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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Saga

20/20

Review by Alison Reijman

Saga have always been one of the most intelligent and musically adept bands in a career spanning 35 years which has seen more than its fair share of highs and lows along the way. Having been a great admirer of their music for more than 30 years, 20/20 has been one of the most eagerly awaited albums of the year, and justly so.

This album heralds the return of their charismatic front man Michael Sadler, a man blessed with a gorgeous masculine voice and huge stage presence, who left the band nearly five years ago.  In his absence, Saga recruited fellow Canadian Rob Moratti to make The Human Condition but their sound was not quite the same without him.

This album sees them back in sparkling form, the disc continuing to showcase their ability to create the most complex and compelling compositions full of melody, musical twists and turns, with some virtuoso playing especially from guitarist Ian Crichton and multi-instrumentalist Jim Gilmour.  And there are some very distinct echoes of their long and illustrious past in some of the lyrics which Saga fans will pick up on and appreciate.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Six Feet Under

The song and album starts with staccato keyboard chords and launches into a familiar Saga groove with  “question and answer” exchanges between Sadler and Gilmour together with a huge chorus hook “Help me, help you.” Ian Crichton’s guitar shimmers and fragments of melody leap out from all over the mix but the whole song keeps its shape and structure beautifully. It’s a great opener.

Anywhere You Wanna Go
This is the most commercial, and indeed the stand-out, track with a driving beat from Brian Doerner (since replaced by Mike Thorne) and a mighty multi-tracked chorus hook line underpinned by Ian Crichton’s meaty riffs and enhanced majestic keyboards from Gilmour and Jim Crichton.  Sadler is back doing what he does best here, his voice sounding as incisive and slightly menacing as ever.
Ellery
The title to this is a familiar name in the Saga dramatis personae. Is Ellery in fact Ellery Sneed, the perfectionist from their debut eponymous album? The song rolls along effortlessly and some of the lyrics “listen with your heart” and “although we’re worlds apart” are direct references to their previous output.
Spin It Again
This is awash with lush keyboards that then make way for crashing guitars in before Sadler comes in with a melody line that demonstrates both sensitivity and a sense of urgency. Ian Crichton contributes with a note bending guitar solo which seems to sound off key at one stage but of course, it isn’t.
Another Day Out of Sight
This starts with Gilmour singing. His is a much lighter touch vocally, but it suits the lilting melody and yes, there are references to the past again with the line “You know I’m always late.”  The song builds beautifully with superb harmonies and Ian Crichton producing another spellbinding moment of guitar brilliance.
One of These Days
“One of These Days” gets straight into a keyboard driven passage with Sadler hitting the ground running with another huge hook which will run rings around your head for hours afterwards. This is probably the song which links their past, present and future with so many of their familiar turns of music phrasing tumbling out of the speakers.  And it is all delivered with such an all-pervading air of elegance and self-belief.
Ball and Chain
Here is another great song which packs a punch but which does not quite ignite in the way that the others previously did. Still, it does contain a beautifully fluent piano solo from Gilmour.
Lost for Words
This starts with swelling keyboards and gentle acoustic guitar before it develops into  a much slower, more emotionally charged song that harks back to other great Saga songs such as “I Walk With You” and “You And The Night”. This is Sadler using his vocal prowess to convey a great sense of longing interspersed with Ian Crichton’s yearning guitar.
Show and Tell
This piece, again shows their ability to find a killer melody then add so many different elements to it – smooth harmonies, a raging guitar and slick keyboards.  The song is then allowed to find its own pace and direction through bringing each musical part in turn to the fore. It all seems to glide along effortlessly as a result.
Till The Well Runs Dry

Rounding off the album, this has a totally different feel.  It seems to be a statement of intent from Sadler that he is well and truly back in business ending with the line “So here I go again.” It has a coursing keyboard running through it with flowing, sometimes echoey guitars and a huge back beat.  In conclusion, the song seems to open a door to the exciting prospect of a possible follow-up album.  If they do, I cannot help but feel it could be even better than 20/20.

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