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Saga - Sagacity CD (album) cover

SAGACITY

Saga

 

Crossover Prog

3.22 | 80 ratings

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wilmon91
2 stars A new album by Saga is an exciting thing for me as a very big Saga fan. I don't expect something comparable to their early albums, but they always bring something of their own.

The album is never boring and has a constant entertainment value, which makes it a nice listen. But many tracks are based on a meager amount of ideas and feels underdeveloped. I would wish for more depth and daringness to have more serious intent.

The need for a "modern" appeal on the one hand, and the responsibility to give fans an album that feels like Saga , may be priorities that undermine the potential to evolve beyond what they're used to doing. There used to be songs part of the "chapters"-series, and the last chapters can be found in 2003's "Marathon". Continuing the chapters series would have been silly. But those songs had different expectations, being part of a concept, and as a consequence having a larger song structure. That said, my favourite album from the 2000's is Network (first album with out chapters). "The Human Condition" (2009) brought a new vocalist, and marked a new period for Saga, with a more compressed sound, and it worked pretty nice for that album. Now with the second album since Sadler returned on vocals , they are continuing in the mindset of doing energetic technical compact and carefree rock music. My feeling is that Saga's approach of doing something "not too serious" and "just for fun" prevents them from advancing into interesting realms of sound and expressions. There is flexibility and variation, but is always accessible and outreaching, upholding the same energy level. Of course , Saga has always had an urgent energy and directness, but in earlier days the music had a grander romantic scale, with larger sound, and today it's a more compact hard rock sound with digital synth sounds, although there is still variation. I'm searching for more of that conceptuality which the chapters brought. An intent that goes deeper than surface-deep.

Original harmonic content

Harmonies is a s neglected thing today, ignored, treated as unimportant, or non-existant. "Pop" music of today have repeating chord sequences with one unchanging mood. Emphasis is on production, and the only element allowed for variation is vocals. Classical music in contrast, naturally use a lot of chords in the composing process, through harmonization. Knowledge and awareness of harmonies is rare. But that's one of the qualities of Saga. They are harmonically oriented , being flexible and often changing key between the parts in the songs. That way you always get a certain amount of harmonic content with Saga.

Sound Compared to the previous "20/20"

The new drummer Mike Thorne joined Saga's tour for "20/20" 2012 and is featured on this album. The drum sound is better and more varied than the previous album. Less compression makes it more natural, although the hi-hat is still loud with a sharp filtrated sound, which I'm not a fan of.

"The Beginner's Guide to Throwing Shapes" (1989) was produced in a way were the sounds were "thickened" which made it more punchy. "Beginner's Guide.." is the album that I think mostly resembles Sagacity with the same effects on vocals and guitars. Guitars have a lot of other interesting sounds on this album though. I am not a fan of the "Beginner's Guide.." album. It was dryer and more compact than previous more open and natural sounding albums. The thickened sounds diminishes personal expression and feels like a way to compensate for weaknesses. Vocals in general are very often alternating between two characteristics, for were one melody is sung in a rhytm by a combined vocal parts, alternated by a solo vocal phrase. Rather than having a single vocal performance, you have small phrases often treated with vocal effects. This can be nice sometimes, but used too much it loses human expression and emotion. Thorne's drumming style seems inspired by the previous drummer, Brian Doerner. Double pedal are used in drum fills, which I really don't like, and there is almost NO use of tom-toms. And tends to be pretty stiff with only one dynamic level - full force. Steve Negus is needed.

The previous album was completely over compressed , now it's not nearly as compressed, which makes for a more enjoyable experience. The songs are in moderate to lower tempo, not as over-the-top energetic as in the previous album. And even musically it is more dynamic with soft and heavier parts.

Composition-wise and musically however, it's significantly inferior to 20/20. The songs are on the shorter side, many of them underdeveloped, based on one or two themes.

1. Let it slide

A heavy album opener with a distorted guitar riff playing 16th notes in continous series of five notes polyrythmically, and drums playing a half-time groove. The bass groove stands out, played in very low register and goes throughout the song. It doesn't have much more than that busy guitar riff, going over the same bass note, so it's very concentrated to one thing.

