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Yes - Drama CD (album) cover

DRAMA

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

3.78 | 1635 ratings

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cfergmusic1
4 stars In 1978, Yes embarked on a tour in support of their album, Tormato. Although the album was not well received, the tour was by all accounts Yes' best up to that point, in part because they performed almost every show "in the round." The tour was so successful that Yes decided to stretch it out another year, effectively celebrating their 10th anniversary as a band. After this tour, Yes went to Paris in late 1979, ostensibly to record a new album. The ensuing results, besides being musically very poor, nearly led to the breakup of the band; long story short, Rick Wakeman quit for the second time and Jon Anderson for the first. This could have been the end; but, not wanting to call off future engagements, the remaining three members (Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Alan White) soldiered on regardless and sought out replacements in short order.

The replacements they found for Jon and Rick were, respectively, Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes?yes, the songwriting and performing duo known as the Buggles, best known for their smash hit of '79, "Video Killed the Radio Star" (if memory serves, the very first video ever played on MTV). At the time, you couldn't necessarily think of more unlikely recruits into the Yes sound than a New Wave pop duo; then again, one of the strengths of Yes is that they have always been able to adapt with the times, to a certain point, and with differing results (more on that later). Hindsight being 20/20, the album they ended up making, Drama, was exactly the direction Yes needed to go in at this time. The band basically still sounds like themselves, but with a more modern and slightly darker sensibility.

We begin with "Machine Messiah," which in its first moments sounds rather like a Black Sabbath outtake. The main riff is one of Yes' heaviest ever?although played by Steve Howe's Gibson "The Les Paul," apparently Alan wrote this riff on the piano?and is developed in typical Yes-like fashion, somehow transitioning into the major-key strains of Part I. Yes, even though it's not displayed as such on the album cover, this piece is actually divided into three parts. Here, especially in Part I, one can hear signs of the burgeoning New Wave sound?punchy-sounding drums, guitars with plenty of slap echo and/or chorus effects, and of course that Yamaha CP70. Part II is the "ballad" section, still in the heavy metal mode; synth pads and acoustic guitar outline the title chorus. Horn (whose vocal timbre is actually very similar to that of Sting) sings in a lower vocal range than Anderson, as he does through most of the album, and while it's probably not what the hardcore fans are used to hearing, it makes sense for him and for this album. (It should be noted that Squire double-tracks the vocals and sings more harmony here than on any previous Yes album.) Part III is essentially a recap of themes displayed in the first 7 or so minutes of the piece?also offering the first instance of Horn trying to stretch into Anderson's vocal range (which would prove to be his downfall on tour). After a "reprise" of Part II, the piece ends on the introductory three-note riff, flanged out here and sounding almost like rumblings of doom into the fade-out. Due to its length and the fact that it is a suite, this was probably the best choice of a lead-off track for the album (so as not to completely alienate the fans).

"White Car" (aka "Man In a White Car") is essentially a Downes solo piece, with Trevor Horn singing a bit over it. Supposedly this song was written in reference to Gary Numan (he of the smash hit "Cars," who was said to have owned a white car himself at this time). The only thing I really have to say about it is that apparently, this may have been intended as a suite as well. During the Drama tour, Horn always introduced this song as the "Man in a White Car Suite"; Downes would then proceed to play variations on the tune for about five minutes. So maybe there is something else to this?

A funky, quasi-minimalist Chris Squire bass riff kicks off "Does It Really Happen," which ended up being the show opener throughout the Drama tour (after Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra"). An 11-beat phrase and choppy ensemble figures (built on suspended chords) are the hallmarks of this groovy little number, along with the standard Jon-like lyrical ramblings. Even though the lyrics don't make too much sense (what else is new?), the actual tune is good enough that one can listen to it and have a good time anyway. BTW: The Rhino remaster has a hard entry on keyboards at around 5:08, where the vinyl LP had a fade-in at that section. I think the fade-in works a lot better.

