Yes: Drama (1980)

I have always loved the band, Yes, through their ups and downs (including keyboardist Geoff Downes).

In their sixth decades, Yes has had tremendous personnel changes and at times, two different versions of the band, each performing and recording.

At the end of the 1970s, Yes suffered through loss of keyboardist Rick Wakeman (which would be a reoccurring theme) and founding member and vocalist Jon Anderson. After Tormato (1978), the musical direction and dynamics with the band splintered, and efforts to record together failed.

The beginning of the 1970s marked a big change in music and especially radio. Progressive-rock was mainly gone, the laidback L.A. sound was slipping toward middle age, and these noisy, rambunctious guitar punks and British synth pop stars suddenly descended onto the music scene.

Bad news for Yes. Or was it?

The remaining Yes band members hooked up with Trevor Horn and Downes from the new wave band The Buggles, who had a hit with “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Video wouldn’t kill recording artists but it would change the musical environment, big time. Yes and The Buggles were both represented by manager Brian Lane, the link between the two bands.

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Steve Howe, Geoff Downes, Alan White, Chris Squire, Trevor Horn

These two guys from The Buggles would only stay with Yes for one album, but they forever changed the band. To this day, Yes feeds off the DNA from Downes and Horn.

Horn does not really sound like Anderson. He would have some success as a vocalist, but his talent was in songwriting and production. He was also a bass player, but Yes already had arguably the best bass player in Chris Squire. Downes was also a songwriter and decent keyboard player, but he wasn’t Rick Wakeman and would always have trouble playing Wakeman parts live. He was good, just not great.

Drama serves as a transition point for the band. For Yes, the 1980s would sound a whole lot different than the 1970s. The next transition point would come when Anderson left the band a second time. So, I divide Yes into three periods, and Drama began the second period.

Drama is not a bad album, it has songs still a part of the Yes live show.

“Machine Messiah”

This ten-minute song has a heavy metal into. The song structure is not unlike Yes of old. It has heavy, fast sections and a quiet acoustic piece in the middle. The secret of course is Chris Squire, his bass playing and co-lead vocals. Dramatically, (no pun intended) is swells and flows like one of Genesis’ long song-suites.

“White Car”

A very short song. It feels incomplete. A bit like Anderson’s “South Side of the Sky” from Fragile, it features Horn’s vocal work and Downes uses very hip, 80s synth sounds.

“Does It Really Happen?”

This sounds so much like early ELP with the huge keyboard riffs and rhythm section. This song has some of Alan White’s most creative drumming and Steve Howe plays a handful of different parts.

 

“Into the Lens”

Horn and Downes brought this song to the group and would later release their own Buggles’ version. It is a high energy song that reminds me of “Siberian Khatru” from Close to the Edge. It’s my favorite track on the album. I would describe it as prog-rock meets new wave. It has a driving bass line and soars as a lead instrument as Squire plays it. Howe’s guitar playing is as inspired as I’ve heard him in a long time.

 

“Run Through the Light”

This definitely sounds like more traditional Yes, but a very updated sound. Squire carries the vocal duties. The song is quite hip with the big echo drums like Phil Collins and squiggly synth playing.

 

“Tempus Fugit”

The most Yes sounding track on the album from the organ riffs and rapid synth playing, blazing guitar runs to the runaway bass line. The song succeeds in recapturing the band’s signature sound through a very contemporary filter.

 

Eddie Offord, the band’s longtime producer left during the project, and the band themselves filled the void. The album would make it to number 18 on Billboard and eventually become a Gold Record, but I think Yes fans were cautious and slow to warm up to a band without Anderson and a sound that somewhat departed from their foundation.

After touring, this version of the band broke up. In 1983, a new version of Yes released 90125, with Jon Anderson back, along with original keyboard player Tony Kaye.  Steve Howe was working with Asia with Downes, so Trevor Rabin joined to handle the guitar and brought strong songwriting chops.  Trevor Horn was not back as lead vocalist, but he was the producer.  Confused?  Just wait, the later versions of Yes would be even stranger.

The remastered version released in 2004 included some early working versions of the songs, some included Anderson and Wakeman.

So, where does this album fit in the Yes legacy?  I like it best of the post 1970s Yes discography, and that includes the highly successful 90125.  Yes fans are fickle and apt to get in your face over criticism over the ranking of albums.  When the classic lineup of Yes regrouped in the mid 1990s to release Keys to Ascension 1 and 2, the band sounded tight and the best they had for nearly 20 years.  Drama was a change-up, a contemporary version of the band, not great, but damn good.  The production goo of the 1980s ruined a lot of music, turning it into schlock that is so buried in echo and awash in dated synth sound effects that you choke on diabetic sweetness. Drama was ahead of this dark cloud of 80s excess.


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