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Yes - Drama CD (album) cover

DRAMA

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

3.74 | 1090 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Review 67, Drama, Yes, 1980

StarStarStarStar

For 1980's Drama (my only post-GFTO Yes album, and probably going to stay that way for a while...), Yes has an odd line-up. The Yes nucleus has been reduced to the virtuostic Howe and Squire, and the excellent White, and added to that are The Buggles - a pop duo responsible for Video Killed The Radio Star -, comprising Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn. The obvious, but unfair, question is whether they can replace two of the golden era Yes-men, Wakeman and Anderson.

In a stroke of genius, they don't even try. Geoff Downes' keys are not a Wakeman imitation. The atmospheres of Wakeman are left behind in favour of slightly harder and more blunt work. While the man isn't an obvious choice for favourite keyboardist, he holds up his side well. Trevor Horn's vocals, similarly, are more than just aping Anderson, they change much more unexpectedly than Anderson did, and handle the harmonies with grace. Nonetheless, both fit in very well with the core parts of Yes, and the resulting album is well-balanced, surprisingly strong and at times mindblowing.

Machine Messiah dispels all fears of a weak effort. Led in by an astounding guitar-bass riff, with Howe splintering away savagely, and then moving onto various sorts of soulful backing for the harmony vocals, acoustics, synths, organs, guitar, but always with a feral edge from Howe lurking underneath. A solo section, including a superb bass solo, leads back to a return of the bass riff with awe-inspiring choral mellotron and a completely gritty guitar part. This somehow turns to a mellotron and acoustic atmosphere, with Horn's vocals again taking an oddly reverent spot, and then it jumps up into a hugely positive section, with an uplifting burst like classic Yes, and a positive solo, which then again leads down to the acoustic and keys echoing the bass riff in an ambiguous manner. More chaotic guitar-work leads us out. An absolutely phenomenal, spiritual track, complimented by a suitably Yes-ish spiritual lyrics, and, most importantly, making full use of a range of dynamics. Classic Yes, and I don't say that lightly.

White Car, lasting less than a minute and a half, is a somewhat odd track. Focused very much on a keyboard riff, with all sorts of small percussiony and acoustic things appearing. Trevor Horn provides a brief vocal, which is suitably interesting, and Downes concludes it with a moog solo. Nice.

Does It Really Happen opens with a kicking bass rhythm and White on top form, as well as some keyboards foreshadowing later vocal melodies. Howe's guitar leaps introduce the vocals, which have an absolutely killer chorus. The second, two words at a time, vocal section works well, with Downes stabbing brilliantly on the hammond behind it. The band manages to convincingly take an unbacked rendition of the chorus with a clever use of the harmonies to prevent it feeling redundant. The conclusion echoes the opening with a phenomenal bass performance from Squire, who is essentially guitar-heroing with a bass.

The eight and a half minute Into The Lens finds it slightly harder to really click than the preceding numbers, though it probably has the strongest vocal performance so far. Downes takes a pretty strong initial piano-synth lead, which he later relinquishes to Howe's parallel-to-the-vocal swirls, and the entire band takes their turns at leading and backing. There's another showcase for the soloing talents of the band-members, as well as their ability to move back to something which initially seems like the previous chorus/verse part, but musically isn't. Though I have no objections to any of the individual performances, with Howe in particular blistering away quite neatly, but the song as a whole somehow seems a bit too trite for a bit too long, with too much random movement. Very indicative of the direction Howe and Downes would take on Asia, and overall a good song, but not quite reaching the heights of the previous pieces.

Run Through The Light is another damning indiction of my love for pop songs. After a moody keyboard opening, the vocals come in with the brilliant 'I asked my love to give me she-e-elter/But all she offered me were dreams/Of all the moments spent together/That move like never-ending streams', and everything simply takes off, with a surprisingly strong performance by Horn (especially since he was competing with Squire's riveting work elsewhere) on bass and as all sorts of manic depravity and brilliant stuff turns up unexpectedly without a moment's notice. Howe is again superb, and the vocals and lyrics... and the whole song... it's just too catchy. Great song.

The closer Tempus Fugit is widely regarded as a highlight of the album, but I don't really agree. Aside from the slightly too silly 'Yes', it is simply jumpy and uplifting consistently. Not a note of ambiguity, not much variation of the tempo. The bass riff is pretty much run into the ground, and the piece just feels like it's a kid who's had a bit too much helium. This griping aside, the lyrics are brilliant, and every individual part is solid, it just lacks the soul-wrenching use of tempos and dynamics that made classic Yes to me.

Now, we hit the bonus material. The single edits are passable material, with Run Through The Light emphasising the piano a little more, and adding in a couple of odd variations. Have We Really Got To Go Through This features a lot of Howe's soloing, and is pretty good from that angle, but otherwise not that interesting. Satellite is another meandering instrumental, and, while a good example of the players reconciling their prowess with the style, it's simply not inspiring. Yes aren't, in my eyes, cut for pure instrumentals. A Tempus Fugit tracking session is a bit pointless, even if it sounds a little less excessive than the end return. The one of White Car is slightly more interesting and lyrically extended.

Dancing Through The Light is an amusing dance version of Run Through The Light, but predictably far less catchy and compelling. Golden Age is rather better, with a decent Anderson Vocal, as well as an unintrusive backing that works some of the time, even if Wakeman's tone feels a bit out of place. Not a lost gem, but not terrible, either. Into The Tower opens with a rather good duet between Wakeman's organ and Anderson's vocals, before White adds himself in to add some rock elements. Far better than most of the other bonus we get on here, actually an album-quality track. Friend Of A Friend is also quite strong, with good performances from Squire and White, it's a shame that the synth tones again feel slightly odd, especially on the longer notes. So, as a set of bonuses, pretty mediocre, but there's some good stuff in there, and the album's ending isn't so absorbing that the bonuses will break the mood.

So, overall, this is a very good and distinctly progressive album. The gut-wrenching Machine Messiah is unmissable for anyone who is even slightly interested in Yes, and I feel that Jon Anderson's presence isn't much missed. In addition, it's pretty consistent, with only the last couple of tracks letting down at all for basically undefinable reasons, and Squire is on full throttle throughout. Four stars, essential listening, matching up to a couple of the classic era albums in quality, in my opinion.

Rating: Four Stars Favourite Song: Machine Messiah or Run Through The Light. Should be the former, definitely, but I have no taste :p

Edit: slipped to a three... not a fan of Tempus Fugit, really, and there are only two real stone-cold classics here... so on the ratios with the current economic climate, I'm dropping it to three.

TGM: Orb | 3/5 |

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