The Edge - Early Assembly/Rough Mix (18:42 minutes)

2013 Stereo Mixes - 24-bit / 96kHz MLP Lossless
1. Close To The Edge (18:43 minutes)
2. And You And I (10:09 minutes)
3. Siberian Khatru (9:01minutes)

5.1 Surround Mixes - MLP Lossless DTS 96/24
1. Close To The Edge (18:43 minutes)
2. And You And I (10:09 minutes)
3. Siberian Khatru (9:01minutes)
2013 Stereo and 5.1 Surround mixed and produced from the original multi-track tapes by Steve Wilson

Original Stereo Mixes - Flat Transfer From original Master LPCM Stereo 24/96
1. Close To The Edge (18:43 minutes)
2. And You And I (10:09 minutes)
3. Siberian Khatru (9:01minutes)

1. America (10:31 minutes) - 5.1 Surround Mix - 24/96 MLP Lossless/DTS 96/24
2. America (10:31 minutes) - 2013 Stereo Mix - 24/96 MLP Lossless & LPCM 24/96
3. America (10:31 minutes) - Original Mix - Flat Transfer From The Original Master - LPCM Stereo 24/96

Alternate Album - LCPM Stereo 24/48
1. Close To The Edge (Early Assembly - Rough Mix) - 17:42 minutes
2. And You And I (Alternate Version) - 10:18 minutes
3. Siberia (Studio Run Through of Siberian Khatru) - 9:20 minutes

1. Total Mass Retain - Single Version (3:21 minutes)
2. And You And I - Promo Single Version in Mono (3:29 minutes)
3. America - Single Version (4:13 minutes)

YES was:
STEVE HOWE - Guitars and Vocals
RICK WAKEMAN - Keyboards
CHRIS SQUIRE - Bass and Vocals
BILL BRUFORD - Drums and Percussion

A 20-page fact-filled picture-festooned booklet sits uncomfortably in-between a 2-disc card digipak – itself inside a card slipcase. The famous Roger Dean artwork is all accounted for – that inner CTTE panorama painting that took up the whole of the inner gatefold takes pride of place on the inner pages while the equally cool/beautiful lyric bag that came with original LPs is featured in all its Roger Dean text/greenness towards the end of the booklet (how I poured over those words back in the day – trying to read and understand was a job in itself). Next to all that techno mumbo-jumbo I had to type out above are picture sleeves of rare 45 edits for "America", "And You And I" and "Total Mass Retain" from around the world – Portugal, Germany, Spain, Holland and Turkey. A very sweet touch is three unused paintings from Roger Dean - ‘mountain landscapes’ used both in the booklet and as pictures for each disc.

Bill Bruford famously found the recording of the album seriously stressful – so left at recordings end. His face is craftily replaced with Alan White (the new drummer) in an American Trade Advert for the LP. But best of all is a truly spectacular photo from a distance of a giant billboard on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles at the album’s release in September 1972. Dean’s inner gatefold sleeve painting is given full reign – at least fifty feet in diameter with that gorgeous YES logo sat above it (Roger Dean took the photo). Concert tickets from the early 1972 “Fragile” Tour are pictured - the Manchester Free Trade Hall in the UK and the Tucson Community Center and Cobo Arena in Detroit. There’s even hand-written instructions on the artwork from Roger Dean’s own archives and of course that side profile photo of Engineer and Producer Eddy Offord that graced the rear sleeve – a name synonymous with YES and their unique sound.

For all of its prettiness (and I’ve said this of each of these Panegyric reissues) – I find the CD+DVD variants just that tiny bit ordinary in their presentation. Noted writer and Prog Rock fan SID SMITH provides the new liner notes and they’re insightful, balanced and feature reminiscences from band members including the sorely missed Chris Squire. But it still feels like a lot of the flat transfers are unnecessary padding and the overall tactile feel could have been so much more expansive. The slightly larger CD+BLU RAY variant carries more stuff – so that may be your poison of choice. Let’s get the music...

