Saturday, March 8, 2014

Significant Albums: Yes - Drama (1980)

File:Yes Drama.jpg

In the process of getting into Yes and their many records, it took a little while to check out the later 70's records, I think partially due to the way the "classic" period was so talked about and revered. And albums like Going for the One (1977) and Tormato (1978), while I came to enjoy some of, I never became as won over by as their earlier stuff like The Yes Album, Fragile and especially Relayer.

And I had heard the more recent Yes (90125 and parts of Big Generator and Talk) and more or less grew bored by them easily. So, I think that is why it took me a few more years to checkout Drama.

I recall Dream Theater played the intro to "Machine Messiah" on the 5 Years in a Livetime video from the footage/medley with Steve Howe at the Ronnie Scott Jazz Club in 1995. But for some reason, I never investigated that original song or the album it came from until finally checking this album out like 4 or 5 years later.

But when I finally did, I was almost shocked and blown away by a few things;.

1) how heavy it was at times. I'm referring to Machine Messiah's riff mostly.

2) the style and tempos and production seemed to sound more modern. Now mind you, I 1st heard it from a Remastered version that was released sometime in the 90's, which probably helped give the modern or improved production from hearing those other post-classic Yes period records.

3) hearing both Geoff Downes and especially Trevor Horn, sort of reinvented Yes's sound a bit, but not as dramatically from the later 80's Trevor Rabin Yes sound.

I really got won over by Trevor Horn's voice. He was like Jon Anderson in some ways and the vocals were like the Jon Anderson's in some ways. Higher pitched, chanting, spiritual, rhyming at times for the way it sounded. And while he was still not sounding identical to Jon Anderson, I found his style fit with what Steve Howe and Chris Squire were writing musically.

I also sort of heard the music from Drama being technical, heavy at points too, as sort of proto-Prog Metal in some ways, which go figure for someone who loved Dream Theater, to get into a slightly new kind of music from Yes sounding heavy.

But, I suppose Drama includes a lot of music that isn't sounding like Prog Metal at the same time. Songs like "White Car" or "Run Through the Light" were more mid tempo and textured. Including some of the Buggles? elements of using voice effects or vocoders.

"Does it Really Happen?" is a more uptempo piece that probably gets overlooked more than it should. It's sort of dancey in some ways, or even a song you could work out to. A bit like mathrock, or how some math-rock sounds in some ways. Maybe it was influenced by that period of King Crimson? Alan White even uses some what sounds like eastern percussion.

After about the 5 minute mark, there's a quiet refrain and the bring back the basic melody.

But I would say Drama's greatest parts are on 3 tracks especially.

"Machine Messiah" and it's driving riff, movements from heavy to majestic. The way vocals and guitars layered together and gradually build I just love. I even don't mind how Trevor sings this line

Machine, Messiah 
The mindless
 Search for a higher 
Take me to the fire

rhyming "Messiah" with "Higher" and "Fire"

It's one of those songs that the production and layers of vocals and guitar and keys come in gradually, that they end up all complementing each other. And it also is a very strong ear worm, as I will have the melody and parts of verses in my head for hours.

But as much as I loved that multi-part opening track, I came to love "Into the Lens" even more. The way that songs builds and the energy is breathtaking. I was doing my data entry work while listening to this album, and that song alone totally got my work production up a ton. So much so, sometimes I would hit repeat on it.

The flaring fast vocals and Howe's arpeggio runs just blaze through this song like it's white on rice, lol.
The whole "I am, I am..a ca-merrr-ahh!" while lyrically seems silly, the way it sounds with the drumming and momentum at times totally work.

I mean I guess the 1st couple of verses of "Into the Lens" sound almost like The Buggles or some other 80's song, but that song's crescendo is unbelievable. And the more I listened to it and this record, the more I always looked forward to that part.

That climax section

Here, by the waterside
There, where the lens is wide 
You and me 
By the sea 
Taken in tranquility

I almost get like a realization (for lack of a better word) about not only that song and their music, but something else. Like something from a movie, or one of these moments something hits you like a ton of bricks about learning something you never knew or discovering something that fascinates you.

I love this record, but I marvel at that song, and maybe because I would not have expected to be so blown away by it. It sounds more like a standard 80's pop song texturally at the beginning, but after listening to it 5 or more times, I totally saw/heard it in a completely different way.

But beyond the amazement of "Into the Lens," the track "Tempus Fugit" became the 3rd most go-to track on Drama. I recall knowing that song before hearing this album, I think from a Yes tribute album and possibly a compilation I had. But I hadn't really listened to it closely. Like "Into the Lens," it features in the 1st couple of verses, those fast-ly sang vocals that still in rhythm, fit the tempo and pattern of the song.

Then the chorus comes in

In the north sky time flies faster than morning 
The cold of the dawn it meant nothing to us 
You were keeping your best situation
 An answer to Yes 

 (Yes, Yes) And the moment I see you
 (Yes, Yes) It's so good to be near you
 (Yes, Yes) And the feeling you give me
 (Yes, Yes) Makes me want to be with you
 (Yes, Yes) If we wait for an answer
 (Yes, Yes) Will the silence be broken
 (Yes, Yes) Should we wait for an answer
 (Yes, Yes) Do we leave it unspoken

The way Steve Howe's guitar runs lead up to the slower tempo chorus, and then echoing chorus which includes some of the best keyboard layers contributing from Geoff Downes adds a lot to take-in from this song, and part of 'Tempus Fugit."

It's really an uplifting song and melody. Even just using the repeated "Yes!" I always thought was ironic or odd as I don't recall many if any lyrics previously, where the band mentioned their name, especially with a name with a word so commonly used.

I also sort of hear a romantic message in the lyrics, even though Yes's lyrics don't go as far with me as say Genesis or some other bands.

I kind of wonder if they had the repeated phrase of "Yes" to sort of reintroduce themselves in lyric and song, given Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman were not with them at that point.

Summarizing though, this record I listened to a ton about 10 years ago, and I think the biggest reason was how well the flow and energy of it was. "White Car" I think is brilliant, but a little too short. And I came to feel the album was so good, I wanted more after it finished, which is why I almost always would listen to the demos and bonus tracks on the remaster I had. The "Run Through the Light" with the vocoder comes to mind as a favorite, among them. I loved the vibe of the way so much of this album sounded, I really found I couldn't get enough of it.

So much so, I came to feel it was my favorite Yes record only to Relayer. I know a lot of fans don't agree, even that enjoy this album. I just found it was Yes in a new way, with a fresh start in some ways, that happened to be at a point of transition. Perhaps after Tormato was a transition, Drama ended up refining some of the new ideas they tried on Tormato but didn't work. And I say that, not so much given Jon Anderson wasn't singing, but I think from a SONGWRITING standpoint.

I suppose some of demos help, but I have often wondered how Jon Anderson would have sounded on many of these songs. I know it's kind of a question he poo-poos, save for maybe playing "Tempus Fugit" live once in a blue moon.

The Fly From Here situation, I'm not sure so much, although it was a demo that the band had from that period. And I like some of it, but didn't fully fall in love with it, despite the Drama-elements to it. Maybe it was the lack of Trevor (although I recall he produced it), or something else.

I suppose it speaks to timing and Yes made Drama then and only in 1979 and 1980 could have this or any other music with their lineup then, turned out this good. Maybe sad, but true. Regardless, this remains a favorite Yes record of mine and one of those records I likely will always love. If I need a go-to Yes record, for an uplifting or energetic feeling, Drama is at the top of my list.