Review Summary: The album that launched the group as an international phenomenon.
Yes has been cited as one of the most popular prog rock bands in its own entity. It stood up to the odds, and has even gone further with today’s Fly from Here. However, none of this would’ve been possible without its breakthrough album, Fragile. After a job well done on The Yes Album, Yes replaced the first keyboardist Tony Kaye with the new, more adaptive, and keyboard virtuoso, Rick Wakeman. With their new power, they took the charts by storm, moving from a cult act to the limelight.
I don’t just say breakthrough for no reason. Yes indeed had a name for themselves. But when you begin to start comparing Fragile to its past efforts, it just doesn’t sound quite the same. Roundabout is a perfect example. Roundabout is the result of a new, collective, more inventive sound never heard before. And it just adds up with some of the most complex bass lines done by Chris Squire. It relates to the view of the earth told through the eyes of a single man. With snaking passages, intense power, a variety of musicianship and talent, and an incredible sense of sophistication, the first track starts the album over the top. This also gave them their very first radio play, more attention, and for the most part, more fans. That’s the power of Yes.
Be aware once again that Yes made a smart decision to invite Rick Wakeman onto the team. Many times, he was one of the contributing factors to the inventive sound and complexity in the album. An example of his talent can be seen in his own song, Cans and Brahms. While it may stand out at first, it’s practically harmless to the album. It shows some of Yes’s older influences, and also lures in a classical crowd, which normal rock bands couldn’t do as well. This track is another good ingredient to the soup, as could be said.
Yes still has its oddball songs. We Have Heaven, is a great example of that. With some of the strangest lyrics in a massive slew of rounds and repetitions, Jon can seem weird and sort of out of place. But it hardly changes much about the album’s power, complexity, virtuosity, and popularity. And it also carries in very well into a darker story, South Side of the Sky.
South Side of Story is a dark tragic tale about an Arctic expedition that turns fatal. Proof behind this is Jon Anderson’s lyricism in the song. Take for example:
“The moments seemed lost in all the noise
A snow storm a stimulating voice
Of warmth of the sky
Of warmth when you die
Were we ever warmer on that day
A million miles away
It seemed from all of eternity”
These lyrics speak death in them. This also gives a powerful take on Yes’s darker side of music. The best thing about this song is Rick Wakeman’s level of talent. He uses an eerie piano melody and virtuosic power to create the uber-dark atmosphere. This talent would be used again in Close to the Edge. The variety of vocals and guide vocals done by Jon Anderson in this song are much better sounding and less awkward than what they were in We Have Heaven. Once again, the shadowy nature of the song is only benefiting the album. Lastly, this and Roundabout are some of the most powerful songs on the album so far.
Five Per Cent for Nothing is the shortest track on the album, at a mere 34 seconds, which made some think they were taking the long song, short song and inconsistent time length idea from Emerson Lake and Palmer (but might I digress.) This song really focuses the talent of each of the band members in a fast, quick, and complex improv. This becomes something barely used in future of Yes’s music repertoire.
Long Distance Runaround and The Fish is a two song combination of modest and moderate paced virtuosity put into a pop ballad(I’ve said virtuosity too much…). However, it shouldn’t completely be classified as pop, because of the complexity itself. The lyricism and the time signature changes keep it from turning out bad, bringing a further textured and controlled sound.
Mood for a Day is a brilliant guitar piece, compliments of Steve Howe. It further accentuates his talent to put something together and make it sound more professional than that of The Clap. It also gives a different flavor to the album, giving it the spice and sugar of the group. This has always been an advantage for Yes.
The final song, Heart of the Sunrise, is perhaps one of the group’s most accomplished pieces. It starts the piece on a highly intense scale, as the group charges through the first thirty seconds with highly memorable beginning. As the intensity slows down and rises again, the song only gets better and more complicated. Take a journey through twists and turns and ballads shown through the lyrics by Jon Anderson, which is why this is the final song. With high, authentic emotion, the ability to inflate the emotion, and to set it sailing, Heart of the Sunrise is the almighty Yes epic of the album, because is sets its bounds, goes for them, and really thrusts into the musical power of virtuosity.
Fragile has reasons for being a breakthrough album. Every song is pioneering Yes principles that would change the way they play and make music. It would pre-run the success of Close to the Edge, one of progressive rock’s masterpieces. This was the beginning an even better band that wouldn’t be viewed the same after passing through the cult act and entering the influential age.