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Yes - Drama CD (album) cover

DRAMA

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

3.74 | 1138 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars First time I heard “Machine Messiah” I thought – dang, is this some sort of collaboration with Black Sabbath or what? And why is Jon Anderson leaning on Chris Squire so much for vocal support? Boy, little did I know…..

1980 was such a screwy year for music that I’m not sure how many people were even completely up-to-date on which bands were still around, who had joined or been kicked out of what, and what was still worth listening to. Even the old guard progressive bands that were still churning out music were making concessions to the tastes of the listening public to one degree or another (by the way, I don’t recall ever using the term ‘progressive’ back then, but I digress). More still were the bands that just seemed to either fade away or go into hibernation (ELP, Pink Floyd, Argent, Supertramp). I can say having been there that style was hugely important to many of the people who made decisions about music and which of it got recorded and which didn’t. And old codgers who made lengthy, radio-unfriendly dope-smoking music back in the early 70s (and whose members couldn’t be cleaned up and made presentable for MTV videos) were not considered stylish.

So in today’s more ‘enlightened’ era we could be more understanding that some of musicians were willing to go to rather extraordinary lengths in order to keep their bands’ banners sailing. Some were more extreme than others (again though, I digress). Yes wasn’t as bad as some, and as I sit here today and listen to Drama more than a quarter- century later, I am rather surprised to find that it has held up across the years far better than most of its contemporaries, and even better than Tormato and possibly Going For the One. Go figure…..

So – Anderson and Wakeman get fed up in France or wherever while the band is recording their next album and quit. Considering the state of affairs of the band and of the music industry (and the fact that all of the remaining members had other options), you kind of have to give them credit for sticking it out and moving forward with the record. While the addition of Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn from the Buggles probably caused many old fans to lapse into apoplectic fits, both of them were long-time fans of the band and I think in the end they both acquitted themselves well and showed respect for the band’s legacy in their contributions. It’s just – “Video Killed the Radio Star” is a pretty huge steaming pile of s-… “baggage” for them to have brought with them, especially considering its role in MTV and new-wave history. Water under the bridge now I suppose…

So the faux-metal “Machine Messiah” turns out to be a decent enough tune, particularly Howe’s guitar work and Squire on bass (Squire seems to recognize the importance of his role in retaining the ‘classic’ Yes sound here, and really outdoes himself throughout the whole album).

“White Car” doesn’t sound anything like Yes, but it’s only a minute long so no worries.

Squire and Alan White kick off “Does It Really Happen?” over the top of Howe with another rhythm that’s quite a bit heavier than most of the stuff Yes had done prior. Also, Horn brings his vocal register back down to mortal range, giving the band an overall sound that is creepily similar to what Asia would sound like about a year later. I really don’t feel strongly either way about this one – it’s an okay tune, sounds sort of like Yes, but probably a bit closer to Tormato than most of the rest of the album.

On the other hand, “Run Through the Light” would have fit right in on 90125. This is the sound the band would have in concert for at least the next several years, even after Anderson returned. It’s a well-produced track, nice keyboard arrangements with plenty of variety and very little wasted motion; very complementary vocal tracks, and Howe’s guitar solo is really pleasant (hopefully ‘pleasant’ is what the band was going for). The one thing about this track is that it sounds incredibly stuck in 1980 – there were a couple dozen other bands at the time that could have done this song and it would have sounded almost identical. I suspect this is mostly due to the keyboards, but am unfortunately not a musician myself so wiser folks than I will have to figure that one out.

“Into the Lens” is just stupid. I guess this is Horn trying to be cute, singing about being transformed into a camera and viewing the world through the lens. Whatever. This was a Buggles tune to begin with, and it would appear in an even more cheesed-up format on the Buggles’ Adventures in Modern Recording album a while later under a different title. There’s yet another version on the re-mastered Drama CD that came out in 2004.

This leaves “Tempus Fugit”, kicking off with keyboards instead of guitar for about the only time on the album, although Howe and Squire make their presence known almost immediately. This is probably my favorite on the album. The staccato vocal stylings of Horn are as close to the sound Anderson made famous as possible, without actually being accused of plagiarism (Squire helps quite a bit as well). The keyboards here are not particularly complex, and they aren’t on most of the rest f the album either. But as I said before, there’s little wasted motion, and Downes can maybe be forgiven a little new-wave cheesiness in exchange for not engaging in self-indulgent pompousness like Wakeman was prone to do. I think it would have been cool if the band had taken the time to break down some portion of this song and explore it further, but it’s still a good listen, energetic and well-played.

So I think the band is really trying to pull something off here, although only they know exactly what. The Buggles boys breathe some new life into the band’s sound, although fans have to decide for themselves if the tradeoff of new-wave inspired keyboards, shorter radio-friendly songs, and sometimes vapid lyrics were worth the cost.

In 1980 I dismissed this album pretty quickly, but mostly I’ll admit because of the reputation of the Buggles, not because I actually spent much time listening to Drama. Today, I think this is a good album. Just barely, maybe even just okay. But it’s a little better than just a collector’s item, so I’m inclined to say it’s a three-star album, but on a less sun-shiny day I may revisit this down a notch.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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