I’m certain many of the Yes’ fans would consider the three records done in 1971 and 1972 to be the “Holy Trinity” of the band’s catalog. Fragile’s release comes right between The Yes Album and Close to the Edge in this trinity of the bands canon, but Fragile was the record that broke the band commercially with “Roundabout.” An unlikely single to be sure, with fanciful lyrics such as “mountains come out of the sky and they stand there.” That, the unique Howe guitar harmonics at the opening and the incredible power and complexity of the song. This was a few years after the summer of love, so the music fans then were certainly ready for it. It was a different time.
The album is broken up by shorter songs written and largely performed by the individual members, alongside epics and melodic pieces with the tight harmonies they were so famous for. “Long Distance Runaround” is perhaps my favorite among the more mainstream songs the band has written over the years. It’s inventive percussion and staccato keys (by newcomer superstar Rick Wakeman), along with the clear and memorable melody written and sung by Jon Anderson make it as engaging as heck. I actually use the complex keyboard/guitar duet in the beginning as the ringtone on my phone. Hey, it was that or “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”
The songs “Heart of the Sunrise” and an incredible “South Side of the Sky” are excellent contributions to the progressive rock community. “South Side of the Sky” especially impresses me as a tour de force for Mr. Wakeman. The rise and fall of the cascading grand piano line in the mid-section is sublime. The inimitable bass work by Chris Squire and the forceful guitar riffs by Steve Howe rock the other sections. Bruford finds ways to add percussive accents that are complex and less obvious than a more traditional rock drummer.
The shorter pieces are kind of a hit or miss affair and unfortunately bring down the quality of the record just a micro-tad. Howe’s “Mood for a Day” is a classic, and “We Have Heaven” is alright, but the others? Meh. It still does not preclude this album from being one of the top three recordings Yes has ever done. The band is in fine form here, and they would never have a better band than the one with Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Squire and Howe featured on this and the following album 1972’s Close to the Edge. Highest recommendation.
Reviewed by Terry Jackson on December 31st, 2011