Atlantic Records, 1980


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


In a career filled with twists, turns and odd ducks of one sort or another, Yes’s 1980 album Drama is surely one of the oddest.  With the simultaneous late 1979 departures of longtime singer Jon Anderson and revolving-door keyboardist Rick Wakeman, the remaining trio of Steve Howe (guitars), Chris Squire (bass/vocals) and Alan White (drums) ended up noodling around in the studio next door to electro-pop duo The Buggles (“Video Killed The Radio Star”).  And while the stylistic compatibility between the progressive rock giants and the new wave pop duo might not have been obvious, the simple math (“we lost a singer and a keyboard player… and here’s a singer and a keyboard player!”) must have seemed obvious.

Something jelled, clearly, because the decidedly unexpected album that resulted offers a number of strong moments. It also clarifies a fundamental point about Yes; more than simply being the last man standing in the seemingly infinite variety of lineups Yes has deployed over the years, Chris Squire is in fact the anchor of the Yes sound.  I’ve called Squire the Most Valuable Harmony Vocalist in Rock, and truly, a comparison between this disc and Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe’s live album An Evening Of Yes Music Plus proves the point.  The Squire-less ABWH sounds shallow and out of sync playing Yes tunes, whereas, while Trevor Horn is no Jon Anderson and Geoff Downes is no Rick Wakeman, Drama definitely sounds like Yes. 

Yes trademarks -- complex arrangements, terrific musicianship, driving rhythm section work, and most of all, rich vocal harmonies – are present from the opening moments of “Machine Messiah,” a ten-minute suite that fits snugly in the Yes oeuvre.  The Horn-Squire tandem lead vocals, Downes’ blasts of Hammond organ and Howe and Squire’s aggressive work takes you right back to classic Yes.   

“Does It Really Happen?” is another entertaining tune, strong, punchy and melodic. Downes’ synths are unfortunately shrill and mechanical in places, but after all, it was 1980, and Wakeman was doing the same thing during that era.  Squire in particular has a great time with this tune, driving much of the song with his bass line and soloing dynamically during the closing minute.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Squire also dominates the opening segment of “Into The Lens,” accompanied by some tinny electric piano from Downes and a muscular, stuttering beat from White, before Howe comes in with some soaring-over-the-top slide.  If only the strong musical foundation of this track wasn’t so thoroughly undermined by the most ridiculous chorus in Yes history.  As my colleague Herb Hill so aptly put it: “Yes Trevor, you are a camera.  Now shut up.”

The otherwise forgettable “Run Through The Light” is a rather airy rock song whose redeeming feature is some clever, zippy Howe soloing in the middle section.  And then we close with “Tempus Fugit,” a fascinating piece of work to deconstruct.  It’s one of the hardest-rocking songs Yes has ever recorded, and almost certainly the hookiest, most obviously AOR-oriented song that Steve Howe co-composed during his time in Yes.  You can detect the seeds of Howe and Downes’ future work in Asia in its more direct, riff-centric arena-rock leanings, and yet, its complex arrangement and multiple time signatures shout prog.  If there’s a weak element in the song, it’s Horn’s vocals.  In a sense “Tempus Fugit” presages what came next, with Howe and Downes on the one hand, and Squire and White on the other, moving in a more mainstream AOR direction while trying to keep a toe in the prog-rock stream.  (Oh, and Horn deciding he’d rather produce than sing… good choice.)

The remastered-with-bonus-tracks re-release of Drama offers mostly historical rather than musical value.  The addition of single versions of “Into The Lens” and “Run Through The Light,” two unreleased Drama tracks (both unfinished and without vocals) and two tracking sessions are of interest only to studio musicians or obsessive Yes fanatics.  What’s ever-so-briefly fascinating for those of us who are occasionally guilty of the latter description is the inclusion of a quartet of tracks from the infamous late-1979 Paris sessions, the last stand for the Anderson-Wakeman-Howe-Squire-White lineup before it splintered, not to reform for 16 years.  These four depressingly awful tracks bring home once and for all what an unmitigated disaster these sessions were.  Drama might not be Close To The Edge, but it’s a huge step up from Paris.

Finally, it's impossible from the vantage point of 2010 not to note the parallel between the Drama era and the current Yes lineup, which is once again touring without Anderson and Wakeman (senior at least – son Oliver now has the keyboard chair).  Howe, Squire and White have taken advantage of this circumstance to add a couple of tracks from Drama to the setlist for the first time in 30 years, and word is that “Machine Messiah” and “Tempus Fugit” are sounding good.  The question continues to be debated on an almost-nightly basis, though -- is the current lineup truly Yes?  Based on the evidence offered by Drama, I’d have to answer that with a qualified affirmative.  It might not be your favorite Yes… but it’s Yes.

Rating: B

User Rating: B


Nice review Jason. I always found this an uneven album, but the bright spots make it worth a listen. I always enjoyed "Tempest Fugit" and consider it a gem that never got it's due as a sucessful prog-pop hybrid, a lot like "Parallels" in fact.

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