“Close to the Edge” by Yes

Despite the genre’s reputation as a punchline among certain Rock circles, most of the really gigantic Progressive Rock acts have actually aged quite well. The Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Frank Zappa are still about as good as they were perceived to be in Prog Rock’s heyday, but of the first-rank giants of the genre, Yes come across as far more genuinely dated. They were brilliant instrumentalists and had a terrific lead singer, but they weren’t really particularly good songwriters—their songs don’t feature much in the way of memorable melodies, and their lyrics are usually complete gibberish. And unlike another band with much the same strengths and problems, Led Zeppelin, they don’t really have a one-of-a-kind sound, nor were they particularly groundbreaking in their own right. This is exacerbated by the fact that they were one of the most self-indulgent bands in a very self-indulgent genre. This song, the title track and centerpiece of their most acclaimed album, is pretty typical of their output…an interminably long Neoclassical-Jazz composition full of extended virtuoso showcases for their instrumentation…and without the songwriting to back it up, it gets a little tedious by the eighteenth minute. Granted, the songs of the higher-quality Jam Bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish can be just as long and self-indulgent, but those are Free Jazz-esque improvisational jams, and this kind of thing is easier to take that way than in this kind of very deliberate, polished studio composition. For the record, the band’s one actual Pop hit, “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, is a lot more concise and digestible, but it was recorded well past their peak, so I thought I’d cover something more typical of their style in their heyday.

Verdict: Not terrible, but surprisingly dated and kind of hard to take by the end.

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