Review Summary: Drama is a fanstastic example of prog-rock, and although it has a few flaws, it is definitely worth a listen.
In 1980, Yes released the album Drama. Relatively speaking, this would stand out as one of Yes' strangest, for it lacked Jon Anderson, singer and one of the band's co-founders. Anderson, along with keyboardist Rick Wakeman, had become disillusioned with the music planned for the follow-up album to the 1978 album Tormato, and so decided to quit the band. The remaining members of Yes - Chris Squire, bass; Steve Howe, guitar; and Alan White, drums - decided to continue on, rehearsing as a three piece while they decided on their next move. Eventually the duo known as the Buggles - Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn - would, due to sharing management with Yes, were brought in to complete the line-up.
While this album is often over-looked by Yes fans, it is actually a very strong, cohesive album. Howe and Squire especially are fired up, as if they had something to prove is light of Anderson's departure. Or perhaps their playing became tighter from working as a power trio. In any case, this album showcases some of Howe's best playing ever, and Squire, of course, is upfront and aggressive as usual while White keeps things rooted as he locks in perfectly with Squire. Even Downes and Horn, though not quite of the same calibre as the others, hold their own. The result is an album as intensive and powerful as it is focused. Moreover, the band demonstrates that, whatever each member’s skill level, everyone knows how to act as an ensemble, without hogging the spotlight or stepping on another member’s part. It does however become apparent that Squire, Howe, and White are the dominant members.
There are few negative things to say about this album. Sure, Downes' keyboard work isn't quite on par with Squire and Howe, being more akin to Tony Kaye than to Rick Wakeman, but even if his parts aren't quite so upfront in the band at least he has a good ear for what works and what doesn't (a feature that the more skilled Wakeman hasn't always demonstrated). Horn, too, does well enough. The biggest problem with this album is the fact that it has the label "Yes" on the cover. Fans see the band name, and so expect a certain end product. With the absence of Anderson especially, it is hard to think of Drama as being a "real" Yes album, its finer qualities notwithstanding.
The album contains the following tracks:
"Machine Messiah" (10:27) This song begins with a great three-note intro that repeats and builds into one of the heaviest riffs in Yes history. This song displays great development and ranges from moments of darkness to moments of light. This song is exceptional; unlike some prog, there are no wasted seconds here. However, it becomes apparent that this song is pretty well dominated by Squire, Howe, and White.
"White Car" (1:21) The only weak song on the album, which isn't surprising since it’s basically a Downes-Horn spotlight, with little to no involvement from the rest of the band. This piece is enjoyable, but seems undeveloped and pointless in contrast with the rest of the songs on the album.
"Does It Really Happen?" (6:35) A powerful rock song, and in contrast to the previous songs on the album, this one seems to successfully merge the best abilities of all members. The only unfortunate thing about this song is the false ending just past the five minute mark, after which follows a bass solo under the main theme. A fine touch, but it doesn't really add anything to the song, and the fade-out definitely weakens the power and drive of the song.
"Into the Lens" (8:32) This is another great track, and one that uses overlapping parts to great effect. After the intro, the song establishes a sentimental mood before taking a darker turn. The song is instrumentally very strong - again, everyone in the band is working together to create eight and half minutes of cohesive, well-developed music - but there is a flaw in the lyrical aspect; while there are enough musical ideas to sustain the track's length, the same can't be said for lyrical ideas.
"Run Through the Light" (4:42) Another rocker in the manner of "Does It Really Happen?". Interestingly, Squire decided to sit down at the piano and hand over bass duties to singer Horn. While Horn proves that he knows his way around the instrument, his playing lacks the characteristics of Squire's playing, and since Squire's bass has always been an important element of the Yes sound, Horn's playing make this song sound less like Yes. Moreover, Horn and White aren't quite as locked in as Squire and White are, which detracts from the song a little.
"Tempus Fugit" (5:21) With its high energy, drive, and power, this song is a great choice to end the album. Again, this track showcases the talents of Howe and Squire. Howe demonstrates his talented ear as he throws in some upbeat accents over Squire's sinewy line. Downes kind of takes a back seat in this one, though, and maybe if he'd been a little more aggressive he could have added another dimension to this song.
Overall, this album is fantastic; I remember being excited as I listened to it for the first time. I can't rate it higher than a 4.5 though as there are some flaws. First, Downes and Horn don't match the rest of the band in terms of ability, Downes because he's often not aggressive enough and so fades into the background, and Horn because his voice seems to lack the range and versatility generally associated with Yes. Second, the absence of Anderson calls into question the wisdom of labelling the album under the Yes banner. Third, some questionable decisions - the song "White Car", the false ending of "Does It Really Happen?", and Horn's bass playing on "Run Through the Light" - prevent this album from being perfect from beginning to end. However, overall, this album is truly worth picking up.