Originally released in November 1971, less than a year after its predecessor The Yes Album, Yes’ fourth studio album Fragile proved another massive success for the band. Arguably best remembered for “Roundabout”–one of the group’s most popular and iconic songs–Fragile notably marked the debut of keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who replaced founding member Tony Kaye.

Recording sessions commenced in August of 1971, with Eddy Offord returning as producer. Perhaps due to limited time or budget, only four out of the nine tracks on the album (”Roundabout,” “South Side Of The Sky,” “Long Distance Runaround,” and “Heart Of The Sunrise”) are full group arrangements.

The remaining five songs are solo compositions, each showcasing a particular member’s instrument and abilities: Wakeman on “Cans and Brahms,” singer Jon Anderson on “We Have Heaven,” drummer Bill Bruford on “Five Per Cent For Nothing,” bassist Chris Squire on “The Fish,” and guitarist Steve Howe on “Mood For A Day.” Fragile was also the first Yes album to have cover art designed by Roger Dean, whose fantastical illustrations have become synonymous with the progressive rock genre.

Yes Fragile Dolby Atmos Steven Wilson IAA

Fragile has been reissued in a variety of different physical formats over the past few decades, including high-resolution Super Audio CD, DVD-Audio, and Blu-Ray Audio editions. The 2002 DVD-Audio release was notable in that it contained a new 5.1 surround sound version of the album, remixed from the original multitrack tapes by Tim Weidner. During the early-2000s, Weidner also created 5.1 mixes of Yes’ Magnification and Seal’s Best 1991-2004 compilation.

In 2015, Panegyric revisited Fragile as part of their expanded Yes reissue series. The CD/DVD-Audio and CD/Blu-Ray editions contained brand-new stereo and 5.1 mixes from Steven Wilson, plus the previous 5.1 mix for those who missed it. Wilson would go on to remix much of Yes’ core ‘70s catalog–including 1971’s The Yes Album, 1972’s Close To The Edge, 1973’s Tales From Topographic Oceans, and 1974’s Relayer–in both stereo and 5.1 for similar two-disc reissues released between 2013 and 2016. 

With Yes’ back catalog now under the purview of Rhino Entertainment–Warner Brothers’ catalog division–yet another reissue series has commenced. Similar to November 2023’s Super Deluxe Edition of The Yes Album, the new Fragile 4CD/LP/Blu-Ray box set contains a Dolby Atmos mix from Wilson–which will likely soon become available to stream on platforms that support immersive audio such as Apple Music, Tidal, and Amazon Music.

Yes Fragile Dolby Atmos Steven Wilson IAA

While I sympathize with longtime fans that are frustrated at having to purchase this album yet again–after all, this release marks the third surround revisitation of Fragile–I have to say that the Atmos mix blows away all prior versions. As expected, Wilson has made artful use of the side surround and height speakers to fully immerse the listener.

Whereas the 2015 5.1 mix of Fragile often had the main guitar parts suspended between the front and rear speakers, those same elements have now been relocated to the side surround channels in Dolby Atmos. Similarly, many of the percussion, synthesizer, and harmony vocal parts that were previously mixed to the rear speakers now appear suspended above the listener from the height array.

The first reverse swell in “Roundabout” travels from back-to-front just like before, but the second one moves from the rear surrounds up to the front overheads–as if to say ‘that was 5.1, but this is Atmos.’ Upon the entrance of the band, we’re quickly thrust into the world of total immersion.

Yes Fragile Dolby Atmos Steven Wilson IAA

The rhythm section of Bill Bruford on drums and Chris Squire on bass appears woven into all seven ear-level speakers–though most prominent across the front stage–while Steve Howe’s acoustic guitar stays solidly anchored to the side left channel. Jon Anderson’s lead vocal comes in largely from the center, with it’s double-tracked counterpart now positioned up in the front height speakers. Additional background vocals from Squire and Howe later appear from the rear height speakers, along with Wakeman’s organ from the rear left channel.

During the ‘above the drifting clouds’ section starting at around 3:30, shakers wildly rove around the height array and additional percussion moves between the rear surround channels. Howe’s short solo just before the seven-minute mark glides around the height array to fun effect, taking us into the final chorus and epic ending with different voices spread all throughout the room.

