Yes are known as one of the most important bands of progressive rock, defining the genre in the early 70’s with such albums as Fragile or Close To The Edge and even selling out stadiums at that time. But by the end of the decade the classic prog rock era was over and punk, heavy metal and new wave brought new sounds to popular music. Their 1980 album Drama is Yes’ attempt to reinvent the band’s sound and fit it to the new times.
After the “classic line-up” – Jon Anderson, the band’s high voiced lead singer, Steve Howe on guitar, Chris Squire on bass, Alan White on drums and Rick Wakeman on keyboards – broke up in 1979, only the core trio of Howe, Squire and White was left. Two trademarks of the band were gone, especially Anderson’s inimitable vocals. Still working on new songs and wanting to carry on as Yes this trio was lucky to be reinforced by Trevor Horn on vocals and Geoff Downes on keyboards (known as The Buggles) who were working in a nearby studio. This one-off line-up combined a whole new band sound with the progressive touch of the previous years.
The album starts with the distorted guitar arpeggios and the power chords of Machine Messiah. The band have never sounded so unusually heavy before but the main part after this opening is typical Yes: all kinds of speed shifts, instrumental madness and even harmony vocals. The band change from acoustic sounds to fast rock with twirling keyboard solos back to the heavy opening theme, then on to an almost choral passage and back again. This epic track ends after 10 ½ minutes with the fading of the guitar arpeggios that opened it. Brilliant! This is the album’s best song.
The next song is the short interlude White Car, which almost sounds orchestral, followed by the next great track Does It Really Happen?. This one is, along with the album’s closing track Tempus Fugit, a song that showcases Chris Squire’s impressive bass skills. The song itself is a fantastic mix of prog rock and new wave with interesting structural changes and a great bass solo at the end.
Into The Lens has some kind of stop-and-go feeling because of the many pauses in the song. Nevertheless it picks up the pace and becomes a driving rock song in the end. Similar to this is the following song Run Through The Light, which has great synthesizer textures and very good vocals. The final song, as mentioned before, is Tempus Fugit. This very fast new wave rocker has been used as a bass solo in Yes concerts ever since and still impresses.
In the end Yes’ Drama may have been a real drama for the band as the fans were missing Jon Anderson and the band broke up shortly after the supporting tour. But in terms of music Yes managed to sound new, fresh but still recognisable. Most important is that the music is great all the way through – even after thirty years!
written by Wolfgang Merx