Drama (1980)


  
1. Machine Messiah 2. White Car 3. Does it Really Happen? 4. Into the Lens 5. Run Through the Light 6. Tempus Fugit

 

A pretty good name for this album in that there was quite a lot of it behind the initial stages of making the record. It’s a bit pointless to discuss all that here, this band had already developed a reputation of having a revolving door for members after just about every album. This record was the first in that it had two members replaced. Keyboardist Rick Wakeman is (again) gone. Also gone is lead vocalist Jon Anderson (although he would be back on the next album. Lord, this gets confusing). So in what seemed a bizarre twist, the remaining members recruit Buggles members Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes to replace Anderson and Wakeman. Who were The Buggles? Well, they were a synthesized 80s band known for their one hit Video Killed the Radio Star.

Oh-Kay…... What’s quite remarkable is this experiment actually works quite well. It really shouldn’t surprise anyone that a band like Yes was attempting to, in a sense, rebrand themselves. The early 1970s were definitely over, their old prog-rock style was definitely a dinosaur, and with fresh blood in the band, why not try to reinvent themselves? They keep just enough of the old mixed with quite a bit of new and produce a very good album.

Since new members Horn and Downes would leave after this album and tour were over, this album tends to be forgotten by many. Had this lineup stayed around awhile, they might have made a bit more of a significant stamp with the history of Yes. Since Jon Anderson would be back on the very next album (and remain for the next 25 years or so), there really was never much of a need or desire to replicate these songs as part of any concert set lists or anything. And of course, there were some purists who were less than thrilled. With a band like Yes, there would always be that core of fans that refuse to admit that 1972 had come and gone.

Anyway, this album is much harder than anything they’d done before. I’ve never actually heard guitarist Steve Howe shred as he does on this album. I could be mistaken, but I don’t think he ever touches anything resembling an acoustic instrument. Yet the band doesn’t lose their identity. Even with a much harder sound, they’re definitely the Yes that had existed for more than a decade. Trevor Horn is a very good replacement, but he doesn’t really sound much like Jon Anderson. This is always a bit of a dilemma when replacing a lead singer. Hard core musicians can tell the difference between a drummer, a bass player, a keyboardist, and/or a guitarist, but the multitude of fans really don’t notice much of a difference – until it comes to the singer. Horn definitely has a bit of a high voice, but he’s very far removed from Jon Anderson. I can’t help but be reminded of Sting when I hear Horn sing. Although I welcome him as a new singer, I can see where even I might be a tad upset seeing a live show where he tries to belt some of the band’s early seventies classics.

I can’t find anything at all on this record not to like. No, there’s nothing on here that can really pass as a hit single (although I think Into the Lens would have had a good shot if it had been edited down from its eight minute length), but the album is a much more refreshing listen than their last record, 1978’s Tormato. I can even hear what sounds like Pink Floyd influences oozing through the ten minute opener Machine Messiah. And as you may have heard, we can hear several bits of songs that sound as a precursor for the band Asia, which Howe and Downes would help create shortly after this record and tour.

Once Trevor Rabin joined the band as their guitarist on 1983’s 90125, the new incarnation would be known by the faithful as “YesWest”. I’m not sure why, but there was definitely key distinctions between the Rabin era lineup and anything Yes did during the bulk of the seventies. I would argue, though, that this record has a lot more in common with “YesWest” than the early Yes, so maybe such a distinction belongs to this album as well? Opinions will always differ, but they manage to incorporate a lot of necessary changes on this record while retaining a few of their trademarks.

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