(All Album Reviews by Sean)
A unique and essential Yes album, Fragile is the bands 4th and an excellent entry point into Yes fandom. All the best elements of the classic sound are present in concise forms that are easy to for the listener to digest. This is the second in what some refer to as the 'Holy Trinity' of Yes albums. Starting with The Yes Album and ending with their masterpiece Close To The Edge, those three LPs are considered the bands finest and best conceived.
Fragile is a unique LP compared to other Yes albums. On it each band member was given a track of their own to feature their unique styles. Mixed in with these are 3 10 minute numbers written by the entire band (and one short number as well) that round out the album. In a way it is a cobbled together collection of numbers, yet it works perfectly!
The classic rock radio staple and best-known classic Yes song “Roundabout” opens the album. This song perfectly encapsulates the classic Yes sound, probably better than any other number. No wonder it has become the timeless classic it has become. Even some 25 years later it sounds surprisingly fresh, thanks to the excellent engineering of Fragile. A clarity that few Yes albums posses. Next the first of the 5 'solo' works,
“Cans and Brahms”, featuring the keyboard work of Yes' new member, Rick Wakeman. Wakeman remains the seminal Yes keyboardist and his involvement on Fragile is what really pushed the band to the next level of their musical evolution. Actually Wakeman wanted to submit a work of his own, but contractual snags didn't allow it, so Wakeman decided to reinterpret this piece by Brahms. He wasn't entirely pleased with the final result and that may be a reason he never played a single lick of it live. I believe the word he used to describe it was...cheesy.
Jon Anderson's vocal chorale, “We Have Heaven”, follows. A beautiful collage of vocal overdubs, this is Anderson before he got too pompous for his own good. There is a simple innocence to this piece. Squire adds a melodic bass line to counter Anderson's strummed acoustic. The song ends with the sound of a door slamming and footsteps trailing off into the distance. Next you hear a crash of thunder and a chilly wind blowing which segues into the stellar “South Side Of The Sky”. “South Side” is a very special song in a number of ways.
First off it's one of their finest mini-epics. Incredible vocal harmonies, pristine piano work, intricate drumming, melodic yet thunderous bass and adventurous guitar abound here. Yet, this number is the great lost Yes classic. The band seldom played it live and in many ways that has made it all the more desirable. They claim it didn't work too well in that context and that is why they didn't do it much. Still, fans hold out hope for it even to this day. If ever there was a number to send a Yesfan into a state of nirvana in a live setting, this is it. “South Side” ends with a very angular solo by guitarist Steve Howe - one of his finest. **This song was finally added to the setlist for their 2002 tour.**
“Five Percent For Nothing” is drummer Bill Bruford's solo entry and the band backs him for a stab at prog inspired trad jazz. This off kilter number had it's name inspired by their manager at the time which Bill claimed was paid...Five percent for NOTHING! Shame this is only a half minute, I would have liked to have heard them stretch out on this a bit, could have been really unique.“Long Distance Runaround” is a short band penned number that is propulsive and yet very short. The main riff is a harmony between the guitar and keys and is a classic Yes riff. Another well-known Yes classic. It has one of the best segues in rock too, right into Squires overdubbed bass extravaganza “The Fish”. The two numbers are inseparable.
“The Fish” starts with bass harmonics and builds and builds as different bass parts are overdubbed onto the mix. It becomes a bass army! Noteworthy is the amazing delay drenched flurry of notes at the segue into the song as well, a sound Howe would use frequently in the future... “Mood For A Day” is Howe's solo number and the only one on this album that is truly solo. A classical piece for a lone acoustic guitar, this is Howe's best-known piece and remains a favorite to this day. On the previous album he played a bluegrass number on steel string acoustic. Here he submits a Spanish guitar number.
Capping off the album is the well-known “Heart Of The Sunrise”. Another 10 minute opus, written on the first day of Wakeman's first practice with the group. This is another very concise mini-epic. So concise it doesn’t even have a proper guitar solo, yet it's not even missed. Some say the opening riff may have been inspired by King Crimson's “21st Century Schizoid Man”'s second riff, the overtly chromatic one. I think that just may be true, even Steve Howe has been quoted saying that. Musically this is another number that encapsulates all the best that Yes has to offer. A concert favorite. Fragile is highly recommended.
You can't go wrong with this album. But I bet you already knew that! If not, go out and get it now!