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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Saga

Worlds Apart Revisited

Review by Gary Hill

If the only track you've ever heard by Saga is “On The Loose” you probably don't realize that they are really a prog band. Certainly they lean often times toward more mainstream pop rock, but there is plenty of real prog in the mix. These guys have been doing what they do for a very long time. As you might imagine, that means they do it very well. The magic of Saga live has been captured in this 2 CD set (available in a couple different configurations – including DVD). It's a great listening experience. One of the things that really makes this show special is that they included as the centerpiece of the show a beginning to end presentation of their most popular disc Worlds Apart – hence the title. This is a great release and will serve either an excellent introduction to this legendary band or a “must have” addition to your collection.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
The Pitchman
Keys rise gradually amidst the sounds of the crowd. After a time a crunchy guitar riff leads off into the main riff of the song and keyboards weave around this backdrop. The vocals enter and we're off. This is a hard-edged, high energy prog rock tune that's accessible, but meaty. A cool instrumental break is filled with a smoking guitar solo. We also get a screaming keyboard solo later in the track. This turns noisy as that winds its way through. Then there is a short respite before the band launch into a series of frantic riffing followed by brief stops. This gives way to the next segment of the song with the addition of an almost funky bass. The instrumental journey that this becomes is simply killer.
Give 'Em The Money
The keyboard sound that kicks this off (and serves to accompany the early vocals) reminds me a lot Alan Parsons Project. This is bouncy and quite cool with soaring vocals stealing the show. While this track is a little less prog than the opener, it still has it's moments. The percussion on this one is particularly interesting. A lot of the track has a major crunch. They do manage to weave some nice keyboard soloing into this mix, and it brings with a high degree of drama and power.
You're Not Alone
A crunchy guitar leads off the festivities on this number. A short burst of prog keys serves to complete the intro. As this number works its way through we're treated to both a catchy song and some killer instrumental work. One part in particular that should be mentioned is the killer ELP-like jam in the middle of the song and the powerhouse guitar segment that comes out of that. This one is quite a diverse track, while still maintaining a consistent texture. It's one of my favorites on the set as it showcases the best parts of Saga – killer songwriting, great vocals and stellar instrumental work. They include a crowd singalong segment, with a rather extended period of Michael Sadler explaining the way it's to be done to the crowd. While I'm sure this part was cool at the show, it loses something (like all of these do) in the live recording setting. The thing is, this track is so incredible that that doesn't really detract from it enough to worry about.
See Them Smile
Starting with some bouncing keyboards, this powers out into another strong jam from there, dropping down to a more stripped down arrangement for the verse. While this song is solid – and has a great neo-classical segment in the middle of it – it doesn't really hold up to some of the other material on show here.
The Runaway
Once again, keys are the first thing heard. This extremely brief introduction gives way to a screaming riff that is one of the tastiest on show. This serves as the backdrop for the bulk of the cut. They move through several minor changes and then eventually launch out into a great, almost fusion-like instrumental journey as the centerpiece to this one. This is crunchy, but packed with enough progressive rock explorations to avoid the heavy metal label (but not by much).
Ice Nice
A total change of pace, this is based on a bouncy, jazz-oriented piano part. It's a cool, balladic track that serves as a great way to change things up. This gets quite lush, but doesn't change too much until around the three minute mark. Then it powers out into a rather funky mode over which the keys solo in swirling lines of tasty sound. Not content to sit out this fun, guitar joins and the instruments joyously scream out their passions together from there. This becomes of the stronger instrumental segments on show here. In fact, I'd have to say that this is one of my favorite tracks in the set.
On The Loose
Well, if you've only heard one song by Saga, this is it. It's the first track from the whole Worlds Apart end to end section of the show. This is crunchy and powerful with a great groove. It's high energy and very catchy, but yet has a lot of meat on its bones. I love the instrumental break in the center and the way it plays with the song's themes in new ways. The extended jam later is nice, too.
Wind Him Up
A more keyboard based track, this has always been another favorite of mine from the band. It has a bit of a new wave edge and is another that's quite catchy. Still, the guitar screams out with metallic fury at times, not wanting to be forgotten. This has some great textures and overlayers and works really well in this live format. The cool sedate segment in the center of the number and the jam that comes out of it works quite well to create drama and variety, too. After that extended instrumental break they move out into a restatement of the song's main themes with the vocals becoming extremely evocative. The keyboard section that follows is extremely tasty, too. This is really one of my favorites on the set. That's why I just can't say enough about it. This is another that really showcases just what an incredible band Saga is.
Amnesia
A taped spoken loop starts this off. Then the band launch into the tasty prog rock groove from there. There are moments here where it reminds me a bit of some of the mellower parts of Queensryche's Operation Mindcrime album, but mostly in terms of the vocal delivery. The chorus is in a quirky, new wave sort of style. This track isn't one of my favorites, but it definitely has its merits.
Framed
Here we get another slab of proggy hard rock. This one has a lot of twists and turns and some incredible instrumental explorations. It is really one of the highlights of the disc and it seems that every member of the band gets at least a couple spots to surely shine.




