(All Album Reviews by Octavio Trimmingham)
The year was 1980. Progressive rock was on the endangered species list and as far as many longtime fans were concerned, Yes was close to being written off as extinct. After a lukewarm response to their previous release, Tormato and the fact that Jon Anderson & Rick Wakeman had decided to leave the group soon afterward, things did not look good for the future of Yes.
Remaining members; Chris Squire, Steve Howe & Alan White were left with the choice of either packing it in or finding replacements. They chose the latter of the two options. Enter Trevor Horn (vocals) and Geoff Downes (keys) previously of the pop band, The Buggles (and long time Yes fans).
On Drama, the new band lineup was able to explore some new directions and lyrical subjects. Horn’s lyrical direction was influenced by the industrial, modern and future age ("Machine Messiah") as opposed to Anderson’s mostly mystical and fantastic lyrical leanings. Wakeman’s endless noodling and overstatement was replaced by Downes’ less prominent yet excellent playing.
Howe’s guitar compositions on this album are still awe inspiring and with some pop influence added but is heard soloing much less on Drama. White’s playing is explosive on this release and his drum sound is prominent in the mix. Chris Squire really shines most brightly on Drama though. It is probably the best display of his bass mastery to date.
It is also slightly ironic at this point that Squire was the lone surviving original Yes member. He is essentially the lead man on this great album and many of the songs appear to be written around his killer bass lines. This album has some great sonic moments where this “transitional” line up really gels. It’s a shame it would be so short-lived.
I don’t quite understand the bad rap this album has always seemed to get from some of the older fans. But then I think; if I was a Yes fan back around 1980 and heard that The Buggles were replacing Wakeman and Anderson, I may have crapped my pants. But thankfully, I’m NOT of this narrow mindset. Drama is one of my very favorite Yes albums ever. And to add, three of the tracks on this album - "Machine Messiah", "Does It Really Happen?" and "Tempus Fugit", I believe are some of the best songs Yes has ever recorded and ever will.
Anyway, if this typical “cheap talk” is keeping you away from buying this release, spend the measly $12 and judge it for yourself. Don’t base it on what some stubborn Yes elitist says about it.
(All Album Reviews by Bungalow Bill)
I will confess without hesitation: I have a nostalgic attachment to Yes’ 1980 release Drama. The year was 1981, and I was a sophomore in high school, when a classmate persuaded me to borrow a copy of M.U.: The Best of Jethro Tull. I took that cassette (there were no Jethro Tull CDs then) home and played it numerous times, and was hooked with an as-yet unsubsiding passion for the progressive rock genre.
I spent many hours with this same classmate, picking through his (and his older brother’s) collection of classic prog: mainly Jethro Tull, Rush, Uriah Heep and Yes. I did a bit of sporadic listening, and soon I purchased my very own prog recording: Drama. I was mesmerized by the strangeness of the sounds and the intricate arrangements. I still am, and you are forewarned.
Is it Yes without Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman? Well, not to detract from the excellence of their respective contributions to the band's legacy, but I can only admit: I didn't care in 1981, and I do not now care. Drama may or may not be a pure Yes recording: the logo is there, but the psychedelic, Asian philosophy-influenced lyrics are gone; Roger Dean is back with more exquisite artwork, but no song is longer than 10:30. Maybe it's Yes, maybe not, but finally, it's a moot point: Drama outshines any Yes recording after Relayer, and that is no minor achievement – albeit the truth.
The opening song, “Machine Messiah”, is perhaps the defining track. There is a metallic, industrial quality to the tune (which simultaneously recalls Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” and dispels Jon Anderson’s flower-child ethos) which is beautiful, but only as a gun is beautiful: sleek, efficient, deadly. The initial riff is Steve Howe at his most ominous; he will elsewhere on Drama display a style which at once reaches back into the former glory of Yes and ahead to the future pop-fame of Asia (in fact, Drama is somewhat of a successful, prog-respectable Asia, as is now keenly heard).
The rhythm section is furiously propulsive (listen to the break at 4:00), and with Howe, the perennial Yes stalwarts play with a vigor and focus absent from much of the late 70’s releases. In replacement of Anderson and Wakeman are Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes of The Buggles: there isn’t any reason to expect that they will stop the gap, but indeed they do by bringing a strong pop-sensibility to the extended Yes style.
