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.
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 audience.
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 interesting.
Album rating: 5 stars for “Roundabout” (1 star for the rest).
Cans and Brahms
We Have Heaven
South Side Of The Sky
5% for Nothing
Long Distance Runaround
Mood For A Day
Heart Of The Sunrise
Jon Anderson – lead vocals
Chris Squire – bass and vocals
Bill Bruford – drums
Steve Howe – guitar and vocals
Rick Wakeman – multiple keyboards
Note: Written by Mott the Dog from Fletchers’ Folly on the Dark Side of Pattaya.