|Yes - Fragile|
|Music Disc Reviews DVD-Audio|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Tuesday, 19 November 2002|
Yes’ 1972 album Fragile is perhaps the quintessential example of the merger of virtuoso musical talent being blended together in a cohesive ensemble. At the time, Yes didn’t really understand or care about matters relating to “commercial” issues in rock ‘n’ roll. They were the youngest, hottest band in a new genre called “Progressive Rock.” The album Fragile would ultimately be recognized as the cornerstone of Prog Rock – living on for eternity on Classic Rock radio playlists with hit tunes like “Roundabout” and “Long Distance Runaround.”
As of the end of 2002, Yes’ Fragile gets my vote the best overall DVD-Audio title released by any label. Musically, the album is a true classic that plays well from beginning to end, with familiar hits that keep you satiated between the experimental bits. Despite DVD-Audio’s vast audio capabilities as a 24-bit 96 kHz format, not all early discs sound great or have the needed features to make a great surround record for those who are not running a dedicated DVD-Audio player. Fragile does. This includes the default DTS track and the MLP lossless compression 5.1 mix, along with a 24/96 stereo mix. Despite the age of the recording, the music comes through with no noticeable hiss and has a warm, vintage analog feel. The mix is much more adventurous that other early DVD-A’s I own, which is appropriate for music that is an energetic and quirky as Fragile. I have heard Fragile from start to finish no less than 500 times in my life. As a student of music with a degree from the University of Southern California, I have been trained to hear, process and understand the details of great recordings. I am not sure whether this is a blessing or a curse, as I pay attention to and/or become distracted by extremely subtle details that normal people don’t (or wouldn’t want to) hear. With this DVD-Audio mix of Yes’ Fragile, I have heard new and exciting details in unique performances that I have never heard before.
The album starts out with one of Yes’ all-time biggest hits, “Roundabout.” The tune starts with a series of dramatic crescendos that are accented by Steve Howe’s harmonics on acoustic guitar. As the first verse develops, you get to hear bassist Chris Squire rip a funky yet artsy bass line. The crescendo effects sweep from the front three speakers to the rears, with the guitar mixed in the front. In the chorus, Howe’s barely distorted electric guitar pokes politely out of the mix with new (at the time) keyboard player, Rick Wakeman’s keyboards and Jon Anderson’s vocals making their way to the rears. The bridge section develops a bass-oriented riff that progressively builds towards musical insanity, with drummer Bill Bruford absolutely going off. Anderson’s vocals are all over the mix, resulting in beautifully controlled musical anarchy. Thankfully, the tune settles back into the original theme with acoustic guitar harmonics before really introducing keyboard player Wakeman with a blistering solo. Next comes Howe ripping up a solo. Wakeman and Howe trade off as if they are trying to outdo each other with each measure. Without respect for the insane changes in the song and or the overall intensity, the band returns to the main chorus and then a vocal round with seemingly dozens of voices (they might all be Jon Anderson overdubbed) accompanied by acoustic guitars, which all lead to a peaceful ending. You’ll need a deep breath after the song.
The next tune is called “Cans and Brahms,” an adaptation of Brahms’ 4th Symphony in E Minor, performed completely by Wakeman. It is an odd call after the breakneck “Roundabout,” although it foreshadows future Yes and Wakeman solo works that would know no bounds of ridiculous. I am not sure why I love them so. But I definitely do.
Fragile showcases both the tightness of Yes and gives its prodigious performers the chance to shine with their own showcases. The peace and love-inspired “We Have Heaven” features vocalist Jon Anderson performing a highly-developed round. Acoustic guitars play a lesser role than the percussive rhythm instruments along with the crashing gongs and china cymbals. Bruford gets his chance to solo on the oddball “Five Percent For Nothing,” which as an instrumental might be a statement about their outgoing business manager. Howe wins my vote for best spotlight performance on Fragile with his classical guitar work on “Mood For A Day.” While not contrived, Howe builds sweeping melodies leading into tasty chord sections, resulting in a well-deserved and highly appreciated break from the high intensity that Yes captures on other tracks of Fragile.
The other big hit on Fragile is “Long Distance Runaround,” which like “Roundabout” is built on a Larry Graham-esque bass line (from Sly and the Family Stone) by Squire. Howe’s muted electric guitar lines are mixed prominently in the rears, while Anderson beams gloriously across the three front channels. At times, they both go at once, but the mixing engineer resists the urge to stay on the accelerator too long. The bass has that 1970s roundness to it that you might expect, but on DVD-Audio in MLP, it sounds much deeper, with more attack and strength. Also, when your bass management is set up properly, the bass has a chance to get to your “point one” speaker (aka your subwoofer) in ways that made the stereo mix sound cluttered.
As a bonus track on the Fragile DVD-Audio, an extra tasty cut of Yes doing a cover of Paul Simon’s “America.” Seemingly all British and Irish classic rock bands ranging from U2 to Spinal Tap can’t resist the urge to do a song about The States. Yes’ version does not disappoint -- in fact, it is a longer version of one I downloaded from Napster back in the day. The addition of a good extra cut addresses the knock on Fragile that it is too short. Perhaps when a record is this good it will always seem too short?
If you are looking to buy your first DVD-Audio title, put this at the top of your short list. It is a fantastic performance and has the audio you need for stereo, default surround in Dolby Digital or DTS (good for those with DVD-Video players), as well as a badass mix for MLP DVD-Audio 5.1 performance. This disc is a guaranteed winner that can show you the best that the DVD-Audio format has to offer.