Review Summary: As Wakeman joins the fold and completes the classic formation, Yes make their best album yet.
Next to the albums Close to the Edge
is one of Yes’ greatest progressive achievements, and still one of their more popular albums. This is partly thanks to the fact that it carries Roundabout
, the group’s most popular epic-length song. While their later pop hit Owner of a Lonely Heart
was obviously a bigger hit, Roundabout
is the band’s signature track when it comes to their classic era, and a damn great one at that. Known for Howe’s characteristic recurring acoustic part, one of his best-known pieces of guitar, it does what most of its genre contemporaries fail to: being both over-the-top virtuosic and highly infectious. Still, it’s one of Yes’ very best.
is clearly structured around its three epics. Roundabout
opens, South Side of the Sky
provides the big middle break, and Heart of the Sunrise
ensures a fitting conclusion. The other six songs are short, most of them not even clocking at three minutes, and may have been very well put in to bend to the rules of the era. The likes of tracks over even 5 or 6 minutes long were still quite unusual at that time, which was why pioneering groups such as King Crimson included names of multiple parts in their song titles; parts that were essentially fake but made sure they had the necessary minimum of titles on a record.
These interludes are nevertheless interesting, particularly the idea that each member made one contribution (two in Anderson’s case), and show the individual qualities of all members of the classic line-up. Cans and Brahms
displays Wakeman’s background of classical piano training (this was the first Yes album on which he played), We Have Heaven
and Long Distance Runaround
(unintentionally) contrast how annoying and how excellent Anderson’s vocals can be, and Bruford, Squire and Howe’s non-inimitable instrumental styles are well-represented in Five Percent for Nothing
and Mood for a Day
, respectively. The appeal of these interludes may run out, obviously, but in fact, Anderson’s second and Howe’s composition are great standalone songs.
But as written, at the end of the day, Fragile
, and Yes in general, is all about the epics. Roundabout
may be nothing short of fantastic, but South Side of the Sky
and Heart of the Sunrise
are two of the group’s greatest achievements just the same. The former majorly relies on Wakeman’s mastery of the keys and Anderson’s dramatic but strong delivery, but the latter is really a group effort, and a brilliant closer for partly that reason. Howe and Squire churn out some of their most stunning interplay, Wakeman does what he does best, Bruford always keep a strong rhythm, and Anderson throws down one of his most amazing vocal outbursts, particularly in the last chorus, which is charged with emotion (thankfully his vocals almost always work, despite his infamously undecipherable lyrics). Powerful, accomplished, and just plain amazing.
Yes had giant potential in its classic era. Potential that, unfortunately and inevitably, could not be put to longer use. That’s however how these things just seem to go. As contemporary artists like Genesis, Camel and Pink Floyd have, as well as many others outside the genre, have shown us alike, the peak, whenever reached, is always cut short for some reason. Fragile
, innovative, powerful and only slightly flawed, should be held the treasure it is. Essential in any progster’s collection.
Fragile’s Yes was:
- John Roy Anderson ~ Lead Vocals
- Stephen James Howe ~ Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
- Christopher Russell Squire ~ Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals
- Richard Christopher Wakeman ~ Organ, Piano, Moog Synthesizer
- William Scott Bruford ~ Drums, Percussion
TO BE CONTINUED...