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Yes: Drama - Album Of The Week Club review

Yes become Yeggles on Drama, bringing in two pop interlopers from Buggles to shine a light on the path towards gleaming chart success

Yes - Drama
(Image: © Atlantic Records)
Yes - Drama

(Image credit: Atlantic Records)

Machine Messiah
White Car
Does It Really Happen?
Into the Lens
Run Through the Light
Tempus Fugit

Many Yes fans gave their grudging approval to 1980’s highly consistent Drama, even though the introduction to the lineup of Buggles hitmakers Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes caused consternation in such a tribalistic era. 

“Obviously when we first joined Yes there was a huge outcry from the diehard Yes fans," Downes told us. "The idea of a couple of interlopers from the pop world suddenly stepping into this revered band. But in hindsight, both myself and Trevor were musicians, not pop guys. We were very much into Yes and progressive music. It’s just that our opportunity came to make pop music and we took it.”

“It was full of dramas, engineer Hugh Padgam said. "There was so much tension around. I’d done a Buggles session, and it was Trevor Horn who roped me into the Yes camp to help out. Eddy Offord [who produced the album with the band] was mad, but a genius. I got on well with Steve Howe and Alan White. But it was not easy!”

It wasn't. By the following year Yes had cracked and splintered. Geoff Downes and Steve Howe became founding members of Asia and enjoyed huge success in their own right. Vocalist Trevor Horn was on an upward trajectory as a producer. And that left bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White trying to figure out what do do next. They succeeded – and how! – but that's another story

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in August 1980

  • Kaleidoscope - Siouxsie & the Banshees
  • Crimes of Passion - Pat Benatar
  • Alibi - America
  • Panorama - The Cars
  • The Michael Schenker Group - The Michael Schenker Group
  • No More Dirty Deals - Johnny Van Zant
  • Wild Cat - Tygers of Pan Tang
  • A - Jethro Tull
  • Doc at the Radar Station - Captain Beefheart
  • Neutronica - Donovan
  • One-Trick Pony - Paul Simon
  • Reach for the Sky - The Allman Brothers Band
  • Stand Up and Fight - Quartz
  • The Swing of Delight - Carlos Santana
  • Xanadu - Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra

What they said...

"Drama exceeded all expectations and doesn’t become on a true drama. Drama is the best studio album without one of their classic lines up. Drama has the different but beautiful voice of Horn and the new keyboard sound of Downes. Both brought a new sound to Yes. Besides, Howe, Squire and White demonstrated that Yes could survive without Anderson. They turned Drama in an essential work and in one of the best prog albums of the 80s." (Sputnik Music)

"A newly emboldened Chris Squire lays down aggressive rhythms with Alan White, and Steve Howe eschews his usual acoustic rags and flamenco licks for a more metallic approach, opting for sheets of electric sound. Prime cuts include the doom-laden Machine Messiah and the manic ska inflections of Tempus Fugit. (AllMusic)

"Why this album was panned in 1980, I'll never know. The music was exciting, the playing was spot on, and it did still have some prog elements. Trevor Horn does not sound that different from Jon Anderson. Why was Genesis able to continue (and get more popular) after the loss of their original singer? Sure, there were pop elements mixed in with the progressive stuff but back in 1980, this was unique and exciting." (Music Street Journal

What you said...

Nigel Lancashire: When the Buggles boys (who contrary to popular belief, aren’t three dog-faced crooks constantly trying to rob Scrooge McDuck) were drafted in to replace Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman, rather than being appalled, I was intrigued. Having previously been a Yes tolerator rather than a fan may have had something to do with this, but I was quite fascinated how the very synthetic, glossy pop sounds the chart-topping Buggles were pedalling would sit next to the epitome of non-commercial Yes’ more natural, rambling 1970s approach.

It being 1980s England though, I certainly wasn’t going to get to hear this record on the radio, and my few Yes-loving friends had all outright refused to buy this sacrilege. Fortunately (or not) the release date was around my 17th birthday and two mates offered me the choice of the new Yes or Tygers of Pan Tang. I chose... the Tygers.

Unsurprisingly, my friends being dicks, I got Yes.

Imagine my surprise when the new record wasn’t anywhere near the unlistenable tosh that Tormato was, or the overblown rambling of... every other Yes record ( I have somewhat softened in my feelings about Yes in subsequent years, don’t hate me). 

