Classic Rock Review

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Yes Fragile (1972)


Hmm, not bad. New band member Rick Wakeman makes his way onto the heart of the band’s sound, but ends up mostly buried deep down in the mix so you wouldn’t have known about him at all were it not for the credits and for his short solo spot.

Well, no, of course I’m exaggerating. He does shine on several lengthy wankfests. However, unlike most people, it seems, I tend to think that his being added to the band didn’t revolutionize its sound – just like Banks’ replacement by Howe didn’t revolutionize it, either. Yup, both Howe and Wakeman have their little tricks that couldn’t have been done earlier (like Howe’s country/classical acoustic ditties and Wakeman’s medieval piano parts), but the main effort is still placed on lengthy spacey rockers where these tricks don’t work.

Actually, the album is neatly divided into just these two parts: lengthy spacey rockers and the band members’ solo spots, all highlighting what they did best. And much as I tend to get sceptical about the band’s ‘classic’ period, I’m surprised to say that most – heck, nearly all – of this stuff really works. The rockers, in particular, are definitely up a grade from the last record. Again, the most interesting parts, for my ear, at least, are provided by Chris Squire’s bass (the guy was good), but Howe adds some uplifting solos, Wakeman gives in some mellow pianos and synths, and Anderson delivers his lyrics with his usual emotionless, faceless intonation, but at least they are accompanied by accomplished, memorable melodies.

The problem with all of these is the usual overdoing of instrumental sections, but I guess that goes without saying. But at least they rock – which I couldn’t really say for The Yes Album, which dragged. They’re fast, they have great basslines and good vocal hooks. And not every prog band could master that even in 1972, which was the heyday of prog, as you probably know already.

‘Roundabout’ is the song they sometimes do on the radio, probably because of the lead-in segment – heck, Anderson’s battle cry of ‘call it morning driving thru the sound and in and out the valleeeeeeey’ is as radio-friendly as possible. Later on, though, the song becomes far less accessible, with very complex time signatures and tricky group harmonies which still grow on you. ‘South Side Of The Sky’ is moody and winterish (with the aid of some wind howling); And ‘Long Distance Runaround’ is quirky and short, with the vocal melody somewhat clumsy, but redeemed with the happy poppy instrumentation.

In fact, vocal melodies are probably the weakest spot on the album: probably in a desperate move away from their ‘commerciality’ on The Yes Album, the band only provided a very limited amount of vocal hooks for Anderson on this album, and even on my tenth and later listen, I still can’t memorize the way that darned vocal melody on ‘Heart Of The Sunrise’ goes. But what wonderful playing. In parts, the number even sounds painfully like King Crimson’s ’21st Century Schizoid Man’, and I don’t blame them for ripping off the tune: anything that makes a Yes song rock out is welcome.

Perhaps one of the most important things that separates this album from most of its predecessors and followers is that it has some… some sort of actual sense. For me, Fragile is truly a concept album, all dedicated to the single theme. And that theme? Movement. Just look at titles like ‘Roundabout’ and ‘Long Distance Runaround’, contemplate the lyrics of ‘South Side Of The Sky’ (‘move forward was my friend’s only cry’) and ‘Heart Of The Sunrise’ (‘sharp – distance… love comes to you and you follow… straight light moving…’, etc.).

And not coincidentally, Fragile is Yes’ ‘bounciest’ album ever, with most of the tunes going off at pretty fast, steady tempos; meanwhile, there’s always something happening around, the record is never passive or purely atmospheric, it always seems to drive you on – where to is another question. To the sci-fi world of Close To The Edge, probably, but you only know it when you get there.

Still, all subjective reflections aside, there is one definite objective thing that really and truly distinguishes this album from all others and provides it a secure ten: these are the band members’ solo spots. They’re all catchy, and they’re all short. And this is a thing that you won’t meet on any other Yes album. Two lesser efforts (Wakeman’s Brahms bit rearrangement and Bruford’s ‘Five Per Cent For Nothing’) are still refreshing, and the other three are groovy fun: Anderson’s ‘We Have Heaven’ sounds either like a self-parody or a musical visit card, with its multiple endless harmony overdubs, Howe’s ‘Mood For A Day’ is a beautiful classical acoustic piece (which puts fellow guitarist Mike Rutherford to shame), and Squire’s ‘The Fish’ is a bass-riff-fest – you’d never know how many clever things it is possible to make with just one base and just one recording studio.

‘Schindleria praematurus’, indeed. (By the way, ‘The Fish’ was Squire’s nickname that he earned because of his unusual fondness of splashing in a bath all the time – so the way the tune connects with its title might be taken as a [sub]conscious tribute to his great bass predecessor, John ‘The Ox’ Entwistle, who also had a bass-driven instrumental called ‘The Ox’ on the Who’s debut album).

And, besides their own merits, all of these tunes also take on the honourable function of giving you a break between the lengthy tunes: the album is a very careful and thoughtful construction. Very solid, too. Even if they called it Fragile. Ironic, isn’t it?

January 4, 2014 Posted by | Yes Fragile | | Leave a comment