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Saga - 20/20 CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.30 | 82 ratings

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3 stars Michael Sadler returns on vocals for the 20th studio album of Saga! 20/20 means perfect eye sight and refers to the eye surgery that keyboardist Jim Gilmour had to undergo in the fall of 2011, which turned out successful.

In the 90's each new album Saga did would bring in a new sound, a new approach, and fans weren't pleased with "Pleasure & the Pain" (1997) which brought a more rough alternative rock sound with little resemblence to earlier albums. That is probably what caused the band to start a new direction were the old Saga logo was reintroduced as well as the alien theme on album covers, and thematically, new chapter songs were created continuing the story with chapters. The Full Circle album (1999) was pretty great in my opinion, and the fans were happy again. The subsequent Saga albums of the 2000's have maintained this retro-connection and there haven't been any extreme changes in direction or sound. For me as a huge Saga fan these albums of the 2000's have been of varying quality. Network is my favourite anyway.

The previous album "The Human Condition" marked a change with a new singer, and the alien theme wasn't there anymore . The positive thing was that it felt like something new and forward-looking. The singer Rob Moratti with a power-rock voice had a clear, articulated, technical singing with good range that with effects added - overdubs, compression and possibly autotune sounded artificial on the downside. But the album was solid as a whole even if a bit mechanic and metronome-stiff.

With Sadlers return, it's back to a more familiar Saga , but the compressed, smooth sound of the previous album is kept. The mood is generally fairly easygoing and energetic. There are some negative things about the vocals. They are not in the front in the mix; they are often effects-treated or multi-layered and the vocal melodies often lack character. That way the vocals becomes of secondary importance, and mostly become muddled together with synths, guitars and drums. Morattis undynamic voice was better suited to such a sound while for Sadler it drowns a bit in the mix.

On first listen the album sounded like a thick mess leaving me very disappointed. After the third listen different parts and sounds became more distinguishable. Surprisingly I began to like several songs. That doesn't happen to me these days. I completely changed opinion. After many listens and a break for some time and coming back to it, my opinions shifted back again towards my initial sentiments. The sound related aspects does have a very negative impact on the album for me.

Well, there are no dynamics. The sound is evenly dense and busy with things going on. The drums are a central problem. Bass drum , hi-hat and ride are too prominent in the mix. The compression on the kick drum is tiring. I must say I hate the snare drum with the big reverb. A particular ride-cymbal is also heavily overused throughout the album. The drum playing is fluid but feels mechanical and the sound is the same throughout the album. Doerner's drumming was way better in all respects on the previous album. Okay, enough drum talk.

There are five songs I like that with better production could have been splendid. Guitar solos are great as you always can expect from Ian Chrichton. I find the lyrics appealing. They are about life and destiny you could say. "Lost For Words" is the album highlight for me, with an atmospheric quality and nice singing by Sadler.

The songs:

1 Six feet Under

A pretty fast-paced heavy rock song, an energetic kickstart to the album. I suddenly started to really like this with its many parts after enough listening, and it could have been awesome. But it feels a bit lifeless with the strong compression. One of the better songs however.

2. Anywhere you wanna go.

Slow heavy power-rock song with synth bass and synths. The chorus is the central point, and it doesn't quite swing very well in my opinion. It feels like the tempo is slow in a strained way. But I'm not sure a faster tempo would have worked either. Though the instrumental part is pretty cool, the song is weak.

3. Ellery

Song in triplet feeling in a similar way to "Follow Me" from Full Circle. Overly dominating synths and weak vocal melody lines. Not good.

4. Spin It Again

It's got a catchy main rock riff over two bars. The song grew on me very much. Now, after even more listens I'm ambivalent. It feels either cool or too catchy. But the bridge part is really nice (beginning with "sometimes"). A small annoyance is that the vocals in the chorus lacks clarity, and the "s" of "spin" is inaudible. However, this is one of the good ones!

5. Another Day Out Of Sight

In accordance with tradition, one or two songs should feature Jim Gilmour on vocals. Many such Saga songs are fantastic . But this is pretty dull, and the layered vocals in the chorus aren't arranged well for Gilmours voice. Weakest song of the album.

6. One of these days

Dull uptempo rock song, with an even progress from beginning to end. Very anonymous, more character is needed.

7. Ball and Chain

A moderate tempo rock song in minor key that changes key in the chorus with a playful and original chord sequence, accompanied by some odd and funny "plucked" synth bass notes. The song grows with time , and I really like the "You now we're all the same"-part, simple but memorable. The sound is messy and would have been better with a different sound but it's still a cool song.

8. Lost For Words

When I first listened to this album I wasn't positive about anything, except the instrumental synth parts in this ballad . And this song grew even more after several listens. The vocal sound have some unnecessary filtration but the singing is very good. There are atmospheric instrumental parts and a great guitar solo. In style it's like a cross between"Don't Say Goodbye", the atmospheric song from Full Circle, and "Believe", the ballad from Network. It suffers from the production but is nevertheless the best song of the album.

9. Show and Tell

Another "ought to have been great" song with a cool chord sequence, similar to a section from "Days like these" (from Security Of Illusion - the "there will never" part) . It's dragged down by plain dynamics and noisiness, with an annoying distorted guitar. The vocals are embedded in the noise. Still it is one of the best songs due to the way it develops with key changes and nice parts.

10. Till the well runs dry

The last song, and longest, has some dynamic changes. There's a moody verse with 16th notes on hihat, halftempo groove, similar to "On the air" from the Network album, or in particular "Goodbye (Once Upon A Time)" from Behaviour. It takes a while before it reaches the chorus, where it goes into full energy. But the chorus... is bad. So, not a great song, but it has great guitar playing and an awesome guitar solo.

Beneath the flat sound surface there is a lot of original music - five good songs. There are no recognizable chord sequences or lack of originality. But the dense and straight sound along with the resulting flatness in emotion and expression is an unfortunate thing which makes me end up rating this right between 2 and 3. But I recommend it because discovering this album is exciting were it comes alive little by little. And I probably haven't said the final word on this album, you never know what details may appear in the future changing the overall picture. I'm looking forward to see them live, and to experience these songs in a way that does them more justice.

wilmon91 | 3/5 |


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