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Yes - Fragile CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.44 | 3224 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Review 41, Fragile, Yes, 1971


Usually I try to avoid the line of thinking that a band has a magnum opus period and everything before that is building up to it. However, I can't help it here. Cape-wearing keyboardist Rick Wakeman appears to have been the missing piece in the Yes puzzle. Not only are his distinctive, intelligently used and manifold keyboards perfect for the Squire-Howe-Bruford-Anderson sound in a way that Kaye's organ simply wasn't, but he also provides the compositional/arrangement edge that Yes desperately needed, adding flawless bridges and banishing any temptations to step down from a song's overall flow with a bit of TYA bombast. Now, onto the album, the group pieces are exceptional, intelligent, well-timed and absolutely wonderful. The solo pieces are a more mixed bag. This is more than essential, but not consistent enough for a masterpiece.

I'm going to start this review with South Side Of The Sky, because it is, in my humble opinion, the best thing that Yes have ever done, and one of the greatest ever progressive pieces. A biting, suicidal energy, a bleak, tragic beauty, incredible playing and atmosphere, fantastic lyrics from Jon Anderson and a sense of deeper connection that I have had with only a very few other pieces.

During a walk earlier this year, I was walking on Kinder Downfall or some other such 600M+ near-mini-mountain in the lovely Peak or Lake District (my memory is vague). There were substantial windspeeds (50-60 mph, could well have been less, if I remember), I was poorly waterproofed, rain soaked me to the skin, jumper, three shirts, coat, hat, coat hood, gloves all drenched. Even changes of gloves, hat and jumper weren't a big help. Hail and sleet followed the rain as I got progressively more tired, and eventually we were on the exposed part of the rocky near-mountain, with a sheer slope on one side. Every bone in my body was freezing, I felt a need to carry on, manically, and place one foot in front of the other, interspersed with moments of resignation. It is easily the most uncomfortable I have ever been in my life (sheltered though it's been). An unforgettable experience.

What Yes have done in South Side Of The Sky is unwittingly convert that experience into music. Every note of that song conveys something to me, as does every lyrical line and repeat. For music as a form of pure expression and imagery, it does not get better for me, and I'm certain that the experience of discomfort in the, at that time, less-than-entirely-delightful British countryside of February or March 2008 is something to do with that.

Whirling winds open the song, and Bruford explodes in with a percussion solo. Howe appears similarly out of nowhere as Wakeman's synth oscillates. An organ comes in, accompanied by Squire's throbbing bass, and Howe gives the song a number of edges that reflect the adrenaline as well as the desperation. Bruford continues to crash intelligently throughout the piece, providing metallic clashes and a number of drum choices. Wakeman leaps around keyboards throughout the piece, providing several atmospheric touches as well as his more conventional organ. Throughout, Anderson gives us brilliant, descriptive and narrative lyrics, telling the story of doomed polar expedition. His vocals do not disappoint, only concentrate the atmosphere that everyone else has been building.

We get one of my all-time favourite piano solos (I have a lot of them) from Wakeman, who gives us a haunting edge, a feeling of the real cold of the place and the descent into death as well as a contrast to the density of the rest of the piece. He is gradually joined by Bruford and Squire as well as multiple clever individual vocals. It returns to the piano solo, and a humming synth meets it. Bruford bursts in with monstrous timing, Howe provides several guitar parts with the feel of death and loss of control very much in there and Anderson's sustained vocals are simply perfect. Another wuthering synth ends the piece. The piece is perfect. The rest of the album is not South Side Of The Sky, unfortunately.

Roundabout was initially a bit of an enigma for me. I can appreciate all the components and the arrangement is superbly done. A haunting synth and Steve Howe's gorgeous, dark classical guitar give way to Squire's lightning-fast leading bass. Bruford thuds on behind with a rock beat contrasted with some clever variation, and Howe moves between the background and the foreground flawlessly. Wakeman provides excellent organ, and the Anderson-Squire-Howe harmony vocals come into their own. Bruford provides some hollower and unusual percussion in a darker, more packed section with a clever Howe-Wakeman duet. We get a superb organ solo from the Caped One, and Howe also gives us a couple of brief ideas. The band are able to repeat the same basic ideas with a completely altered feel, creating a masterful song, as well as providing us with a superb range of ideas in the eight minute or so period of time. An incredible song, but one that didn't originally grab me on an emotional level. I've since revised this opinion.

The cheerful Long Distance Run-Around, with its bouncy feel, basic-riff-reliance and multiple clever parts, is very much the successor of A Venture. It is, however, miles better than its predecessor, with Wakeman's spinning Moog providing some variety, and the opportunities for the band to burst out a little much welcomed. Squire is a standout throughout, with his bass suddenly providing a texture or a brief spray of notes.

