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Yes - Fragile CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.44 | 3247 ratings

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5 stars Mr. Rick Wakeman, known as the best session keyboardist in England and who had been recently proclaimed as "Music's Next Superstar," came onboard and shot Yes' credibility through the roof. Although he is usually kept a little deep in the mix, the few times when he is turned loose show that Yes now had a powerful trump card in their hands. Not only did he have about a million times more skill than Kaye, he also had a much larger assortment of toys to play with (Kaye used a total of three keyboards, whereas Wakeman would use up to a dozen implements at once; Mellotrons, pianos, organs, synths, harpsichords, you name it), and Yes could now add sounds and ambience that Anderson could only dream about before.

The one negative thing about Wakeman having so much stuff, though, was that Yes had to get an album out as fast as possible to cover the costs for all of it, and so there are only 4 regular group pieces on this album. But Yes, being the smart men that they were, used this to their advantage. It was decided that now was the time for each of the members to get to showcase their individual skills, and so this album has 5 additional solo tracks, one for each member. Now, interestingly enough, there are people for whom these solo pieces are actually a negative - many claim that because of them, this album is terribly disjointed and has virtually no flow. The thing is, I take the exact opposite viewpoint - continuing in the vein of The Yes Album, placing a shorter track in the middle of two other epics on each side, these solo numbers allow the listener to catch his breath so that he might better be able to appreciate the more complex numbers. Besides, this was a common trick among a number of prog groups - a large reason that Peter Gabriel's Genesis was and is so enjoyable is that for every "Return of the Giant Hogweed" or "Firth of Fifth," you get a relatively lightweight number like "Harold the Barrel" or "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)." Heck, even ELP, the supposedly pretentious-beyond-all-measure group (though certainly no more so than Yes, and possibly several degrees lower), regularly stuck numbers like "Benny the Bouncer" or "Are You Ready Eddy?" on their albums (heck, they even put out an entire album of 'funny' and 'lightweight' tracks - a good one at that). In other words, this is not unheard of.

But back to the pieces themselves. Bruford, who was more interested in being one of the greatest drummers of all time (his percussion on this album is amazing), didn't really take it seriously, merely writing a 35 second blurch of noise (well, it's actually a 16 bar piece repeated once, but whatever) but the rest of the contributions rule. Wakeman plays a short Brahms excerpt on his keyboards, Anderson spends a minute and a half harmonizing with himself in the gorgeous "We Have Heaven," and Howe gives us his sequel to "Clap" in "Mood For a Day." And Squire's piece ... well, I'll mention that later.

But even without the solo pieces, this album is wonderful on lots of levels. First of all, the songwriting has actually improved from The Yes Album, as hard as that might be to believe. Also, the band added an edge and crispness to its sound that had been slightly lacking on TYA simply by allowing the compositions to take on darker, less bouncy characteristics. As a result, the four group compositions on the album are incredible beyond words (even though many fans don't give them much credit due to the fact that they aren't 20 minutes long). "Roundabout" may have received more airplay than any other Yes song through the years, but face it, it really deserves it. Never before and never again would Yes come up with such a PERFECT combination of pop accessibility, hard rock bass riffs and experimental song structure as they did on this track. If the bass riff doesn't grab you, then the vocal melody will, and that's a fact. And the song has all sorts of neat keyboard tricks within, from the backwards piano chord that opens it to Wakeman's first fancy solo with the group to all sorts of neat key riffs.

Even better, though, is the "lost favorite," "South Side of the Sky." For whatever reason, the band never (with VERY few exceptions, until 2002 that is) made this track a part of its stage set, and as such the song gained a sort of mythical quality with fans. Never mind that, though - even if it were as heavily played as "Roundabout," I think people would still adore this song. The lyrics are some of the darkest that Anderson would ever pen (they're about freezing to death), and the music matches oh so well. The main riff (apparently stolen from a Howe composition with a previous band) is menacing as hell, the vocal melody RULES, and Wakeman gets an extended piano solo in the middle that positively MAKES the song, whilst the band members contribute some eerie harmonies here and there. Of course, I've been told that Kaye wrote many parts of the album, including this solo, but even if that is true, I still kinda doubt that he could have played them, at least not with this kind of flair. But I digress - one mustn't also forget the incredible way the song begins, with a door SLAMMING on Anderson's joyous harmonies while somebody runs away before the howling wind comes up.

The side-two group numbers don't fall short of the standard, fortunately. "Long Distance Runaround" is the last "pop" song that the band would do for several years, but even though it shows no indication of where Yes was headed, it rules nonetheless. The vocal melody is as catchy as the one on "Roundabout," the musical themes are compact yet complex, and the instrumental deconstruction is intense as hell, with Squire providing a textbook demonstration on how to hammer-on (at least, that's what my brother the bass player once told me).

Concluding the album, then, is the immortal classic "Heart of the Sunrise." The three- minute introduction can best be described as a musical duel between a bass and an organ, with Steve's guitar helping the cause at times and Bruford building the tension exquisitely with his drums. The main riff isn't particularly complex, of course, and it does bear more than a slight resemblence to the "Mirrors" chunk of "21st Century Schizoid Man," but whatever. For all its 'simplicity', it sucks me in like mad, and that's all I really need. Of course, there's more to the song than just the intro - the main melody doesn't have too much to do with the introduction (except in the rare cases where reprises from it pop up in the song), but that hardly makes it any worse. Anderson's lyrics are as weird as usual (apparently they're about soul travel), but somehow he manages to sing them with a passion (yes, PASSION) that only he could muster up for such an odd subject, not to mention that the vocal melodies are pretty as ever. And how can one forget the ending, where the duel ends in a stalemate, only to have Anderson's "We Have Heaven" vocals pop back in and become the victors by default??

You must buy this album as soon as you have 13 bucks lying around. You see, even if somebody isn't a fan of prog rock (which I guess doesn't apply on this site), this album is essential if you like the bass guitar. Seriously, this album can make a legitimate claim to being the greatest bass guitar album of all time (well, if you discount anything with the least amount of funk, that is), right up there with Led Zeppelin II and Quadrophenia (well, those are my favorites, anyway). In addition to Squire practically owning "Roundabout," "Long Distance Runaround," and "Heart of the Sunrise," there is also his bass solo, coming out the ending of "LDR." Now, on the surface, "The Fish" might not seem all together impressive - after all, it's just six layers of bass guitar, who cares? Well, you should care; it's not everyday that one finds a piece with layer upon layer of bass parts (which are plenty interesting and complex on their own) added in such a way that the number actually seems like a real song, not just "fun in the studio." In my mind and the minds of most, it positively rules. Just like this album. Prog rock that rocks; who else would have thunk of that?

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |


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