Music is my religion or as close as I’ll come to believing in a higher power. The holy texts I read with the utmost devotion are “The Rolling Stone Record Guide”, (1979) edited by Dave Marsh and “The Rolling Stone Album Guide”, (1992) edited by Anthony DeCurtis and others. (Apparently I’m polytheistic because I also worship books.)
I find it interesting how critical appraisals of songs, albums and artists change over time. Take as an example(there are many) the early 1970’s release Close to the Edge by the group Yes. The 1979 “Record Guide” gave Close to the Edge its highest five star rating which meant it was considered “Indispensable: a record that must be included in any comprehensive collection.” The actual review said it was “technically brilliant, many-hued and free…most importantly, it rocks”.
By 1992, with a new batch of critics, Close To The Edge had fallen from grace and only received two and a half stars. Three stars being “Average to Good:…requires the most discretion on the part of the consumer.” and two stars “Fair to Poor:…below an artist’s established standard or are…failures.” It was now described as “a monumental snore, a dubious hot-air suite”.
Today I pulled my old vinyl copy off the shelf, pausing to look at the Roger Dean cover art before placing it on the turntable. I like Close to the Edge. It’s not my favorite Yes album but I still enjoy it.
The online allmusic.com website gives Close to the Edge five stars and ends its review with this statement- “In 1972 Close To The Edge was a flawless masterpiece”. Therein lies the answer I think. For those of us who were there, the key consideration is where the album stood at the time and in the time it originally appeared. True art is timeless but it will be up to critics (and fans) beyond our lifetimes to make that call.
I tend to agree with Steve Simels when he wrote in the April 1979 issue of Stereo Review that “the greatest album ever recorded” was Life In The Foodchain by Tonio K. Of course Tonio K. replied the following month that while he considered his own album good, the actual greatest album ever recorded was James Brown Live at the Apollo.
Everybody wants to be a critic.