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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Saga

Saga

Review by Scott Prinzing

I was first introduced to Saga by seeing their video of “Don't Be Late (Chapter 2)” from their sophomore release, Silent Knight, on MTV of all places!  Hailing from Canada, they were in the company of a few of my favorite bands of the era (crest of the ‘80s): April Wine, Rush, Pat Travers Band and Triumph.  With three keyboardists, a left-handed drummer, a tasty/controlled staccato guitarist and a singer with a handlebar moustache, I knew they meant serious business; as in progressive rock.  This “Chapter 2” stuff was intriguing; eight songs, out of order, spread over their first four albums.  What could it mean?  Turns out to be inspired by the life and work of Albert Einstein (the subject of “Portrait (He Knew)” by another of my favorite bands, Kansas! 

The band’s core players began here: bothers guitarist Ian and bassist/keyboardist Jim Crichton and singer/keyboardist (and sometimes bassist) Michael Sadler.  Drummer Steve Negus served two-decade long stints in the band.  Keyboardist Peter Rochon plays on this album only.  Sadler was away from 2008-2011 for personal reasons, but is currently back on the microphone, sans moustache (and hair!).  This album is a great introduction to an often overlooked band.  For newcomers, I’d recommend buying and listening to their albums in order.  You will find a natural progression and development of a band that should be more successful than their primarily Canadian and European fan base.

Track by Track Review
How Long

Starting off sounding a bit like a Pac-Man game before going into more of a Supertramp groove, this song has remained a favorite of Saga’s live set for decades. It’s a catchy tune with tight instrumentation – like most of Saga’s output through the decades.  Lyrically, it sets the tone for many of their songs – second- or third-person observations about human nature: “You thought you had it in the bag / Thought you had it all figured out / But now you're having second thoughts / You don’t really know your ins from outs.”

Humble Stance
Once again, this brings to mind Supertramp, but has a bit more of a heavy guitar riffage.  I believe this song has appeared on every one of the band’s six live albums (sans the live Chapters set).  It has a short bridge with harpsichord that features Sadler sounding a bit operatic like Freddie Mercury.  It includes very smoking hot trade-offs and duets by guitarist Crichton and keyboardist Rochon.  The opening chorus is repeated several times until it’s a bit of a prog rock mantra: “Lately I’ve been watching a little complex grow / You know, you gotta know / That's why I chose to tell ya / That humble stance and timid glance / Makes your world turn so slow / You know, you gotta know / There's no one going to help you.”  This song is a bit of a template for the Saga sound.
Climbing the Ladder
This one is a steady tune that turns into a real rocker after a bit of Moog moodiness.  It is an observation of trying to achieve success in the corporate world: “Climbing the ladder / Three runs forward, two runs back.”
Will It Be You? (Chapter Four)
Every song on this debut is catchy and memorable with both vocal and instrumental hooks.  This lengthiest – and proggiest - song explores a modern “Star War”s scenario: “Southwest sector, they’re at your door / Silos release black interceptor / Will it be you? / Time perfection, defense selection / Intercept without detection.” This is the first “Chapter” song – all out of order – that run throughout Saga’s career and were finally available in numerical order on the 2005 double-album, The Chapters Live.
Perfectionist
There’s a bit of Ms. Pac-Man on this one, but it is a nice musical piece overall.  This one has a bit of an Edgar Allan Poe storyline, with a certain Ellery Sneed planning an elegant supper party to poison all his guests: “Never in my life will I taste but a bite / Of a more perfectly planned out supper.”
Give 'Em the Money
Starting out with a mellow groove and a soulful melody, this one gets rocking on the chorus.  The instrumental sections are particularly cool.  The harmony duet between guitar and keyboards that are a bit of a Saga trademark are in high gear here.  Perhaps it’s about how far people will go for the right price: “Ask a friend how far they'll bend / To get their heart's desire / Most will say with lots of pay / They'll stay just until they tire.”
Ice Nice
Jim Crichton composed this Saga classic by himself.  It’s one of the few songs I’ve heard that features a whispered refrain chorus.  The sparring in the lengthy instrumental section is world class.  It sounds like it’s an observation of a gambling addict: “Three in a row is your reason / To go on spending your money / You've been here before / You've spent a lot more / This makes it less funny.”
Tired World (Chapter Six)
There appears to be a post-nuclear holocaust scenario here, which would fit in with the Einstein theme of the chapters: “A phone is ringing in the distance / A pulse with no end, no enemy / This cry has no one left it can bother / The person may have left suddenly.”  Crichton’s guitar is highlighted more here than the keys. He really tears it up at the end. 
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