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YES

Fragile
Rating: 7 (library disc)
   Believe it or not, in my decade or so of active record buying I never picked up a Yes record. I think it was mostly resistance to the second-stupidest name in rock and roll.
   But all the other web reviewers are raving about this group, so when I saw Fragile at the library, I figured I had to check it out. And what a pleasant surprise! These guys are fantastic, with amazing instrumental work and some of the catchiest tunes this side of Ram.
   ”Roundabout” has an absolutely danceable guitar riff that just makes you tap your toe; it would be an excellent P. Diddy sample. And the beginning of “Heart of the Sunrise” is stunning, as the band rips through a gnarled yet tuneful riff and explodes into a cascading organ line. Harmonies throughout are excellent, avoiding the doo-wop cliches most rock groups rely on and instead going for a Bach-inspired suspended chord on most tunes. There are numerous solos, but each is tidily arranged to fit the harmonic framework of the tune and none goes on for too long. The exception is one of my pet peeves (I know you’re thinking, “You sure have plenty of those,” but I’m allergic to cats and dogs, so I’ve got to keep something around the house): when a band changes the beat drastically in the middle of a song. They do it in “South Side of the Sky”, and while the piano interlude is lovely, it still bugs the heck out of me to have my groove interrupted.
   The lyrics, which seem to have been badly translated from Japanese haiku, are just right for pondering through a long hashish-fueled night. Otherwise, they’re gibberish.
   Sadly, the band seems not to have had enough material to fill an LP, and they stuck on “solo” material from the band members. Three of the items recreate the sound of a person in a musical instrument store trying out a new instrument by noodling around, and multiply-overdubbed Jon Anderson sounds a lot like a pack of chihuahuas barking in your ear. “The Fish”, though, is an impressive composition, created by overdubbing all the lines of polyphonic study on the bass guitar, and it’s simply fascinating to try to pick out where one part begins and another ends.
   If the rest of Yes’s albums are this good, I look forward to hearing more. They seem to deserve their reputation.

READER COMMENTS

  • From Zach Smith: Funny, I wouldn't think someone that likes Hall and Oates would like Yes.
  • From Alexander Harris: What's ironic is that I'd give it a similar rating, but I guess for partly different reasons; I really like "South Side Of The Sky" (in part because of the "groove interruption"), and I've tried to like "Heart Of The Sunrise" and can't. "Roundabout" is also really enjoyable, and I like "Long Distance Runaround" but I have to be in the mood for it. (On an unrelated note, a friend of mine always quotes the opening guitar line from that song before he mentions Yes.) As for the solo pieces, Jon Anderson's vocal drives me up a wall a lot of times, anyway, so that automatically excludes "We Have Heaven". "5 % 4 0" (as it's often called) just sounds like rhythmic noise, but I'm fine with the others (even the much-maligned "Cans And Brahms" that Rick Wakeman himself hates).

    Tales from Topographic Oceans
    Rating: 5 (library disc)
       You know, I used to try to factor in lots of elements when reviewing records: melodic effectiveness, band cohesiveness, lyrical sensibility, etc. But these days, I’ve narrowed it down one criterion: is it catchier than “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”?
       You see, some (probably well-meaning but ultimately) dastardly relative decided a good birthday gift for Abe would be a disc of “Silly Children’s Songs.” Track one is “Railroad”, and now he wants to play it 14 times a day, and makes us sing it when the disc isn’t on. It’s burned into my brain! So, really, all I’m asking of other music is that it drive that song out of my head.
       I’m sorry to report that Tales from Topographic Oceans doesn’t quite cut the mustard. There are lots of lovely passages and some fantastic instrumental bits, but my listening experience is a lot like this:

    “Dawn of light lying between a silence and sold sources”… ALL THE LIVE LONG DAY… twangy guitar bits… CAN’T YOU HEAR THE CAPTAIN SHOUTING… atmospheric keyboards… DINAH, BLOW YOUR HORN… ”School gates remind us of our class”… DINAH, WON’T YOU BLOW… dissonant twiddly noises… DINAH, WON’T YOU BLOW… ”And I heard a million voices singing”… DINAH, WON’T YOU BLOW YOUR HORN… lilting acoustic melody… STRUMMING ON THE OLD BANJO… dramatic backwards chords… FEE FIE FIDDLY-I-O… clangy percussion… STRUMMING ON THE OLD BANJO!

       Sorry, fellows, this stuff might be fine for people with some attention to spare, but it’s not grabbing me the way “Froggy Went a-Courtin’” does.

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