Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Time and a Word [Atlantic, 1970] C
  • The Yes Album [Atlantic, 1971] B-
  • Fragile [Atlantic, 1972] B
  • Close to the Edge [Atlantic, 1972] C+
  • Tales from Topographic Oceans [Atlantic, 1974] C
  • Going for the One [Atlantic, 1977] C

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Time and a Word [Atlantic, 1970]
I delayed judgment on the weedy harmonies and genteel virtuosity of their debut, mostly because they covered the Byrds and the Beatles, who flirted with weeds and gentility themselves. This time they cover Richie Havens, synopsize Kahlil Gibran, and insert orchestrations that cry out of the fine hand of Dmitri Tiomkin. Answer to title quiz: "now" and "love." C

The Yes Album [Atlantic, 1971]
Jon Anderson, who delivers the inane Con III lyrics with prissy expertise, and Tony Kaye, whose keyboards run the gamut from vague to overweening, are the bad guys. Bill Bruford, who rocks the rather fancy tempos and signatures, and Chris Squire, best when he gets a good interlock going with Bruford, are the neutrals. And new guitarist Steve Howe makes the record worth hearing if not owning. His commentary throughout "Yours Is No Disgrace," his live acoustic solo "The Clap," and his duet with himself on "Würm" (that's German for "worm," in case you're interested) make the first side almost interesting, and he's at the heart of the album's one great cut, "I've Seen All Good People," where all their arty eclecticism comes together for 6:47. B-

Fragile [Atlantic, 1972]
I certainly prefer Yes's rock-classical synthesis--in which tricky intros, swooping dynamics, and intense textures are integrated into a self-sustaining (and -propelling) electric framework--to ELP's flashy chopsmanship. "Round-About" is a triumph right down to its nature-mystic lyric, the rhythm players each contribute a viable composition, Steve Howe remains a marvel, and even the rearranged Brahms from new keyboard player Rick Wakeman is tolerable. But isn't there supposed to be more to art than great contrivance? B

Close to the Edge [Atlantic, 1972]
What a waste. They come up with a refrain that sums up everything they do--"I get up I get down"--and apply it only to their ostensible theme, which is the "seasons of man" or something like that. They segue effortlessly from Bach to harpsichord to bluesy rock and roll and don't mean to be funny. Conclusion: At the level of attention they deserve they're a one-idea group. Especially with Jon and Rick up front. C+

Tales from Topographic Oceans [Atlantic, 1974]
Nice "passages" here, as they say, but what flatulent quasisymphonies--the whole is definitely less than the sum of its parts, and some of the parts are pretty negligible. I mean, howcum they didn't choose to echo Graeco-Roman, Hebrew, and African culture as well as the lost Indian, Chinese, Central American, and Atlantean ones? Typical hyperromantic exoticism is one answer, and everybody would know they're full of shit is the other. C

Going for the One [Atlantic, 1977]
The title track may be their best ever, challenging a formula that even apologists are apologizing for by now with cutting hard rock guitar and lyrics in which Jon Anderson casts aspersions upon his own "cosmic mind." But even there you wish you could erase Rick Wakeman, who sticks strictly to organ pomp and ident noodles throughout, and elsewhere Steve Howe has almost as little to say. C

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]