Curiously enough, Yes' 1969 debut is a relatively down-to-earth affair -- and a not very inspired one at that. The quintet's reworking of the Beatles' "Every Little Thing" illustrates its knack for mysterioso, angelic harmonies, led by singer Jon Anderson. But the band's original compositions are sketchy at best. The psychedelic Time and a Word, from 1970, offers little improvement, perhaps because of the dubious decision to attach an entire symphony orchestra to the already cluttered arrangements.
It was the addition of Steve Howe's guitar pyrotechnics that finally allowed Yes to find their true identity. The following year's Yes Album is a gigantic leap forward, with extended workouts such as the ethereal "Starship Trooper" emphasizing the band members' individual virtues. In Bill Bruford, Yes had a hip, jazzy drummer; in Chris Squire, a bassist willing to dominate the mix with his elephantine lines; and in Tony Kaye, an organist who used his Hammond sparingly, for funkier effect.
Kaye was unceremoniously dismissed so that virtuoso Rick Wakeman could join in, perfecting the definitive Yes sound. Sure enough, 1972's Fragile is quintessential classic rock. "Roundabout" is an undeniable prog-pop singalong, but the album's happiest moments are subtle, brief passages such as the bucolic instrumental segment of "South Side of the Sky" and the gleefully baroque line that Wakeman repeats hypnotically during the climax of "Heart of the Sunrise." Fragile is the kind of album that affords revisionists a chance to reconsider the merits of the art-rock school. Die-hard Yes fans will cherish these reissues' pristine remastering. The bonus tracks are lackluster -- a handful of previously released single versions of songs and rough mixes. The only notable curio is a newly unearthed studio take of Howe's bubbly guitar instrumental "The Clap." As for nonfans: Even you have to admit, if Yes hadn't reached so high, we wouldn't still be paying attention now.
(RS 915 ? February 6, 2003)
(Posted: Jan, 15 2003)
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