Following in the footsteps of the mighty Sean Tonar and magnificent James Turner, I want to continue the DRAMA.
DRAMA is one of the finest albums ever produced by Yes, and, by this claim, I certainly mean no disrespect to my heroes, Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman.
DRAMA is, however, exactly what the band needed and exactly what the prog world needed in 1980.
DRAMA fits into a very narrow category of prog rock. As such, it is, at least to my mind, one of a few exceptional New Wave Prog albums that appeared between 1980 and 1982. I would also include Rush’s MOVING PICTURES and SIGNALS; The Fixx’s REACH THE BEACH; and maybe a few others such as GHOST IN THE MACHINE by the Police.
For those of us who loved prog in the late 1970s, we feared that our beloved genre was getting crushed by punk. We had survived disco, but it didn’t look like we would survive punk.
And, of course, prog barely did survive. But, survive it did.
Enter New Wave. Though drawing many of the rhythms from punk, it took the expressionism of prog, especially in its keyboards, lyrical themes, and dense atmospheric sounds. From its beginning, New Wave seemed much more friendly to progressive rock–think Thomas Dolby, New Order (early), and even ABC–but each act trading the heavy and complicated guitar work of traditional prog with complicated keyboards, more in the Keith Emerson direction but without the excess.
Still, as an unanchored genre, New Wave might readily and easily go into a very poppy and corporate direction, which it often did. Compare, for example, the first two B52’s album with COSMIC THING from the late 80s. What had once been wonderfully quirky had become simple tapioca.
Only a few bands–Yes, Rush, Ultravox, and The Fixx–really grasped the via media of this brief but powerful subgenre, New Wave Prog.
Think about the flow of DRAMA. It begins with a bass that could have come–if a bit speeded up–directly from Pink Floyd’s THE WALL. After the gloriously romantic and abrasive “Machine Messiah,” Yes gives us a genius 1:21 glimpse into an image, fleeting and fleeing, “White Car.” Just enough to arouse our curiosity but not enough to satisfy our imagination, “White Car” is the equivalent of a 1940’s image of a diva, showing just enough leg to keep us interested, but not enough to make us content.
“White Car”‘s a tease, but a brilliant one.
Then, Squire’s bass and White’s drum roll kicks in for track three, the unusual and plucky “Does it Really Happen.” The first minute could be something that Phish would write in the early 90s. “That’s what you say.” The lyrics as well as the music provide the perfect end to side one.
“Time is the measure. . .”
And, not to be corny, but could it get any more dramatic (!) than the bass and keyboard interplay at the beginning of track four–the opening track to side two of the album, “Into the Lens.” Much like what Yes would do with “Changes” on 90125, the intro is something quite separate from the song itself, yet the two parts form a definite whole. “Memories, how they fade so fast. Look back, there is no escape. Tie it down. Now you see it too late.” “Into the Lens” is nothing if not bizarre and novel.
“I asked my love to give me shelter”—some of the finest and most intriguing lines in all of rock music. “And, all she offered me were dreams.” Track five, “Run Through the Light” is the sequel to “White Car,” but now the tease has become something a bit more permanent. We’ve caught the girl, but she’s not quite what we had imagined. Howe’s guitar screams frustration and anguish. Is there redemption? Maybe. If we run through the light, presumably a purgatorial one.
Then, to conclude it all, “Tempus Fugit,” a song of affirmation as well as destruction. Time flies, chronos devours. Whatever the fears about the satanic mills; the glimpses of the man in the white car; the uncertainty of heritages for our sons and daughters; the weight of memories; or the shelterless loves. . . . in the end, we run with the leopards.
Given its reggae jitteriness and its poppish pretensions, “Tempus Fugit” might have easily been a cringe-worthy disaster, a taste of pure cheese to prove every prog-hating punker right about the bloatedness of the music.
The conclusion to DRAMA, though, is quite the opposite. With its soaring bass and its staccato keyboards, “Tempus Fugit” transforms into a song of victory. “From the moment I see you . . .” The song is a cry to the world: “Yes is still here, and, by the way, so is prog.”
God bless two of the least understood and unsung greats of the prog world: Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. Talent and class, wrapped into one.
Yes, yes. . . .