SAGA

Worlds Apart Saga - Worlds Apart (SPC) 1981

1. On the Loose" (4:10)
2. Wind Him Up" (5:45)
3. Amnesia" (3:10)
4. Framed" (5:40)
5. Time's Up" (4:15)
6. The Interview" (3:50)
7. No Regrets (Chapter V)" (4:41)
8. Conversations" (4:44)
9. No Stranger (Chapter VIII)" (7:04)
10. Wind Him Up [video clip]

"Worlds Apart" is perhaps Saga's most well known album, thanks in part to the hard rocking "On the Loose". The song has similarities to bands like Loveboy, or perhaps Toto. The song help propel the band up into the Top 40 circuit. The video, included on thie 2003 reissue as a bonus, even saw regular rotation on MTV. However, I've never been one to buy albums on the strength of pop singles, and that certainly wasn't the case here either. Being a fan of 70's progressive rock and pomp rock, I picked up this album on vinyl on the advice of a friend and was pleasantly surprised that "Worlds Apart" was not accurately represented by "On the Loose". The album finished the era of their first eight Chapters, while musically exploring more 80's sounds and productions. Songs like "Amnesia" and "Wind Him Up" are steeped in 80's sounds with those sparkling keyboards and electronic sounding drums. However, the prog elements are still predominant, as in the eerie track "No Regrets (Chapter V)", the epic "No Stranger (Chapter VIII)", and the jazz encrusted instrumental "Conversations". Of course Saga are not a guitar heavy band, relying as much on keyboards and synth as on guitars but songs like "Time's Up" brings Saga close to the techno-pop sound that was becoming increasingly popular in the early 80s in Europe. "World's Apart" has been released with a couple of different album covers. I believe the original UK cover is the one pictured above, whereas the U.S. cover had a more 80's pop look. Overall, a good album. No, this isn't heavy metal. It couldn't even be called hard rock, but it's still an interesting listen for those willing to live outside the box a bit.

Heads or Tales Saga - Heads or Tales (SPV) 1983

1. The Flyer (3:43)
2. Cat Walk (4:24)
3. The Sound Of Strangers (4:09)
4. The Writing (4:12)
5. Intermission (5:28)
6. Social Orphan (3:23)
7. The Vendetta (Still Helpless) (3:43)
8. Scratching The Surface (5:15)
9. The Pitchman (5:42)
10. Cat Walk [Extended version] (7:44)

After having a successful album in "Worlds Apart", Canada's Saga had the task of creating an album that would top that album. For the most part Saga was considered a progressive rock band, and as such they are going to change and progress. To help with their next step Saga brought back producer Rupert Hine who had worked on "Worlds Apart" as well. Together they created an album with shorter, more accessible songs, while still staying true to their roots. The "Chapters" are now finished (though they reappear in 1999), and the band manages to churn out a solid and accessible album with many catchy songs. Tunes like "The Flyer" and "Scratching the Surface" are good examples of quality progressive 80's rock that is both well executed and accessible for the airwaves. As usual for Saga, the keyboards and synths are a big part of their sound with guitars being secondary. In other words, this is not heavy metal or even hard rock. Rather, they combine the popular 1980's New Wave sound with progressive rock, which may sound odd, but works quite well for them. Unfortunately the change to a more radio friendly sound would be an indication of a bit of a downward spiral towards total pop rock as the band will all but abandon the prog-rock for the next few albums in search of radio friendly hits. This album, however, is quite enjoyable an a great companion to "Worlds Apart".