For the first four albums of their extraordinary career – Yes had been a covers band gradually premiering increasing amounts of highly original material. Even "Fragile" from the year prior (November 1971) had featured a cheeky interpretation of Brahms' Fourth Symphony in "Cans And Brahms". 1972's "Close To The Edge" changed all of that. It was bold, original and out of its own perch. Three songs - one of whom was a side long piece in four parts of nearly twenty minutes - a feature that would dominate in the unlikely No. 1 double-album "Tales From Topographic Oceans" in 1973 and the Patrick Moraz line up for 1974's equally brilliant "Relayer" in 1974. The technical wizardry of Producer Eddy Offord and Roger Dean's beautiful otherworldly artwork were also now as much part of Yes The Band as was their Progressive Rock sound.

As the echoed birds and flowing streams and imagined noises of another interplanetary plane slink their way into your living room for Part 1’s "The Solid Time Of Change" – you can feel the experimentation and brilliance of the music. And even now as I re-listen to it for the umpteenth time (and having lived through King Crimson and ELP and their albums prior to CTTE in 1969, 1970 and 1971) – that wild odd time-signature guitar piece that follows the lead in is amazing – no prisoners – you dig in or you butt out. The audio transfer here is just amazing – Wilson having wrenched nuances I didn't notice nor hear before. Howe's Guitar is clearer – Squire's Rickenbacker Bass is warmer – Anderson's falsetto voice and those multi-layered lyrics – Wakeman's side-long contributions on every imaginable keyboard including church organs – Bruford doing a sterling job trying to keep up with the ambition of the whole thing. By the time I reach the glory of "I Get Up, I Get Down" where the soundscape is floating towards me like the Star Child at the end of Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" – I’m blubbing like a sappy schoolboy whose discovered an extra cake in his lunchbox. 

The same applies to the Acoustic beginning of "And You And I" over on Side 2– that wall of six and twelve string guitars – utterly gorgeous. The impact of the Remaster is so damn good and I'd honestly forgotten about the chops and changes in "Siberian Khatru" - the brilliance of it. Like most fans I bought (and still have) my copy of "Yesterdays" in 1975 - the compilation LP that first featured their ten-minute reinterpretation of Simon and Garfunkel's "America". It makes for a smart bonus track - Howe letting rip on the guitars - apparently influenced by the unlikely duo of Duane Eddy and Delaney Bramlett. But the studio assembly 'run-through' of the slightly shorter "Close To The Edge" is fascinating. "Part 2's "Total Mass Retain" and Part 4's "Seasons Of Man" have these subtle playing differences that feel like Howe is searching for that right note. "Siberia" - an early "Siberian Khatru" - hears Bruford count in Howe as the guitarist launches into that almost (dare we say it) commercial riff. You can literally 'hear' the months of painstaking work in these outtake glimpses - how the whole was gradually built (rehearsing the material for a month, studio time for two).

I don't have 5.1 Surround myself but a mate of mine does. Popped round for that and again the Wilson Remaster is an awesome thing to hear - a great big streak of kit-envy racing through me - like hearing the instrument-reveal on those old Quadrophonic Records in 1974 - only way better. I keep saying it but I'm going to have to invest in 5.1. - Damn!

My son Sean is 22 and a budding self-taught guitarist - he's up for anything that's musically 'interesting' or pushing the boundaries. A tad suspicious but oddly drawn to it at the same time - he looks on Prog Rock as a fine line between brilliance and indulgence. I played him this variant of "Close To The Edge" and his jaw dropped - and not just from Howe's playing both on the Electric and Acoustic - but the whole band gelling in this complicated masterpiece.

Floating worlds - mountaintop lakes - Pandora cliffs - the symbolic geography of Siddhartha - jigsaw puzzle Rock music - I've loved "Close To The Edge" for over 45 years and this reissue of it has brought that love full circle. Man I even drew the CTTE logo – RD stylee - on my schoolbooks (oh dear)...

"...All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you..." Jon Anderson sings on "Cord Of Life" - the first verse in "And You And I". Count me in - in 4/3-time baby...

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