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Yes - Fragile CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.45 | 3454 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
3 stars 3.5 come out of the sky

Fragile was really a big turning point for the ole Yes machine. More so than The Yes Album even; that exercise found the Yes Men approaching crazy symphonic suites, but they did not become the accepted definition of symphonic rock until this album. Some say that Wakeman’s synths are a huge difference; others are not so sure. I say they make a difference, and it ain’t necessarily a good one.

“Roundabout” kicks off the art-synth foolishness, and it’s good though. This is like progressive power pop, complete with fist pumping, anthemic, useless lyrics about mountains attacking hapless folks trying to “be there with” their respective loves. But ignore that; it never wastes a moment of its eight minutes, journeying from gentle acoustics to arena prog to funky art boogie. It’s PROBABLY the best thing on the album (certainly the biggest hit, wasn’t it?).

Now comes the evil. The evil is namely these little solo band member spots (everyone gets one), and they’re...a mixed bag. “Cans and Brahms,” Wakeman’s effort, is a laughable synthesizer experiment. Goofy keyboards play Brahms in a very dated manner that would make Keith Emerson blush. Don’t worry though; it’s the worst of the lot (it’s also short).

And then, for example, “We Have Heaven,” Jon’s solo bit, is maybe the best of the lot. A minute and a half of quasi-psychedelic, quasi-a cappella, folksy singing that is practically hymn-like; it’s still pretentious, but it’s also charming and innocent.

“South Side of the Sky” is pretty popular, I think, but I don’t quite see it. It’s about decent folks freezing in the arctic of some dreadful cold. I think it’s supposed to be angry, and it almost works (I like the “were we ever colder than that day?” chorus), but somehow when Yes try to get angry, they just get funkier. I blame Howe. Anyway, the song itself is okay, but I think I could live without the softer middle part.

“Five Per Cent for Nothing” is kinda pointless, but at thirty seconds, way too short to really irritate anyone. Besides, it’s kinda cute (it’s Bruford’s number, and oddly enough, it’s an avant-garde joke on elevator jazz (?)). Anyway, were it not for the opener, delicate art popper “Long Distance Runaround” would easily be my favorite song on the album. It’s certainly one of (if not the) most personal Yes songs to me; for once, I think I understand what Jon is talking about. No liver witches living on distant planets in disgrace, this is simply about someone who misses a loved one who is far away. I almost shed a tear there.

And it bleeds into “The Fish (Unintelligible Scribbling),” Squire’s bass related number. It’s cool to hear him dick around on the bass so many different ways like that, and the track is plenty groovy, but I think that it has more to do with clever producing than clever bass playing. And call me biased then, but as someone who was trained on classical guitar, I find Howe’s “Mood For a Day” more interesting. Alternatively Spanish and Baroque, it’s a nice piece of guitar instrumental (and no overdubs!). Very charming, atmospheric and entrancing (if not quite “Horizons’”).

And then we finish with “Heart of the Sunset,” the opening riff of which could not sound more like “21st Century Schizoid Man” if it had a saxophone in it. Oh well. Yes are pretty good at playing around with it either way. In fact, they think they’re so good, that they spend the first three minutes repeating that damn riff until you want to throttle the whole lot of ‘em. Then it gets kinda slow and quiet, building little by little, until it hits a glorious climax. And more of the riff. A good song, but seriously flawed. The quiet parts are too long, and the riff is played TOO DAMN MUCH. That would be the Close to the Edge attitude creeping up on us I suppose...

I still can’t but feel, however, that even if a slight letdown from The Yes Album, Fragile still beats out Close in terms catchiness and variety. This is, as I said, progressive power pop. Sometimes it’s a little better disguised (“Roundabout”), sometimes it’s worn on the shirtsleeves (“Long Distance”). As for variety, well, what do you think all those solo spots are for? Silly as they may be, they certainly stretch the legs on the album, proving that Yes are capable not only of making use of more musical styles than you thought, but are also capable of taking themselves a little less seriously than I would have expected.

Unfortunately, the album feels a little disjointed; a strangely enough, it’s not the all the shorter material’s fault. It’s mainly that stuff like “Heat of the Sunset” and “Sunny Side of the Sky” where the lads seem a little lost. As a result, the album feels a little scattered. Hell, the whole first side jumps back and forth between “what just happened” and “DEAR GOD, THE CALL IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!”

Additionally, I’m not a huge fan of the sound here; although they’d get symph-ier, this is the start of “We Are Yes. We Are a Symphonic Rock Band.” Which means that the na´ve post- psychedelic organ folk of the last album is traded for something a little more “mature” sounding. Hey! I LIKED that old na´ve sound. Still, underneath the synths and overlong runtimes, this is clearly the Yes of old. And, honestly, Yes goofing around with how to run an album is not a bad thing. I just wish that, when they nailed down the focus aspect, we hadn’t gotten something as stylistically narrow as Close the Ledge. But, hey, that’s just me talking. Fragile is definitely an important piece of Yes history, and is pretty much a requirement for anyone who’s a fan of the band.

(Note: the bonuses are all crap. The version of “America” here is longer, looser, and less interesting than the tight ‘n snappy version found on the Close to the Hedge remaster. Slightly better an early and live run through of “Roundabout,” in which you hear Yes make (gasp!) MISTAKES! Cute, and worth a listen, but melts like an Easter Bunny in an oven compared to the album version. Yes really need the full use of a studio to make all their magic happen. In short, a case of “you could, but why should you bother?” across the board. No change in rating.)

The Whistler | 3/5 |


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