Saga - Behaviour (SPV) 1985

1. Listen to Your Heart performed (3:56)
2. Take a Chance (3:54)
3. What Do I Know (3:40)
4. Misbehaviour (4:04)
5. Nine Lives of Miss MIDI (1:17)
6. You and the Night (5:16)
7. Out of the Shadows (4:48)
8. Easy Way Out (3:59)
9. Promises (4:12)
10. Here I Am (3:34)
11. (Goodbye) Once Upont a Time (6:38)

"Behaviour" was a definite change for Saga in 1985, from the more progressive nature to a definite turn towards pop. "Behaviour" is a near perfect example of mid-1980's pop rock with some new wave influences. The production is crystal clear and shiny as a brand new car making for an accessible and commercial album. Even the lyrics deal with more commercial viable subjects, ie. girl meets boy, etc. Prog-rock purists may find this off-putting, and many did. However, Saga have never been a pure progressive band, rather they have always made accessible progressive rock. However, saying that an album is more accessible doesn't mean it's automatically bad. In fact, "Behaviour" is chock full of great melodies and some nice, albeit subtle, guitar work from guitarist Ian Crichton.

Wildest Dreams Saga - Wildest Dreams (Alantic) 1987

1. Don't Put Out the Fire (3:59)
2. Only Time Will Tell (4:23)
3. Wildest Dreams (4:59)
4. Chase the Wind (4:53)
5. We've Been Here Before (4:47)
6. The Way of the World (4:19)
7. Angel (4:21)
8. Don't Look Down (4:38)

And then there were three. At this point only Ian Crichton, Jim Crichton and Michael Sadler are left from the previous album. Though Saga had been a progressive rock band, with "Behaviour" the band turned more towards AOR and 80's pop. By 1987 the chart toppers were Heart, Simple Minds, Simply Red, and the Eurythmics. Even hard rock bands like Kiss seemed to go for a cleaner, more polished sound with "Crazy Nights". Obviously Saga was going for a similar clean, studio sheen with "Wildest Dreams". The eight songs featured on this album are all smooth, mellow, simplistic pop rock and not the slightest bit progressive. Unfortunately the songs are not particularly memorable either and this album is forgettable. That's not to say the music is completely without merit, but I can understand why the band's fanbase diminished rapidly after releasing two pop albums in a row.

The Beginners Guide Saga - The Beginners Guide to Throwing Shapes (SPV) 1989

1. How Do I Look (4:33)
2. Starting All Over (4:01)
3. Shape (5:10)
4. Odd Man Out (4:54)
5. The Nineties (4:16)
6. Scarecrow (4:20)
7. As I Am (5:15)
8. Waiting In The Wings (4:55)
9. Giant (7:10)
BONUS TRACK
10. Framed [live] (5:46)

"The Beginner's Guide to Throwing Shapes" is the eighth studio album by Saga and is a return to the the more progressive side of the band. Now this album is more like it. I really couldn't get into the 80's pop of "Behaviour" all that much and am glad the band returned to their own sound. For this album, Saga was trimmed down to a power-trio: Michael Sadler (vocals, keyboards) and the two Crichton brothers, Jim Crichton (bass, synthaxe) and Ian Crichton (guitars, synthaxe). The music is more of what I want to hear from Saga; those massive keys and the interplay with the guitar and the smooth, melodic vocals. "Starting All Over" tends toward the more poppy side of the band, but other tracks like "Giant" are more reminiscent of the band's past. Actually, "Giant" could have fit neatly on "Worlds Apart". This album is a bit of a concept-album with a story about a schizophrenic boy. "The Beginner's Guide to Throwing Shapes" may not be the first album I would visit when wanting to hear some Saga, but it's certainly a good album and certainly one of the band's more underrated gems.

Security Saga - The Security Of Illusion (Avalanche) 1993

1. Entracte [instrumental] (:49)
2. Mind Over Matter (4:41)
3. Once Is Never Enough (5:28)
4. Along Again Tonight (4:15)
5. I'll Leave It in Your Hands (4:42)
6. The Security of Illusion (5:42)
7. Stand Up (4:20)
8. Days Like These (4:46)
9. Voila! [instrumental] (1:41)
10. No Man's Land (5:20)
11. Without You (6:47)

In general Canadian rockers Saga are remembered either as a heady progressive-rock band or a light-weight AOR band. "The Security of Illusion" has a slightly heavier edge, is ever so slightly darker and returns the band to a slightly more progressive sound than some of their more recent albums. The album marked the return of members Jim Gilmour (keyboards) and Steve Negus (drums) who had been absent from the band since 1985's "Behaviour." Perhaps this reunion sparked some creativity into the band. Thankfully Saga didn't jump on any of the trends from the time. Instead the band gives us straight-forward rockers like "Mind Over Matter", "Once Is Never Enough" and "Stand Up", as well as the acoustic title track and the percussive-driven "Without You". "Alone Again Tonight" is a tender ballad with a fitting guitar solo. "Voila!" is a nice classically-influences instrumental that has a Keith Emerson feel. To be honest, I would be hard pressed to call "The Security of Illusion" a prog-rock album, but it is a solid slab of hard rock with some progressive tendencies.

