I read some interviews with Eddie Offord, Yes' producer, who said that
Topographic Oceans "broke his spirit." The huge success of CTTE emboldened Anderson and Howe; as Offord recalled, "no one could tell them what to do." Wakeman grew restless, and apparently Squire came very close to quitting the band. Alan White was new, so he went along for the ride. Incredibly, when the lads hit a snag during the recording process, Howe and Anderson would convene in a room while the others stood around and waited for directions. Not a good way to record their follow-up to CTTE.
Still, I think Topographic Oceans is very good. Cutting it would be foolish; it stands up well on its own. Judging from some live, later versions of Ritual that I've heard (as recently as 2004), there is a lot of room to maneuver, musically speaking. The sheer scope of the thing is really something; as a musician, I'm inspired by Anderson's audacious vision, and his drive to get it done. I'm going to put the re-mastered version on a DVD (as an audio DVD), so all the tracks are in one place, in order.
Its a bit pointless to wonder if the recording would have been better as a single album. Anderson's original vision was four interlocking pieces, and that's what we have in the four-sided album. I don't doubt that that's how he initially figured it--each song on one side of an LP, given the technology of the day. The recording sounds fine to me (Phone booth? Try listening to the song Going for the One--what happened to the drums there?). Topographic Oceans is one of their great efforts from their most creative period (the middle period, perhaps?), which started with Fragile and ended with Relayer.