Heart Of The Sunrise, as a contrast to the preceding Mood For A Day, begins with a surprisingly savage burst of energy from Bruford, Wakeman and Howe. Squire and Bruford work around each other masterfully in a darker, slower, more haunting piece, with a lead bass part, amazing drumming and a haunting mellotron from The Caped One. Howe again brings the piece into its frenzied, heavy section with Moog and later organ additions used brilliantly, and then back down into a gentle echo of the earlier haunting section and a soft electric with Anderson's vocals. After these three minutes of absolutely brilliant sonic battery, Anderson's voice with its beauty, but yet rather careful edge and lyrical hooks and ideas, is even better placed. Squire provides some lead bass, Bruford plays around with his drumkit, and Wakeman's set of Moog and piano provide a lot of different ideas. Howe is able to return to the mix effortlessly, and leave it with just as little fuss. Wakeman, Squire and Howe exchange ideas in a cooler, less manic variation on the opening chaos and a careful piano leads us down into another jumpy vocal with a bass humming along behind. The majestic conclusion, with a mock-triumphant, yet lost vocal from Anderson leads up to a squirreling Howe disappearing. Up 'til now, a perfect piece, with ideas oozing from every corner, versatility, clever essential repeats. The door creaks open and suddenly we get a repeat of ****ing We Have Heaven. The song was perfect. Why did they have to go and butcher it with that ending?

I doubt that Yes would have been create any one of these pieces without Rick Wakeman. Much as more than a few people worship the jazzy overtones of Moraz (who is, I admit an excellent player) or the blocky organ of Tony Kaye (which is basically the same on half of The Yes Album), but I cannot see either of them ever creating these amazing pieces. The Caped One deserves all the fawning worship-threads he gets, in my opinion.

Onto the solo pieces:

Rick Wakeman's Cans And Brahms is essentially playing Brahms ' on all sorts of keyboardy instruments. The sleeve notes say exactly which. I don't particularly care either way about it. It's good enough, not particularly annoying in the contest, and has a good whimsical feel.

We Have Heaven is not so neutral. It features multiple Anderson vocals over a consistent guitar riff and some other additions from various features. It's amazing how annoying the merge of Anderson-related noises gets after a minute or so. The lyrics are pretty mindless. The door shutting followed by running is a precursor to the end of Heart Of The Sunrise.

Squire's Schindleria Praematurus (The Fish) is a little more substantial than the previous solo pieces, with a number of bizarre bass parts merging into each other very well and Bruford trundling along behind with tappings on various things. A harmony accompanies the piece as it fades. I'm not mad about this one, since I feel the individual parts are rather too repeated. It feels more like overdubbed bass parts than an actual arranged and clever multiple-bass piece. The other thing is, as a bass performance, it's seriously over-rated. The idea is innovative and does spotlight the bass, but the playing and thought behind the piece isn't even in the same league as Heart Of The Sunrise, America or Roundabout, in my opinion.

Mood For A Day is the reason the solo pieces were worth including. Howe provides a gorgeous, emotional classicaly-inspired solo guitar, with a combination of lead melodies, backing notes throughout and some intelligently-used strumming. Uplifting and beautiful, as well as being wonderfully titled.

Onto the bonus material:

The longer Yes version of Simon And Garfunkel's America was a great choice with Squire's throbbing bass, Wakeman's multiplicity of keyboards and Bruford's innovations and general crashing showing off themselves nicely. Anderson provides his own feel for the lyrics. The combination of softer and louder sections works very neatly, and it gives Howe the opportunities to chord out a lot as well as handle some brief and extended soloing with great relish. A great cover. I didn't really need the extra version of Roundabout, but it's a nice conclusion for the album as a whole, so I can live with it. Jon Anderson forgets some of the lyrics, it seems (or decides not to add them in), which is quite funny, and Bruford provides a more rocking performance, which is interesting. In brief, not a terrible pick as a bonus track.

This album, even if I could have done without some parts of it and don't really care for the conclusion to Heart Of The Sunrise myself, is absolutely essential to any fan of progressive rock. This is an incredible step forwards from The Yes Album, and at its high points a match for Close To The Edge. It is a shame that a few choices in the solo ideas, and that damnable end to Heart Of The Sunrise make the album less fun to listen to as a whole.

Rating: Four Stars. The group ideas are brilliant, the solo ideas don't convince me. Favourite Track: South Side Of The Sky

TGM: Orb | 4/5 |


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