Disc 2
Time's Up
Keys lead this off in gentle, yet energetic ways. The general techno/new wave theme of this track feels a bit dated in the current age. While overall this song doesn't stand as tall as some of the other material here, the cool keyboard solo later is a nice touch. This is bouncy, but a little lackluster and strikes me more as a mood piece than anything else.
The Interview
Now, this is entirely different. The keyboard sound that leads this off is rather in the mode of Pink Floyd and feels mysterious. As the vocal segment enters it's powerful and evocative and the band just build it up from there. They move this out later into a powerhouse crunchy jam. While not one of the proggier moments on show here, the general tone, along with a great vocal delivery and one stellar instrumental segment that segues into the next track serve to make this one of the stronger cuts on the set.
No Regrets
This is a very pretty and dramatic keyboard based ballad. It never really moves far beyond its roots. Instead the group simply add layers and energy to the piece to turn it into a killer emotional piece of music. This one works really well.
Conversations
Appropriately loops of conversations (sounding like a recording from a restaurant) start off this track. They power this out into another tasty piece of their brand of progressive rock. There are some great changes and twists and turns in the arrangement here. There is also some extremely tasty instrumental work woven into the structure. This instrumental soars and is another highlight of the disc, seeming to me to combine sounds like Rush and Genesis into one killer piece of music.
No Stranger
Ambient sounds start here and dramatic keys rise up gradually from there. Those keys take the track until they power it out into another high energy jam. This is punchy and catchy. It has a meaty riff and works pretty well. They add in some great melodic prog later to complete the picture. This track also completes the Worlds Apart album.
Scratching the Surface
A pretty keyboard ballad approach makes up this track. I hear it as part Elton John, part Queen and part Rick Wakeman. This song doesn't wander far from its roots, but rather takes it power and energy from intensifying the general themes. There is some distinctly intricate and classically oriented piano work on this tune.
Keep It Reel
A quick sound bite is replaced by a frantic, crunchy guitar. The group swirl this around for a time, then launch into a seriously metallic riff for the main crux of the track. The track takes on a dramatic and dark texture. This is one of the hardest rocking pieces of music here. They manage to turn it out into more melodic music for the part of the chorus. The instrumental break, while featuring some great keyboard elements is pretty much rooted in prog metal.
We've Been Here Before
The keyboard dominated early modes of this cut call to mind Marillion quite a bit. They launch out into some serious crunch from there before settling into the hard rocking song proper. This one isn't bad, but it's also a bit too generic to really stand above the rest of the disc.
Humble Stance
While in terms of the metallic nature this one doesn't differ much from the last cut, there are worlds of difference in terms of the success in making a killer track out of it. A bouncy sort of riff makes up the main crux of this one, but they include some great progressive rock journey's interspersed on the way, not to mention a killer keyboard solo. The guitar solo is a bit too Eddie Van Halen, but still, this song is a strong one. It's high energy and meaty.
Don't Be Late
After an extended percussion introduction, lines of keyboards weave round and round to serve as the backdrop for the vocals. This holds the track for the first verse. Then a guitar line enters the fray and the two modes skirt around one another for a time before they group launch out into a full jam with crunchy modes for a time. They drop back a bit – to a more energized version of the first verse – for the next set of vocals, but it's punctuated by a reprise of that metallic riff. They drop it back to just keys for a while during the instrumental break, but then the guitar takes a very tasty solo. The cut works through quite a bit of its length by stating and restating these varying themes, but then launch out into a killer fast paced jam to carry on. This is another highlight of the disc.
How Long
This starts with another of the more metallic riffs on the disc. They move out into a bouncy prog jam from there, though. This serves as the backdrop for the first vocals. This alternates between the two modes and turns into a smoking jam late in the piece. This is another strong one.
Careful Where You Step
The keys that begin this again remind me of Alan Parsons. As the band join, though this turns to more trademark hard edged Saga. This becomes another pretty awesome jam with varying sections taking it. It's a classic example of how the band can take a fairly straightforward song structure and turn it into something incredible by adding in various left field turns and powerhouse instrumental sections.
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