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Yes - Drama CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.77 | 1587 ratings

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4 stars By 1980 it was clear that YES had, for one reason or another, abandoned their trademark sound. No longer did they paint on a vast canvas; no longer did they indulge CHRIS SQUIRE's brilliance with the bass, letting him take the lead; no longer did they have the confidence to take rock in new directions. After the mixed efforts that were 'Going for the One' and 'Tormato', I wondered if YES had had their day.

Well, YES may have abandoned their sound, but TREVOR HORN and GEOFF DOWNES hadn't forgotten it. In fact, they'd written some material they thought the band might like. All this while having extraordinary international success as THE BUGGLES with 'The Age of Plastic' and its ubiquitous single 'Video Killed the Radio Star'. Despite what some elitists believe pop and prog aren't actually diametrically opposed, and there's nothing at all odd in pop artists being able to write prog material.

What was odd was ANDERSON and WAKEMAN's decision to leave the band. 'Musical differences' were cited - ANDERSON wrote material, but the other band members didn't like it - but it was really about money. Despite their success the band were skint, and there were rumours that some members had helped themselves to the petty cash. So HORN and DOWNES were invited to take their place.

The result - and everyone makes the obligatory pun, so I will follow - is pure drama. From the Roger Dean cover to the solidity and grandeur of the material, this is not only a return to form, it is the first consistently excellent album the band had produced since their golden period. The music has bite, it rumbles and roars, it is funky when required, and, with the largest egos missing, is a true group effort.

The fun begins with 'Machine Messiah', a BUGGLES composition given the STEVE HOWE treatment. An appropriate mechanical rumble fades in, heralding a splendid riff. Yes, we get to hear this riff a lot in this epic track, but they do use it well. HOWE surrounds the riff with squeals, slides and snarls, hovering on the edge of discord, the sound echoing the lyrics in true epic style. WHITE thumps the tubs with more vigour than at any point in his YES career, and then it's vocals time. Ah. HORN does a credible job, but I would have been more impressed had he tried to sound like himself rather than JON ANDERSON. Of course, part of the resemblance comes from SQUIRE's backing vocals. There is some nice interplay between DOWNES, SQUIRE and HOWE in the middle of the track, building up for the genius moment at 5 minutes when they bring back the main theme in staccato version, slowed down - ah, majestic. Listen to HOWE's guitar snarl like a cat. There are so many great things about this I could fill up a page: I love HOWE's slightly flat notes on the third run through of the theme, suggesting the machine struggling for birth. Classic stuff. Nothing ANDERSON could have supplied would have had the compelling intensity of this material. A great finish rounds off this essential track.

'White Car' gets ignored, but I think it's a wonderful track. DOWNES sets us up for a single vocal phrase, the titular white car at 1:01 - possibly the cleverest song fragment on record. Then it's on to 'Does it Really Happen', a SQUIRE/HOWE/WHITE composition markedly better than any of the material we'd seen from them for a long time. A great bass lead brings us into a series of chord stabs and it's away into a track strongly reminiscent of 'Siberian Khatru', especially the funky riff at 0:54. DOWNES does a fair job on the keyboards (check out his work at 3:30, for example) as the track rocks on, and HORN's nascent production values are clear in the excellent balance between the drums and other instruments, heralding the 80s sound. The final treat is the coda following the hard stop. Impossible to fault, and greatly enjoyable, this track succeeds where tracks like 'Going For The One'. 'Release Release' and 'On the Silent Wings of Freedom' don't.

'Into the Lens' is a BUGGLES number owing more, perhaps, to SUPERTRAMP than YES: the line 'I am a camera' with its two-note keyboard accompaniment sounds like ROGER HODGSON. For all that, this is an excellent track, if perhaps a minute or two too long. 'Run Through the Light' is more of a song fragment, slightly underdeveloped compared to the rest of the album. 'Tempus Fugit' rounds off the album in self-referential style: 'Yes!' they sing. Respect for a band able to extract the urine from themselves.

An essential listen for those who thought prog had died by 1980, and for those who argue prog and pop go together like oil and water. Drama succeeded beyond my fondest hopes, and despite the improbability of it all, stands up well against the band's catalogue. 'An answer to Yes' indeed.

russellk | 4/5 |


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