With a significant lineup change – singer Jon Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman leaving the band and THE BUGGLES’ very own vocalist Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes joining the ranks – progressive rock act YES entered the 1980s with the release of “Drama.” This change made up for a renewed compositional approach, with an eye on modern elements in the sound, while at the same time fusing with their trademark 70s prog sound. On 18 August 2020, the album is celebrating its 40th anniversary, which is all the more reason to dive in to see what this album has to offer.
Starting off with one of YES’s heaviest riffs in their vast discography, “Machine Messiah” gives an excellent first impression with its doomy guitar riffs influenced by heavy metal. However, the heavy passage is immediately relieved with lighter melodies spreading more hope to the song, sounding more and more like traditional YES. Clocking in at over 10 minutes, YES does not hold back on the opening track, considering the intensity of all the layers combined, which ultimately makes “Machine Messiah” an excellent opener to get fueled into this adventure.
After all the intensity, “White Car” comes as a bit of a lighter intermezzo, where Trevor Horn shines as a vocalist. The song is less than 2 minutes in length but comes as the perfect predecessor for the bass-fueled “Does it Really Happen?” The track kicks off with a groovy bass line, which is the main element in the song, as all the other instruments and vocal harmonies are built around that idea. “Into the Lens” was originally written for THE BUGGLES for “I Am a Camera,” which is why the song is seemingly more poppy than the rest of the tracks and could explain its popularity, given it’s more accessible. It, however, works well within the context of the album, offering a lighter approach to their songwriting than the others, more intense tracks, and ultimately, it’s the one song where Trevor Horn sets himself apart from Jon Anderson as a vocalist.
Starting off with light mandolin strumming by Steve Howe, “Run Through the Light,” has a minimalistic character, as it starts off fairly simply but introduces more and more instruments to the mix throughout the song; any newly introduced element is never really foregrounded. Instead, they play around with different rhythms and make this song a great predecessor to the penultimate track of the album, “Tempus Fugit,” which is probably also the most trademark YES song on the album – a high-end funky and groovy jam with incredible bass melodies, organ chops, and altogether a lot of brilliant hooks.
Even though this album was rushed, it also has some of YES‘s more interesting songs to-date, like “Machine Messiah,” “Into the Lens,” and “Tempus Fugit,” all tracks which make this album a very distinctive YES album, making it no surprise the album has had many re-releases and tours. While “Drama” is probably a bit more accessible than earlier material, it still requires time to digest the new sound and approach fully – no surprise when you take the background of the new members into account. Lineup changes always impose a slight shift in a band’s sound; however, with “Drama,” YES managed to pertain their trademark sound while still including high vocals, beautiful symphonic arrangements, and abstract lyrics throughout the whole album. If this is your first time hearing about the band, “Drama” is definitely a good album on which to start your journey of listening to a band which such a rich discography as YES.
Written by Laureline Tilkin
- Machine Messiah
- White Car
- Does It Really Happen?
- Into the Lens
- Run Through the Light
- Tempus Fugit
Trevor Horn – Lead Vocals, Bass
Steve Howe – Guitars, Mandolin, Vocals
Geoff Downes – Keyboards, Vocals
Chris Squire – Bass, Piano, Vocals
Alan White – Drums, Percussion, Vocals