There are a lot of
positives to English progressive rock band Yes’s fourth album “Fragile”
(1971). It did after all go double platinum on the American Billboard charts
and it included Yes’s greatest ever track “Roundabout”, which was also
released in truncated form as a single and made the top twenty. But the
album itself is still very flawed.
After releasing their
third LP, “The Yes Album” some six months earlier, the band then followed up
with a world tour which helped them crack the American market. But upon
arriving home and starting the recording process of the next album the
services of original keyboard player Tony Kaye were dispensed with, citing
his reluctance to expand the keyboard sound with further instruments such as
Moog Synthesizers and the Mellotron. Rick Wakeman was quickly stolen away
from The Strawbs and given as many keyboards as he wanted.
band Yes are shown
in this undated photo.
Back in the studio
things initially went wonderfully well. One of the first ideas worked on was
what turned into the classic Yes piece of music, “Roundabout”. The song
contains everything you could ever want from a band of this stature, all in
eight sweet minutes. It’s epic progressive rock that as the lyrics say, make
you sing and dance. It starts off with some instantly recognizable picked
guitar notes before the rest of the band coming rushing in, note perfect,
and your attention is well and truly held.
Chris Squire shows why
he was largely regarded as the leading bass guitarist of his genre, driving
“Roundabout” along with a solid tempo and dominant riffs. For once Jon
Anderson’s lyrics do not go off into Wonderland, but sing of the joys of
being alive. Bill Bruford was already regarded as a great drummer and here
he holds the beat, leaving plenty of space for the others to excel. The work
of Howe and Wakeman can only be marveled at, as they switch from nurturing
the notes to belting them out in a rampaging fury and they are both given
the chance to solo to their hearts content. The song is now part of Yes
folklore and in the live setting has to be played every night to satisfy the
Sadly, after this the
remainder of the music on the album slips into what can only be described as
pretentious rubbish. As a band they obviously only had one song ready to
record. Why they were not allowed to wait for more inspiration is beyond the
perceptive powers of this scribe.
There are three more so
called ‘band songs’ on this collection, consisting of two clunky Yes
by-the-numbers knockabout tunes. “Long Distance Runaround” comes a very poor
second in the tracks to listen to while the eleven minutes of “Heart of the
Sunrise” is no more than a pastiche of riffs and themes from the previous
three albums and even collects together a few ideas which would later show
up on Yes’s next album “Close To The Edge”. It’s all thrown around a rather
weak riff and lyric that comes back like a recapitulation dream - not
unpleasant to listen to, but hardly original.
The album reaches its
nadir with five hastily recorded solo snippets from each member of the band.
This was not done for artistic reasons but to cut costs and because haste
was of the essence. Rick Wakeman was still under contract for his solo
recordings with A&M records so could not actually write anything for himself
to perform. Instead he knocked off his version of the third movement of
Symphony No 4 by Johannes Brahms, which Wakeman described himself a couple
of months after its release as dreadful.
John Anderson’s solo
contribution is like listening to scales while Steve Howe’s contribution
“Mood For a Day” can be best described as nice but hardly worthy of a rock
record, especially as he had preceded this on the previous album with the
somewhat similar “Clap”. What drummer Bruford was thinking of on “5% for
Nothing” is anybody’s guess, but thankfully his contribution is less than
forty seconds long. Chris Squire makes a fist of it on “The Fish” but I’m
sure with more time he could have come up with something better.
Whilst it has to be
said the musicians are a credit to themselves, you get the feeling that this
was all an opportunity lost.
The album contained the
Artwork of Roger Dean for the first time on a Yes album, which is
Album rating: 5 stars
for “Roundabout” (1 star for the rest).
Cans and Brahms
We Have Heaven
South Side Of The
5% for Nothing
Mood For A Day
Heart Of The Sunrise
Jon Anderson – lead
Chris Squire - bass and
Bill Bruford - drums
Steve Howe - guitar and
Rick Wakeman - multiple
Note: Written by Mott
the Dog from Fletchers’ Folly on the Dark Side of Pattaya.