Atlantic Records, 1980


REVIEW BY: Herb Hill


What do you get when you cross a Buggle with a Yes? I'm not sure either... but it has pieces of Yes and pieces of Buggle sticking out of it, and a half-life of about six months.

For a band that changes members more often than most of us change hairstyles, this is by far the most radical venture of all. Yes, minus lead singer Jon Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman, join up with Buggles vocalist (and producer extraordinaire) Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes to form... can you stand the suspense?? The Yuggles? No, they kept the Yes name and for the most part the Yes approach to musicality is fairly intact, but this is not your father's Yes, my son.

Which is not to denigrate the Buggles' contribution to the rock music genre... far from it. As an example, "Video Killed the Radio Star," while not as flamboyant as your basic Yes song, is far more precisely perceptive of the future course of rock music than Anderson et al ever attempted to be. The highly focused Buggles element of this hybrid group virtually eliminated the Yes tendency to wander a little too close to the edge, and helped start the Yes-men down what would eventually become the 'YesWest' style of music for long-time Yes bassist Chris Squire, and the fast trip to Asia that guitarist Steve Howe and Downes would take shortly after this version of Yes folded.

This is the only Yes album without Jon Anderson's guiding hand and it shows in many ways: the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good: With Howe, Squire and drummer Alan White in attendance there is enough 'Yesness' about Drama to make it an unquestioned member of the Yes catalog. Songs such as "Machine Messiah" and "Tempus Fugit" have the diverse richness of a Yes song without Anderson's tendency towards being a bit overcooked. Horn and Downes add an almost machine-like precision to the music and give it an '80s production quality that is distinctly Horn.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Machine Messiah" tears into itself with Howe's characteristic guitar cutting through the haze like a phaser set on kill and the high-strung vocals are all well within Horn's range, which is always a good thing for a singer (more on this later). "Machine Messiah" is a tale of human kind's enslavement to machine rule. The lyrics tell of a chance to "unlearn our lessons," to escape the domination of machines in our society. This is surely a Yes song by all accounts and without Anderson going on and on about how this is all to do with the sun and various moments in time it clocks in at just over 10 minutes!

"Tempus Fugit." The unmistakable Squire bass pushes this along at quite a clip. But although Squire makes a large contribution to the quality of this tune, it is the staccato vocal delivery and crisp harmonization which puts this song at the top of the Drama 'must hear' list for me. Trevor Rabin fans who insist that the harmonic wall of sound that partially characterizes later '80s Yes music emanated in some kind of virgin birth directly from Rabin's rear end (where apparently the sun also rises) might also give a listen.

The Bad: "Into the Lens." Yes Trevor, you are a camera. Now shut up.

The Ugly: "White Car." Proof that short is not necessarily better… and the intro sounds like the start of the theme to some Disney animation that I just can't place.

That the distinctive Yes sound depends heavily on Squire's backing vocals becomes even more evident on this album. Squire's voice mixes extremely well with Horn's tenor and Horn sounds enough like Anderson that it is almost like Anderson is still there. Strangely, it is not therefore the absence of Anderson that makes Drama so different, but the absence of Wakeman and the addition of Downes. For without Wakeman's classical flourish, the texture of the music has a much cleaner feel. Not necessarily "better," but that is a subjective observation at best.... so, cleaner it is, and that alone may be the most noticeable difference between Drama and its '70s ancestors.

All in all a great little album. So why only one? What ever happened to this version of Yes? Well, while the album is called Drama... the tour should have been called Trauma. Rumor has it that Horn let Chris Squire convince him to try to sing like Jon Anderson on tour. Whether or not you like Anderson's style of voice, it is probably a safe bet that most males over 13 should not try to reach those crystalline highs for any prolonged period of time. Pity Trevor Horn; he tried. By the end of the tour his vocal chords were apparently abused beyond salvation. I don't think he ever toured again.

Many Yes fans were unimpressed and disgracefully unforgiving of Horn's attempts at live Yes music and the resulting angst left Drama lost and alone wilting in the Yes garden, spelling the end for this short-lived hybrid group.

Drama as a time capsule is as much a part of the early '80s rock sound as The Turn Of A Friendly Card by the Alan Parsons Project. To ignore it and dismiss it out of hand as "that album without Anderson" is tantamount to ignoring the importance of Fragile as a part of the '70s Yes era. However, with six tracks and only 37 minutes of music, this is only a taste of what might have been a great album.

A crisp and clean precursor to commercial Yes(West) and Asia, it's a B- only because there isn't enough of it.

Rating: B-

User Rating: B



© 2004 Herb Hill and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.