Downes’ playing is generally more atmospheric than virtuosic (greatly evidenced by the harshly-toned synthesizer fills later in the song), and Trevor Horn excels, moreso because here (and throughout), he and Chris Squire sing harmonized dual-lead: forgive my sinful ways, but Jon Anderson isn’t missed. The acoustic breaks – haunting, isolatory, clean to the point of sterility – fit perfectly the central theme (Tarkus on small-scale, possibly) – and are used effectively as counterpoint to the grinding ensemble interludes. “Machine Messiah” is, unconsciously even, the death-knell for the '60s-'70s peace-dream; it is the soundtrack for the nightmare of a mechanized world as it dies, begging for some deity to bring salvation.
“White Car” is a brief piece, and merits no especial commentary, except to mention that the final, fading keyboard arpeggios contrast well with Chris Squire’s trebly, bouncing bass line as it introduces “Does It Really Happen?” A ‘modern’ offering: a progression away from prog-rock, it could be argued. The song starts off with a near-90125 beat (Alan White drums with taste and nuance, while never sacrificing power), complete with mock-xylophone, but in a drastic, cut-against-the-grain transition – led by White’s abrupt, ferocious fill – the band moves into the major groove of the chorus, one of the better laid down on a Yes track.
It is sparse and slightly angular, with a muscularity that commands attention. Geoff Downes comes to the fore, with a pseudo-Zeppelin keyboard craftiness, and the dual-vocalizations continue (the a cappella break is strong). Downes reveals his knowledge of ensemble propriety when he plays with a tactful percussiveness. If you are not swept away by the flow of the chorus, you are deceased.
“Into the Lens” perhaps takes the greatest hit on this recording for its seemingly ridiculous lyric “I am a camera”; however, consideration of the remaining words shows the lyrics to be impressionistic – snapshots of human existence and tensions – and the ‘camera’ merely sings what it witnesses. This track as well is the most forward-reaching of Drama: it contains hints of new wave, Asia, and Trevor Horn’s '80s production work. Again, a very driven, desperate sound predominates, most clearly in the synchronized playing by Downes and White.
Excepting perhaps Steve Howe’s unusual guitar work, “Run Through the Light” is the weakest song of the set, but hardly intolerable. I suspect the influence of The Police (or just The Buggles). The song features Trevor Horn on fretless bass (full, concise, uncomplicated, catchy lines) and Chris Squire on piano, and begins with a plaintive mandolin piece. Fairly tuneless, “Run Through the Light” is appealing for its unique arrangement: a wide-open, airy song, into which Howe injects some triangular guitar licks, and to which Downes adds some perfect, ambient, near space-rock keyboards.
Rounding out Drama is “Tempus Fugit” (Latin for “time flies” or “time flees”), which incorporates a wicked bass line: Squire is pushing hard. Maybe absolute arena rock, I’m not sure (there are echoes of ELO, Rush, Kansas, and even Styx), but when the tempo accelerates – jaguar bass and Howe with his best Andy Summers imitation – you are taken by the motive current.
Fans of Yes only at its longest and most meandering may want to avoid Drama. Fans of Yes who concentrate primarily upon Jon Anderson’s singing may also wish to ignore Drama, although Trevor Horn does well by somewhat mimicking Anderson’s vocals while retaining his own singing identity – a good job walking the razor’s edge. Fans who have enjoyed and still enjoy Yes’ shorter pieces built upon memorable melodies and hook-dependent choruses should certainly be pleased with Drama. If it helps, rationalize: tell yourself, “OK, it's not really Yes, but it is late '70s-early '80s prog."
Put it in the CD changer with UK’s debut, Rush’s Permanent Waves, Tull’s A and Adrian Belew-era King Crimson, and appreciate it in context. You won't be disappointed, I contend: the songs are topnotch, the production, mix, and remastering are all fine, and Howe, Squire, and White deliver standout performances brimming with obvious renewed energy and creativity. Fantastic music, Yes or not (a shame this lineup didn't make it to a follow-up), and it's nice to listen again and know that the original buzz over Drama was well-founded and not merely the product of naive, youthfully blind enthusiasm.
(All Album Reviews by Sean)
The history of Yes surely has a great deal of twists and turns over the years, producing many different lineups. This is probably the most unique of the lot. The day The Buggles replaced Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman surely left a shudder that still reverberates to this very day.
Personally I am pleased the band took this little excursion off their classic path. The band needed an injection of energy and inspiration or we would have been treated to Tormato #2, instead we got this fresh, vital album. It's often considered the last in the string of great albums from Yes starting with their debut. Over the years it's stature has risen and rightly so.