Fragile (Steven Wilson Remix)


Warner, 2019

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


A remix of an album that’s both a ’70s classic and contains some of my favorite individual songs of the entire decade? An album that I’ve listened to so many times with such deep affection that it feels like every note and nuance is burned into memory? Visions of George Lucas’ 1997 “Special Edition” re-releases of the original Star Wars trilogy dance in my head. How could this end any way but badly?

The answer, apparently, if it’s a classic Yes album you’re talking about, is to ask Steven Wilson to do the mixing. The heavy-duty proghead / producer / maestro behind Porcupine Tree, No-Man, Blackfield and a half dozen or so solo albums has in recent years remixed classic albums by prog royalty like Yes, King Crimson, and Jethro Tull to general acclaim. (There have been holdouts, of course – put 100 progheads in a room and the only way to prevent a shouting match from breaking out is to turn the music up so loud they can’t hear each other.)

In any case, given my personal history with and affection for Fragile and the rest of the “main sequence” of classic ’70s Yes albums, I approached Wilson’s remix with some trepidation—and finished nine tracks later with a grin on my face that wouldn’t quit. (Note: this review is of the recent CD version available as a Japanese import.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

What Wilson has achieved here is nothing short of remarkable—he has taken one of the milestone albums of the classic prog era and made it better. From the opening notes of “Roundabout,” the difference is evident. Every individual performance sounds like it’s been lovingly scrubbed with a sonic brush—cleaner and clearer and sharper than ever. The real revelation, though, is in the separation and clarity, where it literally sounds, even in plain old stereo with just a decent pair of headphones, like you’re standing in the middle of the studio as Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman, and Bill Bruford play in a circle around you.

Core elements of these songs—bits that have been there all along—feel that much more “there” in these new renderings. Wakeman’s organ solos at the climax on “Roundabout” bounce you right out of your chair. When Squire la-la-las through the bridge of “South Side Of The Sky” it sounds like he’s sitting on your left shoulder (ouch). You can see the calluses on Howe’s fingers as he picks each bright note and strums each vibrant chord of “Mood For A Day.”

As for “Heart Of The Sunrise,” wow. Just wow. If ever a song could benefit from the sort of separation and clarity Wilson brings, it’s this epic hard/soft, slow/fast jamfest. As the brawny opening Squire/White/Howe section builds, Howe’s jagged ascending/descending electric riff feels like it enters from somewhere east of Alpha Centauri and doesn’t halt its approach until it’s all the way inside your skull.

Wilson’s mix also brings out subtleties that weren’t necessarily obvious in the original mixes everyone is accustomed to. Both Anderson’s emotional vocal and Wakeman’s rich keys feel brighter yet on the gentle sections of “Heart Of The Sunrise,” with synth notes I don’t recall from previous mixes having been excavated from the depths to new and welcome prominence. And both Squire’s astonishing bass lines and White’s multiple layers of percussion feel stronger and sharper in “The Fish (Schindeleria Praematurus).”

So wipe those bitter memories of Greedo shooting first from your minds; Steven Wilson came not to muck Fragile up, but to take everything you already loved about this classic album and dial it up to eleven. You won’t be sorry.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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