YES Fragile (Analogue Productions)

This heavyweight vinyl reissue of one of Yes’ most durable early albums ticks all the perceived value boxes. Sonically it’s hard to imagine “Fragile” sounding more liquid and seductive; it’s a truly immersive experience. Beating any of the Yes vinyl I’ve picked up second-hand by a considerable margin, a wealth of detail tumbles out of this complex music. It’s packaged in a sturdy gatefold sleeve and also includes the booklet found in the original issue. But musically is it a load of dusty old prog nonsense or a work fully deserving of being initialled with such loving care?

The thing about “Fragile” is that, with nine tracks lasting a shade over forty minutes (in total, not each!), in structure it could almost be mistaken for a conventional (regressive?) rock album. That, however, is before closer inspection reveals that some of these tracks are barely two minutes long. Not unlike The Beatles circa their eponymous double white album or the second disc of the Floyd’s “Ummagumma”, the band’s five members worked on individual projects which almost represent pure distillations of what each brought to the whole. Rick Wakeman, making his debut Yes appearance here (as is cover artist Roger Dean), rearranges an excerpt from Brahms’ fourth symphony for his battery of keyboards, and on “We Have Heaven” many multitracked Jon Andersons chase themselves around and around in a round. Bill Bruford goes all compound and complex on the mercifully brief “Five Per Cent For Nothing”, and accomplished as Steve Howe’s beautifully recorded acoustic guitar solo “Mood For A Day” may be its energies seem rather dissipated following the dextrous density of “The Clap”, his beautifully recorded acoustic guitar solo on “The (previous) Yes Album”. (Where there you could hear the guitarist’s foot tapping out the rhythm against the stage, here you can hear his breath between notes.) Chris Squire’s “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)” is arguably the best of these solitary adventures, conjuring up a whole orchestra of sounds from the strings of his bass guitar.

The group efforts provide the album’s real backbone, however, perhaps ranking as Yes’ hardiest perennials outside of obvious single successes such as “Wondrous Stories” and “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”. Red House Painters covered “Long Distance Runaround” (twice!) and “Heart Of The Sunrise” was used to stunning effect on the soundtrack of Vincent Gallo’s directorial debut “Buffalo 66”. Heck, “Roundabout” even gets name checked in Richard Linklater’s “School Of Rock”. There are no multi-part suites here: the longer pieces seem to have been designed and built that way from the ground up, rather than being discrete forms glued together. “Heart Of The Sunrise” – at 10 minutes the longest song the band had released at the time – illustrates everything that’s great about the album, its fleet-footed heartstopping dynamics surely belying any claims that the 1971-model Yes were some kind of lumbering behemoth. Admittedly the lyrics are nonsensical, but they’re the flipside of Marc Bolan’s glam nursery rhymes, and who’d take him to task for lagging behind Dylan a little? At its best, “Fragile” is awesome, in every positive sense of the word, and, staggeringly, they would get better.

YES Close To The Edge (Friday Music)

Yes’ fifth symphony is a breathtakingly audacious album, bubbling over with the kind of music that acknowledges no limits, its fearsome complexity balanced by a sense of joyousness that’s rare in prog.

The opening title track is its masterwork. Taking up the entire side, in these pre-“Foxtrot” days (the Genesis album was released three weeks after “Close To The Edge”) the only way to spend 19 minutes playing the same song was by jamming it to death, yet over its lengthy duration it never stops inventing. It’s spiked with surprises, such as when Jon Anderson’s choirboy chorus pipes up briefly above the opening maelstrom, or the moment Rick Wakeman wheels in a church organ. Anderson’s lyrics are, superficially at least, the kind of interchangeable cosmic nonsense that makes Peter Gabriel at his furthest out seem tethered in comparison, yet there’s an undeniable rightness to them in this context.

What “Close To The Edge” boasted over Yes’ previous albums was a sense of cohesion and continuity. Where, for example, the Steve Howe’s solo spots on “Fragile” and “The Yes Album” were parcelled out as separate tracks (for example “The Clap” and “Mood For A Day”) here they’re interwoven into the fabric of the album’s three long songs (two of which, in true prog style, are subdivided into several sections). If the two tracks on side two (“And You And I” and the growling, sweaty yet intricate rock-out “Siberian Khatru”) seem somewhat chopped down compared with that immense title track, they still have a greater unity than anything in Yes’ previous output, as if the promise they were edging towards on previous album “Fragile” (on “Roundabout” and “Heart Of The Sunrise” in particular) has finally been fulfilled.

This is my third copy of “Close To The Edge”. Previous secondhand pressings suffered from varying degrees of dullness and distortion, but Friday Music’s 180 gram half-speed mastered reissue is fortunately plagued by neither, although some ticky surfaces suggest quality control at the company’s fledgling vinyl operation isn’t all it could be…yet. Sonically it doesn’t scrape the astonishing heights of Analogue Production’s remake of “Fragile”, and the cover art looks a bit dark and blotchy compared with my possibly faulty memories, but for being the first “Close To The Edge” vinyl pressing I can listen to all the way through without despairing that I’ll ever get a good one it more than earns its keep.

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