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I only knew of Yes for three reasons: 1. late thirtysomething acquaintances swore that this experimental quintet was the best thing since sliced bread; 2. keyboardist Rick Wakeman  was apparently the inspiration for Rolf, the piano playing dog in The Muppet Show; 3. bewhiskered wonder Wakeman has appeared more than once on Never Mind The Buzzcocks in which his claim to fame explained in point 2 is mercilessly lampooned.

Progressive rock draws adulation and exasperation in seemingly equal measures. Pink Floyd are perhaps the famous exponents of this genre of music and are the fulcrum of praise or criticism.

For some prog rock is a liberating, intensely expressive medium in which marvellously talented musicians throw caution and commercial considerations to the wind in an effort to capture the muse and make public their very private compositions. For others prog rock is an irritatingly indulgent, pretentious, overly long way to make music. You won’t find 3 minute throwaway tunes here; that’s what divides the two camps.

Back in 1971, after their first big success in the States, the members of Yes were undergoing something of a personal and personnel change. Original keyboard player Tony Kaye was shown the door owing to creative and commercial differences with the band. In came The Strawbs’ Rick Wakeman, long of hair and fleet of finger, initially to articulate the Hammond organ sound of the band. As the album progressed, eventually becoming known as Fragile, two very different facets of Yes emerged. The first was of a tight-knit group, each member drawing inspiration from the others. The second was the artistic and emotional freedom in which each member flourished. Thus, Fragile can be seen, or rather heard, as an album of two halves; five of the tracks being a series of individual showcases for each member, the other five being group arranged and performed.

Typical of such impressario composition and demonstration is Cans And Brahms in which Wakeman recreates excerpts from Brahms’ 4th symphony using several forms of keyboards in place of the various orchestral instruments. Short but sweet, Chris Squire attempts the same sort of feel with The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus) in producing each riff, rhythm and melody of the song from different sounds of the bass guitar; in We Have Heaven Jon Anderson creates an eerie atmosphere with a acapella in which he sings all four vocal parts.

All of the above ( Five Percent For Nothing and Mood For A Day are the others) have a certain curiosity value admittedly but they are superb pieces of musical craftsmanship and actually make damn fine listening with some toe tapping hooks in there.

With regard to the co-produced pieces, it’s clear how comfortable each member of the group is with the others in his cohort. South Side Of The Sky and Heart Of The Sunrise have wonderfully well interwoven individual parts that for a devastating’y catchy whole; if you haven’t heard these tracks before, think of The Doors’ The End with a classical bent and you’re halfway there. Indeed the influence of Heart Of The Sunrise, with it’s moody synth chords and menacingly syncopated bass playing, can be found in music as far afield as early Faith No More and certainly in instrumental rock successors like Ozric Tentacles.

Uptempo rock, unheralded experimentation, quiet asides; all of these can be found on this album. Despite eschewing the accepted wisdom of record company executives to give an audience 10 or 12 numbers with only a little variation for each one, Fragile never feels bloated or, perhaps more importantly, pretentious. In fact, clocking in at 42 minutes, it’s possible to find the album a little short but this can simply enforce repeated playing which, with such virtuosity to be sampled, is sure not to lead to any sense of repetition.

No less than five audio options are available for selection. Top of the tree has to be the Advanced Resolution Multi-Channel Surround Sound which provides such absolutely outstanding fidelity that it’s decidedly difficult to believe that these tracks were recorded more than 30 years ago.

Both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 tracks can be selected, for those who aren’t Advanced Resolution capable, and while clarity is understandably not quite as sharp as the 96kHz/24 bit offering, these tracks make full use of the surrounds for an enviously enveloping soundstage.

Two channel Advanced Resolution Stereo is also included along with a regular Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. Once again the 24 bit format comes out clearly on top but even using a simple headphone setup the Dolby Digital track is noticeably better than a regular CD presentation.  

There’s a Photo Gallery of the band with many shots of Yes members in gleefully garish 1970s garb looking like they’ve been denied access to scissors or even a razor for quite some considerable time. At least the music hasn’t dated so badly…

A Yes Timeline charts the progress of the band and pleasingly permits a chronological context for the Fragile album.

A songsheet of Lyrics is also here and this may prove invaluable for some as despite Jon Anderson havings a great voice, his diction is a devilishly difficult to decipher.

With the playing of each track comes an appropriate band image which is a neat touch and all the above are accessible by some neat animated menus very much in keeping with the flavour of the Roger Dean album cover design,

Considering the willing input of all the members involved it’s intriguing that extras are a little on the light side; perhaps this may be explained by the multitude of music options presented on this disc.

Even as a Yes novice, it’s been impossible not to be impressed by this album or indeed the top-notch presentation of it. Above and beyond the fidelity you’ll find on a usual CD, and befitting the intricate interplaying of the quintet, this disc is just begging you to go out and buy it!