The Meat Challenge: Listen to an album we’ve never heard before, and write about it while listening for the first time on headphones. I was given Drama by Yes.
Because context is always important, a quick glance at Wikipedia tells us that Drama the first Yes album “to feature Trevor Horn as lead vocalist, as well as keyboardist Geoff Downes. This followed the departures of Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman after numerous attempts to record a new album…Drama was recorded hurriedly, because a tour had already been booked before the change in personnel.”
Heavy-footed “Machine Messiah” begins like a metal epic, with a dense, galvanizing guitar riff, and then goes through multiple lighter sections of acoustics and keyboards. Regal and bouncy, “Machine Messiah” is uplifting despite (and because of) its complexity. Clouds form about halfway through the song, darkening the landscape, but that guitar returns for second round. Tricky bits are three-dimensional, snakelike and winding, but satisfying. An enticing start!
After a 10 minute opener, you’re fairly warmed up for anything, but “White Car” is surprising nonetheless for its lushness and brevity. It sounds like there should be more, but then Chris Squire brings the bass of “Does it Really Happen”, reminding me that he’s truly one of the all time greatest four-stringers in history. His fingers gallop. What a crisp, tight bass sound. Hard to describe this track — it moves, and it’s full, but not immediate. Builds nicely up with organ, vocal layers and guitar chords though. I dig the bass licks right after the false ending. Chris Squire was the man!
Drama‘s second side starts with “Into the Lens”, and another bass pulse by Chris Squire. Bouncing from section to section, it’s hard to pin this song down to one style. It’s easy to say it’s great though. It’s a big song, always interesting and going someplace. From the camera lens, we “Run Through the Light”, opening with gentle acoustic picking and elegant singing. Then the electric guitar and keyboards lay down the hooks. This is my favourite song so far. Trevor Horn’s vocals are enticingly catchy with a Police-like chorus, but then there’s a squirrely and cool Steve Howe guitar solo.
We end the set on “Tempus Fugit”, the only track I was previously familiar with. Like a space race with time, this song goes into hyperspace with engines powered by Chris Squire. In a flurry, the album is over. Drama.
That wasn’t a bad first listen.