Not having to listen to Anderson’s weird East Lancs rolled ‘r’ pronunciation was a blessing for a start, but what was a real shock was how much I liked this new version of Yes’s brevity. It was like they’d stopped reading Thomas Hardy and suddenly got into Raymond Chandler. Short, punchy songs. Dynamic guitar. Sparkling production. Holy Hammond organ Batman, listen to those keyboards - it is a new decade!

Of course, it couldn’t last. A disastrous tour (whether it was Trevor Horn’s lack of range, confidence and charisma or a hostile Yes audience is a debate to be had, I’m guessing) and it was over. Horn contributed production, songwriting and even chart success to the next version of Yes, Downes went on to co-create Asia and John "Bluto" Blutarsky married Mandy Pepperidge and became a US senator.

Drama remains the only Yes album I’ve ever loved.

Mike Knoop: I didn't listen to this album until twenty years after it was released, so all the *ahem* drama regarding personnel changes was long over. Heck, I didn't even know who the Buggles were until MTV used Video Killed the Radio Star as its call to action a couple of years after the song came out.

Listening to Drama now, it sounds like what a lot of prog bands (Rush, Genesis, the Moody Blues come to mind) were doing at the time; mainly, incorporating more new wave and pop elements into their music to stay relevant in the increasingly flashy and commercial 1980s.

The epic (Machine Messiah) is still there but it has a very sleek and metallic sound. Not sure what to make of Man in a White Car, with its Wire-like song length, except to wish it were longer and to think that it makes perfect sense that Trevor Horn went into music production full-time (Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Welcome to the Pleasuredome being my favourite). 

Then come three pop whoppers in a row, reminding me more than anything of the Police (which is fine by me) both in Sting-like vocal delivery and Andy Sumners-like guitar playing. Run Through The Light is my favourite of the three, but Into the Lens is nipping at its heels. Original closer Tempus Fugit sounds the most like traditional Yes to me and it's terrific, one of these weaving galloping tunes they can apparently knock out in any incarnation.

Drama is an enjoyable album. And although it was derided at the time, it ultimately helped the individual band members reach greater commercial success (90125, Asia, scads of Horn-produced records). Apparently, they just weren't meant to do it together.

John Edgar: This one came as quite a surprise when first released. I was completely unaware that changes had taken place in the band, yet being a fan of Yes, I bought it right away when it was released. This was definitely a 'different' sound for the band, but it was still unmistakably Yes. After all these years it falls into a category of being one of my top three favourite Yes albums.

Chris Burkill: I struggled with Yes until this album. I found it much more accessible. I still enjoy listening to it, and even after trying all the others, it's still the Yes album I turn to. Yes weren't for me, but this, for me, is a beaut. Ain't music ace?

Graham Tarry: Love this album. Got it when it came out 40 years ago, and it doesn’t disappoint. Temps Fugit rocks! Check out the original Buggles version of I Am A Camera.

Mike Hayes: I really like this album! Machine Messiah rocks hard, and Tempus Fugit is one of my favourite Yes songs. It is an interesting “transitional” album—pointing the way to both Asia and (IMHO) the much better Yes of 90125.

Scott Spalding: I love this album! I'm shocked I've never heard the expression Yeggles before. It's quite funny and clever, and not an insult at all. In the great spectrum of Yes-sy stuff, it's an outlier, but it adds a lot to the overall tapestry of all things Yes, or am I mixing metaphors?

Iain Macaulay: In the interests of a having a balanced set of comments here. I have to say I’ve never liked Yes. But, I listened to this album all the same, as I do all the albums here, just to see. Because you never know. I may be converted.

But, yes, you’re right, it didn’t happen. I still don’t like Yes. Tempis Fugit was great, I’ll give you that, but the rest, as they say up here in Scotland, was ‘keech.’ And before anyone goes on about the musical prowess and technicality of the arrangements, which is in no doubt, I would much rather listen to Weather Report, John McLaughlin and Zappa before I listen to Yes again. Sorry guys, not a classic to me.

Carl Black: My automatic default setting is Rush when it comes to prog. I do like prog but Rush are the only band I'm really passionate about. Yes are always mentioned. I've reviewed a Yes record before for this club, and I found it a bit over elaborate.

