Yes released their fourth studio album, Fragile, on November 26, 1971. It would prove to be a huge commercial breakthrough, reaching number four on the American album charts and establishing the band as one of the leaders of the progressive rock movement.
The big personnel change was Rick Wakeman replacing Tony Kaye as the keyboardist. His banks of instruments and expertise with synthesizers quickly established him as one of the premier keyboardists in rock music. He was the final piece of the Yes puzzle, as he would be one of the keys to propelling the band toward the top of the rock pantheon.
The approach to the album was both interesting and innovative. Three long and complete band-written pieces were interspersed among a number of shorter solo type of tracks. While it may not sound like the best of ideas, it did work, as it gave Fragile a lasting appeal.
An eight-and-a-half-minute version of “Roundabout” begins the album and quickly announces that Yes has matured. A shorter version would become a Top 20 hit for the group. Driven by a deep bass/drum groove with guitar and keyboards providing the solos, and tight harmonies tying it all together, it remains one of their best known songs.
The other two extended tracks both present Yes at its best. “South Side Of The Sky,” with lyrics about an Antarctic expedition, is a musical tour de force. The 11-minute-plus “Heart Of The Sunrise/We Have Heaven (Reprise)” has an atmospheric feel but the music just attacks you. It has the feel of a big jam, but everything fits together well.
The solo pieces are all at least interesting and several are top notch. Chris Squire’s “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)” is an engineering marvel, as he overdubbed a number of bass parts into a calliope of unique sounds. “Cans and Brahms” was Rick Wakeman’s contribution. It was taken from Brahms’ “4th Symphony in E Minor, Third Movement.” It clocked in at only a little over a minute-and-a-half but was vintage Wakeman and looked ahead to what was to come in the near future.
“Mood For A Day” was a brilliant acoustic guitar piece by Steve Howe. Bill Bruford’s 35-second “Five Per Cent For Nothing,” while interesting, is basically just a transition piece. “We Have Heaven” is another engineering marvel as Jon Anderson overdubs at least seven different vocal parts.
The last track was “Long Distance Runaround,” which was a complete band effort, and is a progressive rock seminar in less than four minutes.
Fragile was an album where the small bits and big pieces fit together well. It proved that Yes could produce progressive rock that was both accessible and creative. It remains a masterpiece, and the best was yet to come.