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Yes - Drama CD (album) cover

DRAMA

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

3.74 | 1191 ratings

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jplanet
5 stars Out of all of the Yes albums, I feel compelled to review this one in particular, as I am intrigued by what makes it so different from other Yes albums, yet at the same time, so similar, and so extremely good.

It is worth noting, as someone who first experienced this album on vinyl, that the sequence of songs on this album have a symmetrical relation between the two album sides - each side is three songs, with the first and last songs being longer, more substantial pieces, and the middle songs on each side being very short, almost more like interludes than complete songs.

Of course, the most controversial aspect of this album is the absence of Jon Anderson. While some of Trevor Horn's vocals are slightly reminiscent of Jon Anderson's melodic and lyrical approach, his voice is in no way similar in character. There is a little to compare between Horn's work in the Buggles and his work on Drama, but his performace is sincere and original throughout. Geoff Downes sounds at all times tobe quite comfortable in the prog element of Yes, fully embracing the excess of being surrounded by a music-store's inventory of lovely instruments at all times, with obvious classical influences conveyed on the usual gamut of Moogs, ARPs and Hammonds, but with the added variety of the Fairlights and Rolands, which were very new sounds for rock at that point in time.

At the start of the album, Machine Messiah, we are a bit woken up by something uncharacteristic for Yes -- a heavy power riff, in minor key, driving in a plodding rhythm. But that is offset by a smooth synth-string glissando which informs our ears that this is not merely heavy metal, and the furious descending unison between electric guitar and Moog synth hints at the virtuosity expected from musicians of this caliber. We know we are in for something inspired and different. A searing electric lead from Steve Howe segues into a more familiar bed of uplifting 12-string strums, switching to major key, with a delightfully uplifting string synth and lead vocal, made all the more glorious by its contrast to the dark intro that preceded it. And so Machine Messiah continues on its journey between dark, brooding and heavy passages, set against the contrast of joyful melodies. Impressionist lyrics confound us in typical Jon Anderson fashion throughout, despite being sung by Trevor Horn - I get the impression that it is about being in blissful ignorance of the figurative machines of industry, corporatism, and politics...But it is not often that one expects lyrical clarity from Yes lyrics, any more than we expect them to play a 12-bar blues.

White Car seems but an interlude to the album as a whole...consider it an anti-epic, in that it succeeds in providing us with a mere glimpse of a story which we are left to imagine, over an elegant orchestration, poetic in its simplicity. Is this prog that Andy Warhol could relate to?

Does it Really Happen hints at the bright-sounding melodies and power chords that would soon follow on Howe and Downes' next collaboration on the first Asia album. A superb Chiris Squire bass line lays down the canvas for potent guitars, and an exhilarating vocal. Many catchy melodies abound, and the fadeout is a lovely instrumental with gorgeous synth work by Downes, featuring a classic Chris Squire bass solo. I've always wished that this ending were much longer, much like the ending of the studio version of Starship Tropper after one has grown accustomed to the wicked soloing added by Rick Wakeman in the live rendition.

Into The Lens takes on a longer format as the first song on the second side, but with a more cubist approach to the song structure. Sections of this piece, when viewed individually, are full of intriguing melodies, and one could get the impression that an effort was being made to experiment and broaden their sound even further. In my opinion, it is not an experiment that succeeded nearly as well as the brilliant Machine Messiah. This is my least favorite song on this album, but is not undeserving of praise for its originality.

Run Through the Light explores a different contrast, this time between the elements of the arrangement rather than between moments of the song. An interesting mix of soft synth pads accented with delicate mandolin is superimposed over a hard-hitting, sparse drum beat, and terse, punctuated guitar leads. The vocal is alternately abrupt and melodic...like White Car, this song's symmetrical sibling being the short middle song on this album side, this piece seems more like a deconstruction of the concept of an epic, exploring how abstraction can allow a complex story to be told in a short space of time.

The finale, Tempus Fugit, is a favorite of many fans with good reason. The opening anthem played in unison between the Hammond and Howe's slightly overdriven Stratocaster create a unique sound that feels more like one instrument. Interspersed with quick legato organ arpeggios, there is definitely an energetic, adrenalin-fueling feeling that takes us into a rocking main riff. The flanger effect on the bass creates another unique texture that adds a certain liquid complexity to the overall sound of the track. Downes' portrayal of the word 'Yes' through a vocoder seems to give the word itself a sonic treatment equivalent to Roger Deans' colorful airbrush gradients in the band's logo itself...For the first time, we hear the word 'Yes' the way we have seen it all these years -- the finish pairs this hi-tech interpretation of the band's name with Steve Howe recollecting the echoing major scale runs from 'Long Distance Runaround' - telling us at once that this is not your dad's Yes, but that this is, unmistakably, Yes.

jplanet | 5/5 |

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