'Drama' - A Step in Time to Move Together
After the the 1979 Paris sessions with Roy Thomas Baker (which were cancelled when drummer Alan White broke his ankle rollerskating), Yes were at a crossroads. Vocalist Jon Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman were not interested in the direction of the band at the time, so they ended up departing. Wakeman leaving Yes was one thing, as the band had proven that they could excel with or without him. But the departure of Anderson was a bigger deal.
Bassist Chris Squire was the only member to have been in every lineup. He, along with White and guitarist Steve Howe, tried to power through these changes, recording instrumentals titled "Crossfire," "Have We Really Got to Go Through This," and "Song No. 4 (Satellite). Yes manager, Brian Lane, also managed The Buggles, who had made an album called The Age of Plastic, and who were well-known for their hit song "Video Killed the Radio Star." Keyboardist Geoff Downes and vocalist Trevor Horn ended up joining Yes, completing the lineup for the first Yes album of the 1980s. Downes could play very well, but Horn had big shoes to fill. He could sing a bit like Anderson, but of course, it was not exactly the same. Whatever one may think of how well he handled other Yes songs on the tour that followed, the songs that were made for Drama suited him.
Perhaps to further legitimize to consumers that this was a Yes album, the band got Roger Dean to do the cover art, and Eddie Offord to produce the backing tracks. It was their first time completing work for a Yes studio album since 1974s Relayer. Like The Yes Album, Drama could have been a new start. It even mirrored that album in that it had six tracks, was preceded by an album with eight tracks, and was preceded by two albums that were both done by the previous lineup. Strange but unintentional patterns come about. At just under 37 minutes, it became the shortest Yes studio album, but it was still strong musically. Released on August 18, 1980, Drama would leave an impression on the fans.
1. "Machine Messiah"
At the beginning of "Machine Messiah," it sounds like a jet is approaching. Very appropriate given the title. We go into a heavy, sinister tone. This reminds me of the somewhat sinister-sounding parts of "Astral Traveler." Perhaps the airplane in the music video for that helps me make the connection.
All of the musicians do a superb job of making this feel like this is Yes being taken into the future. White especially demonstrates power on the drums. We go into the lighter tone, and at last hear Horn among the vocals: "Run down a street / Where the glass shows / That summer has gone." This reminds me of a couple of verses from "Beyond and Before," the first track on Yes' debut album: "Now that you're gone, / The summer's too long and it seems like the end of my life." Again, Drama in some ways feels like it could have been a new beginning.
After some anthem-sounding notes by Downes, Squire sings, "Friends make their way into systems of chance." He and Horn alternate with each other on vocals. It really is great hearing Squire's vocals this upfront, and he and Horn work so well together. Downes' keys sound like the lasers in a futuristic setting. Howe's guitar and Squire's bass feel like other pivotal parts of the moving machine.
Before the quiet section, the heavy music feels dramatic, justifying the title of the album. The thought-provoking lyrics are accompanied by the strings of a guitar. Then the jet approaches again, and we are back in the groove of heavy Yes. In a way, this feels like an abbreviated and updated "Close to the Edge," just from the way that it builds up. But of course, the two pieces are very different, and it is a flicker of familiarity. "Machine Messiah" has enough new flavors to keep one's attention. The music from before is repeated even more dramatically, if that makes sense, and then goes into another quiet section, leaving quite an impression on the listener.
2. "White Car"
Continuing with the theme of machinery, we move onto "White Car." This track is only about a minute and twenty seconds long. It comes and goes, just like a passing white car at that. The song was inspired by a time when Horn spotted Gary Numan driving a Stingray given to him by his record company. I'm not quite sure what the connection is between this incident and the lyrics "Take all your dreams / And you throw them away," if there is any. If anything, "White Car" feels like an interlude. It's kind of a breather between two more complex songs, similar to how "Clap" was a bit of a breather between "Yours Is No Disgrace" and "Starship Trooper" on The Yes Album.
On the Drama Tour, Geoff Downes performed "Man in a White Car Suite." It is essentially a keyboard medley of "White Car" and "Video Killed the Radio Star," with Downes singing into a vocoder at certain points. This was a nice way to showcase some of his talent onstage.
3. "Does It Really Happen?"
An early version of "Does It Really Happen" was included as a bonus track on the 2004 Rhino reissue of Tormato. Titled "Everybody's Song," it contains Anderson singing some of the words, as well as placeholders for lyrics that the band had yet to figure out. The keyboards sound more like the work of Patrick Moraz, so it is possible that this may be from very early on in the Going for the One sessions, before Rick Wakeman rejoined the band.
On the Drama version proper, we are treated to Squire's bass right away, which is consistently prominent. Throughout this song, he has a strong vocal presence. Again, very nice to hear. The words of the song are very bouncy, with such verses as, "Down to the slaughter up for the fun / Up for anything." The words "You take a step / In time, / To move together" feel like they relate to the themes of time and synchronicity on side B.
Toward the end, the lyrics are sung in a capella. And then the music returns for a strong finish, with everyone moving together. But actually, it's not completely over! After a very brief silence, Downes' keys are heard. And then the other instruments return, repeating notes from earlier, going on until the song fades out.
"Into the Lens" music video.