"Into the Lens" is the opener for Side Two and starts off with almost the same feel as "Does It Really Happen"; only this time, Squire's bass riff is supported by White's quasi-military drum cadences, doubled by keyboards in 6/4. This is overall one of the more ambitious tunes on the album due to its contrasts of differing elements; the gentle strains of the 4/4 melody in B minor, and the 6/4 "I am a camera" sections in C minor; I believe that the "camera" portions were something that Horn and Downes had left over from the Buggles days. Although a bit heavy on lyrics, the tune is unexpectedly catchy; the impression I get is that it could have appeared as source music on a movie soundtrack of the time. (Assuming of course that Hollywood movie producers had an ear for this kind of music back then, or ever.)

"Run Through the Light" is a bit different in terms of instrumentation; Trevor Horn plays bass and Chris Squire plays piano (in addition to Downes' electric keyboards). Horn gets into the Anderson range again during the verses and, while this isn't so terrible by itself, remember that they were still playing the old stuff on tour?"Starship Trooper," "Yours is No Disgrace," "Parallels"?in other words, real throat-busters for the inexperienced, which may explain why this one was never played live. Not a big loss though, as this one was never really a favorite of mine in spite of Howe's high-end guitar theatrics (he even plays somewhat "bluesy" during the fade-out, which is unusual for him).

The closer, "Tempus Fugit," is understandably most fans' favorite from the album (including myself). An intriguing and unlikely mixture of New Wave, ska, reggae and (according to Squire) punk, this one is more upbeat than anything else on the album, and consequently the band sounds wholly inspired here, which is well communicated to the listener. Horn's rapid-fire lyrics add interest as does Downes' "yes, yes" vocoder in the breakdown sections (which may have led to some calling this Yes' "theme song"). The bass riff and guitar figures rank with the best stuff the band ever did, and Downes has some great moments when he outlines and expounds upon the ascending figures that crop up here and there. And how about that vocal build-up and climax at around 2:45? "From the moment you tell me?YES!!!!!" By far the best track here, and a great way to close out the album.

The bonus tracks on the Rhino remaster are the typical outtake stuff we've come to expect from these kinds of packages. The single edit of "Into the Lens" pretty much reflects my earlier comment about how this song could have worked on a movie soundtrack, while the single edit of "Run Through the Light" seems like a different mix altogether and makes more sense than the album version. "Go Through This," unreleased at the time but played nightly on tour, is presented here as an instrumental take; the full track would later be released on the 2005 triple-album retrospective The Word is Live. (The other "teaser" track from the Drama tour, "We Can Fly From Here," wound up as the focal point and title track of a Yes album released over 30 years later which also involved Horn and Downes.)

Following are a couple of "tracking session takes" for "Tempus Fugit" and "White Car." "Tempus" is nothing special, but this version of "White Car" adds lyrics to the intro section and once again plays out my theory about this piece being intended as a suite. Finally we have four outtakes from the "Paris Sessions" of 1979 (perhaps included here because they wouldn't fit on the Tormato remaster). The only tracks here to feature Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman, these tunes basically live up to their reputation of being horrendously bad and will definitely make you appreciate Tormato!

How does Drama stack up as a closer for Yes Mark I? Quite well, I would say. This album has definitely grown in stature over time, as Yes fans have acclimated themselves well to the "heavier" sound and the idea of a different lead singer for Yes besides Jon Anderson. Honestly, Trevor Horn isn't a bad vocalist, but his real strength would lie in record producing in the very near future (including a Big Hit for a revamped Yes three short years later). It's worth remembering, too, that the album was completed in just five weeks of 16-hour-a-day sessions?possibly under pressure from Atlantic to have a new record out in the first place?which may explain why the album, at 36 minutes, is relatively short compared to others.

Considering all that, Yes stepped up to the plate in a big way here and created a work that they are evidently proud of. I say that because at the time of this writing (2016), Yes are playing the entire album on tour for the first time ever, with Steve Howe, Alan White and Geoff Downes all part of the band's current line-up?and on at least one recent UK show, special guest Trevor Horn sang "Tempus Fugit" live with the band, for the first time since 1980. (Everything old is new again.) Definitely recommended if you want to hear how Yes deals with the burgeoning, although relatively short-lived, musical landscape of a new decade. 4 stars out of 5.

cfergmusic1 | 4/5 |

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