Produced by Eddie Offord and Yes
Label – Atlantic
Released less than a year after its predecessor (“The Yes Album”), “Fragile”, the band’s fourth studio album, would mark the point that brought together what many fans consider to be the “classic” Yes line-up, and a collection that fully explores the integral skills each member possessed. With keyboardist Tony Kaye fired due in part to his reluctance to experiment with synth technology, the band approached former Strawb and in demand session musician Rick Wakeman to join, securing his services on a guarantee that he would at least be earning a bigger pay cheque. His introduction was critically heralded by the music press, and the ever competitive drive of the five piece led to vocalist Jon Anderson and bass player Chris Squire challenging each member to write a solo creation for the new record. Of the five individually written recordings, none are as memorable as the four group collaborations. Indeed, there’s a distinct view, that given that the collection was released so soon after “The Yes Album”, “Fragile” feels somewhat incomplete. Anderson was fully aware of this, stating in 1972 “”I’d agree with people who knocked us for the solo pieces, but in a way you’ve got to appreciate the circumstances. We had to get another album out quickly from a purely financial point of view.” In conclusion, Side 1 is very uneven, with Wakeman’s unnecessary keyboard concoction (“Cans And Brahms”), and Anderson’s repetitively tiresome vocal loop for “We Have Heaven.” The assumption that by having five luminary musicians will automatically lead to a song writing masterclass is way off target. And yet there are still three classic Yes songs to enjoy, all exciting in their complexities, cleverly arranged and of course hosting superb musicianship.
“Roundabout” will be instantly recognizable; with a story that recalls the band’s road travels, an adrenaline pumping bass rhythm from Squire, flawlessly interchangeable time and rhythm patterns from drummer Bill Bruford, and Wakeman’s dynamic keyboard fills. Equally impressive is Side 1 closer “South Side Of The Sky”, which contains a delicately sweet instrumental middle section which allows Anderson to weave in some of his career best West Coast multi-tracked harmonies. The album closes with the muscular prog/metal epic, “Heart Of The Sunrise”, which at over eleven minutes, exhausts each band members’ ability to demonstrate their impressive skills, as guitarist Steve Howe and Wakeman trade off sparkling riff with twirling keys, over an impenetrable shifting groove, with Anderson’s tenor bravely and successfully competing for the listener’s attention. Given their attention to detail, both in terms of construction, arrangement and performance, it seems a shame that the almost perfect three collaborations aren’t consistently reproduced on the remainder of the record.
At its best “Fragile” is a magnificent statement of progressive musical innovation. At its worst, it’s a record of five top musicians incognizant fallibility and unnecessary compromise based on their pre-held view that they are equally great songwriters pulling something out of the hat due to time constraints.
1 – Roundabout (9)
2 – Cans And Brahms (Extracts From Brahms 4th Symphony In E Minor, 3rd Movement) (6)
3 – We Have Heaven (6)
4 – South Side Of The Sky (9)
5 – Five Percent For Nothing (n/a)
6 – Long Distance Runaround (7)
7 – The Fish (Schindlaria Praematurus) (7)
8 – Mood For A Day (7)
9 – Heart Of The Sunrise (8)