But this album hits a nice sweet Spot. Machine Messiah has an opening riff that Black Sabbath would be proud of. They skip between commercial and rock and you're never far from either. I prefer it when Yes go long and the lengthier songs are the highlights here. A bit of Police influence (Sting has got a lot to answer for) on some of the shorter songs, I get the feeling they always had an eye on the charts. Elaborate as it is complex, commercial as it is heavy. I'm not a connoisseur of Prog or indeed Yes, but as a stand alone album, it stands up

Adam Ranger: Not heard this for so long. Not at all sure that the "Yeggles" tag is  fair: this is definitely a Yes Album. Sounds quite dated in aces, definitely has that 80s feel to it, but not at all as bad as I remember it.

Some tracks are reminiscent of what Rush were to become in the mid 80s. That's either good or bad depending on your view if that period of Rush. But the classic Yes feel is still there. Machine Messiah is the standout track for me.

Pontus Norshammar: I love this albums. It’s far heavier than other Yes albums. Machine Messiah, Into The Lens, Does It Really Happen and Tempus Fugit are all faves in my Yes book. 9/10

John Davidson: After the relatively disappointing Tormato, it wasn’t a surprise to discover that Rick Wakeman had once again left the band, but the absence of their iconic singer Jon Anderson was surely going to shake things up.

Enter, The Buggles. hot off their successful hit pop single and with a modern synth pop sensibility they did not seem like a natural match for the ethereal, jazzy musical ponderings of Yes.

In the absence of Wakeman, and with Downes providing a more simple keyboard/synth sound, Howe and Squire dominate the music. Howe provides some of the heaviest guitar parts of his career and Squire romps across the mix with a frenzy of loping bass runs.

Trevor Horn could never match the ethereal tones of Jon Anderson, but he did bring a pop sensibility that Yes had lost along the way.

The end result is still very much a Yes album (much more recognisably so than the AOR of 90125) and while the production has some of that 80s sound, it is closer in spirit to the longform pop rock of their early albums than the bloated indulgence of Tales.....

Listening to the album today it still works pretty well. Tempus Fugit is the standout track, but Machine Messiah and Does It Really Happen are better than I remember. Once the very proggy intro is done, Into the Lens is closer to pure pop but it least it’s good pop, embellished occasionally by Steve Howe and Chris Squire.

And that's what Yes were at their best (as on most of Going for the One): Melodic, catchy, pop songs with bells on.

The line up only produced one album (until the recent Fly From Here: Return Trip) - after which Howe and Downes left to perform AOR as Asia, while Jon Anderson returned (alongside Tony Kaye on keyboards), joined by Trevor Rabin, to produce a full on AOR Yes album in 90125.

So there is an argument that Drama is the last ‘proper’ prog album from Yes. And if so it's not a bad one to draw a line under. Decent songs, played well and with more guitar than normal. It's classic rock. 7/10.

Shane Reho: Is this album underrated or what? When you listen to the sound on this album, it's practically a bridge between their early epics and the pop to follow. Take the classic Yes sound, and update it for the new wave era, this is what you get. And damn is it good. 

Machine Messiah holds its own in the realm of Yes epics, with the most guitar dominance on one since Yours Is No Disgrace. White Car isn't much of anything, but it doesn't hurt anything either. Does It Really Happen may be the hidden gem on an album full of them, probably the album's defining track. Into the Lens probably could've been a little shorter, but it works. Run Through the Light hardly sounds like Yes, but it's good. Tempus Fugit rounds up almost everything heard on the album, all in 5 minutes, which was almost unheard of on a Yes album. 

I wouldn't rank this album up with masterworks like The Yes Album, Fragile, Close To The Edge and Going For The One, but it's worth giving listens to every now and then. Would be more interesting if this lineup had stuck together, who knows what could've happened. 

I'm amazed that this album is more controversial than 90125 though, you'd figure prog purists would have had more issues with that? Or maybe this primed them for it. Also need to give a shout out to the always great Roger Dean's cover art. 8/10.

Jonathan Novajosky: I love Yes and think Close To The Edge is a masterpiece, but even I can admit they were starting to lose some of their magic in the late 70s. Listening to all those heavy prog albums in a row can be a little exhausting. It was time for a new sound, and Drama delivers. Whether that is for the better or worse depends on your view, but I think this is mostly a good album. One thing that really stands out to me here (and in 90125) is how great the production is. It's so clear and completely avoids sound outdated or "80s overload."

