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Yes - Fragile CD (album) cover




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4.46 | 3839 ratings

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4 stars One of the interesting things about writing reviews of albums you first heard decades ago is the advantage of perspective. Yes is a band I didn’t discover until late in my teen years, and that was with Going for the One and Tormato. As a result I, like many fans, had to discover the back catalog after the band had already begun to fracture and their best years were in their rear-view mirrors.

In that context Fragile makes perfect sense. The band had almost completed perfecting their lineup (for the time being), and they had also nearly completed their transformation from a psychedelic/artsy band with high ambitions and industry credibility, into a tour de force and poster-child for intelligent progressive music

With Rick Wakeman in on keyboards the band’s sound seems to shift even further away from seemingly directionless hippy fluff like “Sweetness” off their debut album, and toward careful arrangements that raised the bar of rock. “Roundabout” sets the tone right off the bat as a stunning work that dwarfs anything the band had released previously. That short guitar intro is pretty much instantly recognizable to most music fans nearly thirty-five years later. The arrangement is incredibly focused, tightly executed, and commands attention. Squire is an insane man on bass, and probably inspired a couple generations of bassists with this song alone. I like the way the progression of the arrangement manages to eventually come roundabout itself back to Howe and his guitar, before lapsing into Anderson’s vocal tracks which almost seem to be a completely different song, only for the band to bring it all back together over the last couple minutes with every instrument commanding attention. Unfortunately for those of us in the States in the 70s, we were ‘treated’ to a much abbreviated version as a radio single that eliminated nearly all of the instrumentation from the last three minutes of the song (and some from the middle as well), leaving this sounding actually quite fragmented and confusing. But frankly, at that time in the 70s it was not at all unusual for record labels to hack up album tracks into unrecognizable bastardizations of themselves and release them as singles. The industry didn’t have a heck of a lot of respect for the average fan back then (do they now?), and I guess they figured our attention span and slack-jawed fascination with shiny objects would keep us from appreciating the full Monty of the song, so I suppose in their own twisted way they felt they were doing us a favor. Hmmm.

I say the band had nearly completed their transformation into a full-blown progressive band, but not totally. For some reason the band decided to include a number of short tracks that seemed more like auditions for the various individual band members. I’ve read this was because the band wanted to save money on studio time; or that they were in a hurry to get the album out quickly because they needed money to pay for equipment; or because they were in a hurry to try and capitalize on The Yes Album which was still on the charts in America; or that they simply didn’t have enough material for a whole album. Not sure which of these (or combinations of these) reasons is correct, if any.

Whichever, Wakeman offers a short interlude called “Cans and Brahms” from Johannes Brahms which is well-played but otherwise uninteresting. Anderson has a short track with his own vocals layered over themselves and sparse accompaniment from the band on “We Have Heaven” that also is quaint but uninteresting.

“South Side of the Sky” however, which Anderson wrote with Squire, is kind of an underappreciated treat from the band. It isn’t quite as tight as “Roundabout”, with both Howe and Squire teetering on an almost improvisational jazz (albeit a hard-licking one) at times. Wakeman’s keyboards here, especially the grand piano portions, are quite attractive, and certainly not what you’d have expected to hear out of a rock band at that time. My only complaint with this song is that Bruford’s drum work seems quite uninspired, and at times actually borders on dull.

Bruford is the next one to offer up what is basically a solo with “Five Per Cent For Nothing”, filler really, followed by Anderson’s “Long Distance Runaround”, a rather brief and almost poppish track that would actually garner more interest after it was included on 1981’s Classic compilation than it did with this album. I still like this song, but listening to it today it almost seems as if the band was intentionally looking for something that could get them on the radio in commercial markets. Strange.

“The Fish” has been reworked, re-recorded, and re-engineered so many times over the years (and combined with other tracks including “Long Distance Runaround”), probably because it is a great showcase for Squire, and also because it is a very recognizable piece of Yes music. I have at least five different versions of this myself, but the original is still interesting for its historical significance.

“Mood For a Day” is the Steve Howe solo, and his acoustic work is an introduction to the sound he would repeat on several tracks off his first solo album Beginnings, but not all that similar to the rest of what he does on this album (except for maybe on "Heart of the Sunrise"). It’s meant to be a reflective piece, and does its job well, although is again not a memorable part of the album.

The grand finale is of course “Heart of the Sunrise”, which is stylistically similar to “Roundabout” in that in engages the entire band, seems to be centered more around Squire than Bruford, and takes its own sweet time in developing the various instrumental progressions. One notable difference is that the song reaches nearly four minutes before Anderson is heard from, and nearly two more minutes before he finally kicks in his high gear. In that respect ‘Heart’ doesn’t seem quite as focused as “Roundabout”, which I suppose is a matter of personal taste whether this is good or not. For my tastes “Roundabout” is a slightly stronger track, but I’m sure that would be debated by many fans.

Overall this is not quite as consistent as The Yes Album from end to end. But where it is strong (“Roundabout”, “Long Distance Runaround”, “Heart of the Sunrise”) it is better than their previous work. Four stars for this one as well, and probably would be five if it weren’t for the filler tracks.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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