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Yes - Fragile CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.45 | 3571 ratings

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5 stars

Fragile was the first prog album I ever listened to while really being aware that it was in any way "progressive". (Unless you count 90125, which made me aware of prog's existence in the first place, oddly enough). However, I don't think it's just because of nostalgia bias that I am quick to give Fragile 5 stars; I really think this is one of the best albums Yes managed to pull together (right behind Relayer). The 3 long pieces are all exceptional, the poppier Long Distance Runaround is catchy but still interesting, and the solo spots, despite being by all accounts filler material, are very good (Except Cans and Brahms, but that's mercifully short).

Roundabout is probably my least favorite of the long pieces, but I still like it quite a lot. Chris Squire's driving bassline is a highlight, and the small synth flourishes Wakeman scatters throughout cement the importance of synthesizers for the band's music. The midsection, with its dense vocal harmony and rippling drums and bass, provides an interesting change.

South Side of the Sky is not only my favorite of the long pieces on the album, but possibly my favorite Yes song in general. It's very forceful and dynamic, and the whistling wind in the background of much of the song is an interesting effect. Steve Howe does a very good job of squeezing in between Jon Anderson's phrases, while also playing in unison with Wakeman and Squire on the main riff underneath "A million miles away..." and lending energy to that, while Wakeman gets a very nice piano solo in the middle alongside which the other members gradually join in, with more wonderful vocal harmony. Bill Bruford's drumming in this part is also excellent. Finally, unlike the majority of Yes's output, the lyrics actually make a noticeable degree of sense, and they are chilling. Literally.

Long Distance Runaround is somewhat of a deviation from the rest of the album, being about half the length of the long pieces, but it's a very nice tune. The instrumentation is relatively minimal, but there's enough underpinning the song to make it work. Chris Squire again takes the lead in propelling the melody alongside Steve Howe, and when the bass splits off into counterpoint with the guitar, the effect is wonderful. The song may be relatively simple, but it's also short enough that it doesn't overstay its welcome.

The final long piece is Heart of the Sunrise. Its starting guitar riff goes on just slightly too long (that is, it goes for 3 minutes before the song starts in earnest), but it's still an exciting riff, tempered by a bass solo and the addition of subtle keyboard parts, that could stand going one repetition shorter. The song then quiets down and begins an exquisite buildup from a relatively quiet theme through several rhythmically interesting, jumpy keyboard riffs and a gradual transition back to the thundering guitar theme. And the reprise of "We Have Heaven" at the end is both unexpected and fun.

As for the short pieces: Cans and Brahms is the album's only failing, as a somewhat clunky synthesized rendition of a classical piece by Rick Wakeman, which sounds like an unsuccessful attempt to be Wendy Carlos. We Have Heaven is lovely abuse of multitracking by Jon Anderson, which has so many layers by the end it's a fun game just to see what vocal lines you can pick out. It sounds great as well. Five Percent for Nothing is Bill Bruford's 35 second mark on the album; I actually feel like its quirky rhythms could have been developed further, but maybe Bruford wasn't that inclined to do much of anything. Chris Squire's The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus) works along similar lines as We Have Heaven, and is almost as good; the 7/4 meter is a nice touch. And Steve Howe's Mood For a Day is a somewhat disjointed but very pleasant acoustic guitar piece which provides a break between the fast-paced Fish and Heart of the Sunrise

Overall, this album, along with the Yes Album, is somewhat of a transition from more poppy leanings to the rock epics that Yes would become (in)famous for. But this album is much better than the Yes Album, in part because of generally better songwriting and in part because of Rick Wakeman's new synthesizers. It is a classic of the genre. Highlights include South Side of the Sky, Long Distance Runaround, and Heart of the Sunrise.

Zargasheth | 5/5 |


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