2. Vital signs

Intro part with pre-programmed synth. Vocals are added, and the chorus brings in drums and guitars in a familiar chord sequence. But the main vocal melody , except for the alternating phrases by Sadler, is somewhat a failure, because it's a simple phrase sung mechanically by multiple voices octavated but lack clarity and sound more like barking. The middle section have an unexciting indian/oriental tonality. Weakest song on the album.

3. It doesn't matter (who you are)

A song in the style of "Time's Up" (World's Apart), with the same feeling and bass rhythm. The drums are a little stiff with force behind every stroke. Jim Gilmour on vocals, simplistic and rhytmically mechanic singing melody. It's not a winner with me.

* 4. Go with the flow *

Steel strung guitar in 7/8 groove with singing in a very light mood. Odd time signatures can cause an unintentional folk feeling sometimes, and this is a side effect here. But I really like the sound of that guitar. Then hell breaks loose with double pedals and distorted guitar. This is the most elaborated and well crafted song on the album, with many parts, and everything works together. There's a lot happening and it grows with more listens. I don't love it, but it's the best song on the album along with song 8.

5. Press 9

An odd ballad with a bit of a humouristic ironic vibe, without drums and only synthpads, steelstrung guitar and Gilmour singing a repeated vocal phrase. It sounds like several voices in unison. The expression becomes a bit rough and impersonal. The song changes key into an instrumental part with a nice electric guitar solo. But as a whole, it's not great..

6. Wake up

Starts with a modern digital electronic synth sound which give me bad vibes. The verse is maybe best part of the album. Drums play a groove with 16th note hi-hat, and the guitar is strumming nice chords with an 80's post-punk reminiscent sound, very cool. The vocals go very well together. Too bad the chorus wasn't very exciting, with bass and vocals in unison playing a catchy simple melody. The song doesn't develop enough for me.

7. Don't forget to breathe

Straight rock-beat in moderate tempo with a main guitar riff. This riff section is the main part, it doesn't have a chorus. Vocals (Gilmour) sings along with the riff, and alternately Michael Sadler fills in with a 50's style vocal sound with fast delay. The bridge section is in 6/4 but with straight feeling, and reminds me of the verse in "Footsteps In The Hall" (Trust), with similar chords and melody . Added to this is a guitar solo. The song seems a bit meager, as if some part would be needed to complete it.

* 8. The further you go *

Nice intro with cool guitar figure in some indian or middle eastern tonality ( "Remember when" from Full circle also use this tonality, and "As I Am" from "Beginner's Guide" ). It changes character and goes into triplet-form, quite similarly to the previous song, but with waltz-feeling initially. Gilmours sings in canon, with a peculiar expression, which I'm doubtful towards. The instrumental part is very nice with the guitar and a cool bell sound on the synth. Lots of potential but has very disparate parts. But it's the best song along with song 4.

9. On my way

Synthpad-intro . This song is a sort of feel-good arena rock anthem. The verse is nice, with simple drums on top of 8th-note driven bass. The "on my way"-chorus is so "feelgood" that it can't be taken fully serious. But it's not unserious, it's just a celebratory anthem style. I kind of like it, in a way.

10. No two sides

Good groove and nice drumming here. Sparing moody sections that seems to build up to something. The intro returns later creating anticipation, but then it ends.

11. Luck

Very cool main groove. But the verse makes me mad...it is completely bland. And it's not cool when vocals are added to the main riff . It ends shortly.

12. I'll be

Very nice intro section with acoustic guitars (three guitar parts) in triplet feeling. It's pretty separate to the rest of the song. The full band comes in suddenly with the triplet groove. Vocals are in sound much in the style of the "Beginner's Guide.." album. The song feels "strained", the drumming is stiff and forced. But there is a very nice chord evolvement leading up to the chorus, which changes into another key. That's a nice harmonic progression.

The good thing about the album is that it's never boring, it is nice to listen to, and there are many good bits and pieces. I don't give high ratings generally, so take my rating with a pinch of salt.

wilmon91 | 2/5 |

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