4. "Into the Lens"
"Into the Lens" begins with the bass. And then the keys and drums join together in unison. A little bit later, Howe joins in on the fun. When Horn sings, he comes in sounding somber: "Memories, how they fade so fast / Look back, that is no escape." He really gives it his all, bringing emotional weight to the words. The repeated verse "I am a camera" throughout this song is definitely odd, but one can roll with it. "Roll the cameras," as is the saying. After all, people record memories and like to look back on them.
We are given a sense of space via the verses "There, by the waterside / Here, where the lens is wide." I find that the bass is the instrument I follow the most throughout this track. So exquisite. Some of the words may sound repetitive, but the accompanying music makes it worth it. The pauses between notes toward the end may make one think of the pausing of camera footage.
In 1981, The Buggles recorded their second album, Adventures in Modern Recording, which included a reworking of "Into the Lens" titled "I Am a Camera." This version has a more chilling vibe than the Yes version, as if to invoke the feeling of being haunted by memories. The music video even has Horn acting as if he has passed out by the end.
5. "Run Through the Light"
During the 1979 Paris sessions, the band had recorded "Dancing Through the Light." It has a very mainstream 1980s vibe to it, sounding like casual listening for a dance floor.
Comparatively, "Run Through the Light" sounds fuller. Placing it after "Into the Lens" feels like a good fit, as both involve memories of a lover. Horn sings, "I asked my love to give me shelter," elongating "shelter" so that it sounds like it has six syllables. Odd, but memorable. Other words would be used similarly. Lyrics like "Run to the light / Everything is alright" sound simple. But there is still some lyrical depth in other stanzas. For example, the following says a bit about synchronicity between lovers:
And every movement made together Till every thought was just the same And all the pieces fit forever In the game.
Downes gives the song a very spacey feel. And toward the end, the collective sound swirls a bit, giving this song a little bit of an extra kick. It's not the most complex musically, but the mood of it can stick with the listener.
Like track five of The Yes Album ("A Venture"), "Run Through the Light" was not performed live until the 2010s. The former would be performed in 2013 while the latter would be performed in 2016. And in both instances, these were for tours involving full albums being performed.
"Tempus Fugit" music video.
6. "Tempus Fugit"
"Tempus Fugit" is a fast-paced song. The title suits it, as the time seems to fly by. It feels as if the musicians are racing each other to get to the end, meshing well with each other along the way. "Yes, yes," is sung repeatedly through a vocoder by Downes, as if to convey a statement that this band is indeed still Yes. And he really stands out as he plays the keys.
Much of the lyrics are so off the wall, they're great. Learning to sing all of these words at such a rapid pace is an incredible feat. The mention of a leopard and the landscape it's in might bring the album cover to mind, where we see a silhouetted cat. Coincidentally, "In the north sky" is the opposite of the "South Side of the Sky" of old. "Tempus Fugit" is definitely a strong choice for an album closer, solidifying that this band still had a lot of energy.
"Go Through This" live in New York 1980. (Included on The Word Is Live.)
When Drama was released, it was certainly a surprise for fans who were so used to Anderson being the lead voice of Yes. During the tour, "Have We Really Got to Go Through This" was performed as "Go Through This," complete with vocals. While the instrumental version sounded very much like "Tempus Fugit," the added lyrics made "Go Through This" feel more like its own thing, with Howe shredding and rocking. Yes also performed "We Can Fly from Here" during this tour. Live recordings of both of these songs would eventually end up on the 2005 box set The Word Is Live. During the tour itself, Horn told audiences that "We Can Fly from Here" might end up on the next Yes album. However, that turned out not to be the case.
In April 1981, Yes disbanded, with members of this lineup going in different directions. Trevor Horn would go on to produce various artists through the ZTT Records label. Geoff Downes continued to work with Steve Howe within the prog rock supergroup Asia, along with Carl Palmer and John Wetton. Chris Squire and Alan White continued working together, even trying to put together their own little supergroup of sorts. They tried working with Jimmy Page as a group called XYZ (eX-Yes-&-Zeppelin). This group recorded a few songs, including what has come to be known as "Telephone Secrets," which is essentially "Song No. 4 (Satellite)" but with vocals added. However, this band did not last, and an album never came to fruition from them. Squire and White did, however, record and release a Christmas single titled "Run with the Fox" (which would later be included on the 1991 YesYears box set and had choral parts added to it for the 2007 album Chris Squire's Swiss Choir). They would try forming another band, but that is a story for another day.
While the idea of a Yes lineup without Jon Anderson was novel at the time, it is now no longer an alien concept. When Benoît David became the lead vocalist in 2008, Yes used the opportunity to incorporate "Machine Messiah" and "Tempus Fugit" into the set list for the In the Present Tour. In 2005, there were plans for Downes, Howe, Squire, and White to perform these songs at the end of shows on The More Drama Tour, which would have had a set by Alan White's band White, then a solo set by Steve Howe, and then a set by Chris Squire's pre-Yes band The Syn. However, that tour was cancelled due to the London bombings. So Yes had another chance to unearth Drama tracks.
Indeed, there has been a Drama renaissance since then. The 2011 album Fly from Here would feel like somewhat of a continuation of Drama thanks to Horn and Downes' involvement. And in 2016, the whole Drama album would be performed in full, as documented on the live album Topographic Drama. It seems that Drama is no longer the odd Yes album out, and history has vindicated it over the decades as many Yes fans have shown their appreciation for it. If you're ever considering listening to Drama, give it a try, keeping your best situation an answer to Yes.