Wakeman’s solo track “Cans and Brahms” effectively distributes the multiple moog and piano parts all over the room, while Jon Anderson’s multi-tracked vocals are spread around and above the listener to stunning effect for his showcase “We Have Heaven.” The footsteps at the end cleverly travel from the front speakers up to the rear heights.

Yes Fragile Dolby Atmos Steven Wilson IAA

Editor’s Note: The DVD-Audio of Fragile (right), released in 2002, contained a 5.1 surround sound mix from Tim Weidner. The 2015 CD/Blu-Ray edition (left) featured new stereo and 5.1 mixes from Steven Wilson, alongside Weidner’s original 5.1 mix.

South Side of The Sky,” the second full band track, is another immersive tour de force. The wind sound effects move around the height array just as I'd hoped, with Steve Howe’s lead guitar firmly rooted in the left side speaker. During the middle section, Wakeman’s piano moves to the side surrounds while Squire’s backing vocals take up residence in the rear height channels.

Bruford’s short solo piece “Five Per Cent For Nothing” is interestingly presented as more of a quadraphonic experience, with different elements pegged to each of the four corners and little activity in the sides or tops–though the organ in the right rear has been lifted slightly into the right rear height speaker.

The guitar parts that kick off “Long Distance Runaround” appear almost entirely confined to the side surround speakers, with Squire’s bass again exploding from the front stage and Anderson’s lead vocal protruding from the center channel. Howe’s guitar from the left side trades off with Wakeman’s piano over on the right side, while percussion moves around the height array.

Yes Fragile Dolby Atmos Steven Wilson IAA

A zig-zagging guitar line overhead transitions us into “The Fish,” Squire’s showcase track. All the interlocking bass parts have been separated out into different speakers, while percussion dances overhead. The lead bass–played through a wah-wah pedal–extends upwards from the center channel into the front heights. Towards the end, the group backing vocals singing “Schindleria Praematurus” appear largely from the rear heights.

Mood For A Day”–a solo acoustic performance from Howe–isn’t really suited for surround sound, but it does nonetheless manage to fill the room nicely. For the closing track “Heart of the Sunrise,” we’re back in the world of total immersion. Steve Howe’s lightning-fast guitar runs doubling the bassline stay locked primarily to the left side surround, with Wakeman’s keys again appearing from behind.

When Jon Anderson’s voice (“love comes to you…”) finally enters just before the four-minute mark, it seems to float out from the center speaker towards the middle of the room. The synthesizer first heard at around 6:30 hovers directly overhead, while the mellotron break linking each verse drifts left-to-right across the top speakers. The powerful ending shows off the incredible dynamic range of the Atmos mix, leading into a short reprise of "We Have Heaven" that caps off the album.

In addition to the original 9-track album, Steven Wilson has also created a Dolby Atmos mix of “America”–which he’d previously mixed in stereo and 5.1 for 2013’s Close To The Edge reissue (Tim Weidner also mixed this track in 5.1 for the original 2002 Fragile DVD-A). Steve Howe’s guitar takes the left side speaker, while Rick Wakeman’s keyboard owns the rear right surround and the organ swirls overhead. Jon Anderson’s double-tracked vocals hover between the fronts and front heights, with background vocals emanating from behind along with Bruford’s thunderous toms.

Anderson’s vocal at four minutes in (“laughing on the bus…”) amusingly moves up to the front heights, with backing vocals joining from the rear surrounds. During the extended instrumental section starting at around 5:15, Howe’s double-tracked guitars blast from the sides while Wakeman’s keys appear centered in the rears–directly behind the listener’s head. Percussion swirls around the top speakers, along with the organ.

As with last year’s reissue of The Yes Album, I'd argue that the new Dolby Atmos mix is an absolute masterclass in immersive mixing and a clear upgrade from the prior 5.1 surround releases. Though it’s unfortunately being kept exclusive to the multi-disc deluxe edition, I do appreciate that this title received a lossless TrueHD release on Blu-Ray disc. Looking forward to more classic Yes in Atmos!

Support IAA by purchasing the Fragile 4CD/LP/Blu-Ray Super Deluxe Edition via this link!

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About the Author
Jonathan is an audio engineering enthusiast from New York with a passion for immersive audio, having amassed a formidable collection of multichannel optical discs and quadraphonic vinyl. He earned his undergraduate degree in Television-Radio from Ithaca College and Master's degree in Audio Technology from American University.