Steel Umbrellas Saga - Steel Umbrellas (Bonaire) 1994

1. Why Not? (4:18)
2. (You Were) Never Alone (4:27)
3. Bet on This (3:53)
4. Shake That Tree (4:17)
5. Password Pirate/Access Code/Password... (3:35)
6. I Walk With You (4:01)
7. (Walking on) Thin Ice (4:46)
8. Steamroller (4:12)
9. Say Goodbye to Hollywood (4:33)
10. Feed the Fire (4:13

"Steel Unbrellas" is  tenth studio album by progressive rock band Saga. It is not a fan favorite by any stretch of the imagination. A quick check on-line reveals a plethora of negative fan reviews. One review was cleverly titled "First they Steel an Umbrella then They Steal Your Money". However, "Steel Umbrellas" isn't nearly the travesty that some make it out to be. Overall the album is fairly soft and mellow, which I suppose is the biggest complaint people have. However, this isn't all that surprising for Saga. Their forte has always been crafting good melodic rock with progressive tendencies. That's exactly what they deliver with "Steel Umbrellas", even if much of it is fairly mellow. The opening track sounds like classic Saga, it's an upbeat song with a nice pop hook. This song actually sounds like something that Genesis might have recorded as a follow-up to "Calling All Stations". It is probably the most rockin' song on the album. "(You Were) Never Alone" is a nice, melodic song that reminds me of Asia. "Bet on This" is a funk song through and though. "Shake that Tree" is a soft, pop-rock track with the guitar parts mixed hidden in the background. The song is built around some funky bass lines and features some exotic female vocals. "Steamroller" is another pop-rock song with funky bass lines. Album closer "Feed the Fire" also has a bit of a funk-vibe but also mixes in some jazz influences, especially in the guitar solo section. There are a few sappy ballads including "I Walk With You" and "Say Goodbye to Hollywood". Overall "Steel Umbrellas" is a fairly mellow affair and I can understand why progressive rock fans might be put off by it. However for more mellow moments when chilling out is in order, it's not a bad listen and is quite relaxing. 

Unseen Forces Saga - House of Cards (SPV) 2001

1. "God Knows" (5:30)
2. "The Runaway" (5:38)
3. "Always There" (3:53)
4. "Ashes to Ashes" (5:06)
5. "Once in a Lifetime" (4:22)
6. "So Good So Far" (5:02)
7. "Only Human" (4:20)
8. "That's How We Like It!" (4:53)
9. "Watching the Clock" [instrumental] (1:37)
10. "We'll Meet Again" (5:59)
11. "Money Talks" (4:09)
12. "House of Cards" (4:23)

Saga is a band that for some odd reason I never got into. They are originally from Canada and were part of the progressive rock movement that Rush was leading in the late 70's. In any case a friend gave me this disc because "it's not heavy enough." OK, free cds are cool. I will check anything out once, if I like it I keep it, if not I can always trade it off. Well all I can say is that I obviously missed out on some great music if this disc is any indication of what the band has done in the past. Upon hearing this disc for the first time I tried to think of who they reminded me of. I know it's always cheesy to compare one band to another but the best way I can describe this disc is Asia meets Rush with a bit of Genesis thrown in to boot. Seriously, this cd is a throwback to the heyday of progressive rock. Have not had the chance to totally investigate the lyrics but I have read that this band has been known to write interesting lyrics as well. Also, the cover is one of the coolest I have seen in a while. I dig the sci-fi look. Will have to check out some more of this band's music.

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