But now to the actual songs. I think Drama suffers a little bit from being a part of the odd transition period into a new sound. It's still a good balance between the new direction and their old days of prog, but I think it still feels a little lost in direction. Machine Messiah starts out heavy and impresses me... at first. I grow weary of it halfway through. Maybe the more accessible sound of the band tricks me into thinking Drama doesn't need a ten minute epic. Man In A White Car is a nice little interlude, but there really isn't much to be said about it. Who is this man? Oh well.

Does It Really Happen is my favourite. The bassline is so killer and groovy when matched with that catchy synth melody. I think Trevor Horn sounds great here, and it's the first time throughout Drama where I don't ever think of Jon Anderson. I get that the band didn't want to just completely abandon their prog roots so quickly, but this album really shines when it just tries to be a solid rock album. This song really proves that to me. Unfortunately, the following track, Into The Lens is really quite bad. It's actually pretty irritating – the lyrics in particular are so bland. Run Through The Light isn't much better. Tempus Fugit is a pretty good rocker with nice guitar riffs and synths.

Perhaps the best compliment I can give Drama is that it's a breath of fresh air. Even if all of the songs are not too great, I still think it's a successful album. When things are kept simple, such as in Does It Really Happen, it really works. Yes would eventually follow Drama with 90125, which I think is one of the most underrated albums ever and certainly a better collection of songs than this one. But, for the time, Drama took big risks, and I can appreciate that. 7.5/10.

Bill Griffin: Excellent album. It was well after this one (around the time of Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe) that I begin having issues with Yes albums. This one is as good as any of them up to that point to my ear.

Billy Master: At the time of release, I was very much in the "No Anderson, No Yes" camp, and refused to even listen to it. Despite this, a friend coerced me into going to see them live, which I did. They were awful. Trevor Horn's unease was palpable.

That was that for 20 years. Then after the farce of the 80s years, I gave it a try and realised what a dick I had been. This was Yes reinvented but still sounding like Yes. The sound of a band with something to prove and they accomplished this with ease. An easy 10/10.

Ian Kingston: The last great Yes album. Like everyone else, I remember the shock when it was announced that Horn and Downes (Buggles!) were replacing Anderson and Wakeman, but the change really worked. Chris Squire and Steve Howe upped their game in response to the new arrivals and the whole album sounded fresh (and still does). Absolutely brilliant.

Marco LG: I like Drama a lot, it’s an album I have been familiar with for many years now. Yet two things struck me this week for maybe the first time: the first is how much it was influenced by the new wave and The Police in particular, the second is how much simpler it sounds compared with the previous albums. I noticed the latter after listening to the live album Yesshows, which was released after Drama but recorded on previous tours, before the lineup changes. 

On Yesshows, the old joke about a prog band releasing 20 minutes songs so that each member could have his solo moment, seems to come alive – albeit in a good way. Maybe that is evidence that a change in a simpler direction was needed, but what's striking is how perfectly balanced Drama is between the simplicity of pop and the refinement of prog.

The general acknowledgment is that Yes became a pop band with 90125, but Drama is really where the transformation started, with much better results in my opinion. As noted elsewhere Steve Howe and Geoff Downes would later go on to form Asia, and although all of the songs on that incredible debut album were cowritten by a John Wetton in the form of his life, one can appreciate the seed for the development of that type of sound already in Drama. And honestly, my mind has been wondering a lot this week on what could have been if only this album sold a bit better and this lineup continued to release another album.

Especially because the guitar work of Steve Howe on Drama is so majestic it makes me forget (and forgive in fact) all the keyboard sounds that didn’t age well and the early synthesiser effects which were about to become so prominent in 90125. Keyboards became an easy picking to direct blame at for all the bad music produced in the 80s, but it is a fact their introduction and evolution led to a lot of those sounds ageing very badly very quickly. Thank goodness for people like John Sinclair!

In conclusion, Drama is a transition album for both Yes and prog rock in general. It displays a lot of the same influences and aspirations of other great prog albums released at the time, and contains some of the best guitar and bass lines Steve Howe and Chris Squire ever recorded. It’s not perfect, but it will get a 9/10 from me.

Final Score: 7.02⁄10 (122 votes cast, with a total score of 857)

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