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Saga - Saga CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.71 | 213 ratings

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2 stars Never-ending Saga...

I had not, in the past, given Saga much time, as every time I heard their music on the radio, I felt an overwhelming compulsion to see what was on another station, go make a cup of tea or something else that might derive a little more satisfaction.

So it was with a little trepidation that I actually forked out hard-earned moulah for their first two albums, removed the vinyl from the sleeve with a nervous feeling that I might be surprised and actually like it, and gingerly lowered the needle onto the platter.

Almost instantly, I felt the opportunity cost - there's so much other music I could be listening to... but I forced myself to listen to the whole thing. Several more times I subjected myself to this experience - and guess what? There were bits about it I liked, but on the whole, it's still not what I would have bought out of choice - and here's why:

The "music"

The opening synth notes of "How Long" - on reflection, an extremely aptly named song - struck me like a blast of the Human League. Although not a rip-off, as those emminent musicians wouldn't write "Don't You Want Me Baby" for another 3 years, it doesn't exactly say "Prog Rock" to me. The backing rock/disco beat doesn't help matters, and when the driving riff appears, its impact is diminished, and a typical stadium rock band in the mould of Styx begins to emerge.

What follows is simply horrendous though - "white-man's funk" - maintaining the overall disco feel. This is horrendous because the straight 4/4 beat and underlying "Another One Bites the Dust" feel mixed with the incessant bleeping of the Human League keyboard is just mindlessly repetitive. The harmonies stay in very simple realms, and the form of the piece is a standard song.

The only place of interest in the form is the (short) bridge, which moves off at a tangent, destroying any continuity this song might otherwise have had - and it's repeated to bad effect.

Next up is "Humble Stance" - which is a truly nauseating slice of "white-man's reggae" - a form that should never, ever have emerged. The band should really have called this song "Humble Pie", as that is what any band should eat after producing something like this.

There are very few bands of non-black musicians who have successfully modified the reggae style to fit rock music; The Police, The Clash, Here & Now and Madness are probably the best examples .

Saga fail miserably, then move into a more dramatic area backed by a quasi-funky riff, repeated to death and backed by a "boom-tsh" disco style beat before piling into a synth solo with a truly nasty Moog-lite kind of keyboard sound that is pitch-bent to death. The utterly predictable sweep-picked guitar follows - I'd imagine this would really appeal to Dream Theater fans, as the whole styling, sterilised execution and inattention to formal consideration is a perfect match to the latter's early material.

"Climbing the Ladder" comes across as a kind of poor-man's Queensryche with a disastrous riff leading the verse, and a very pale chorus giving me the urge to hit that skip button pretty quickly. The mock brass section on the keyboard re-emphasises the commercial aspirations of the band - it would seem that this is an attempt to reach both the Rock and Disco audiences, using the most naff elements of both.

The Autopsy

OK, enough of the tearing to pieces - this copy of Saga's debut will no doubt make a fan happy when they discover it in the charity shop that I'm going to donate it to - but I have to address one issue:

I have read several times that this album is somehow an early representative of Neo-Prog.

That myth can be safely put to bed here and now (sic).

There is absolutely nothing in common between Saga and Neo-Prog - at least, not on this album. For a start, there is no Prog - it's stadium or album-oriented Rock music of the cheesiest variety. It's well executed - there's no doubt about that, but musicianship is about a lot more than precision and fast scales.

For that matter, so is Neo-Prog - in fact, nowhere in that genre will you encounter quasi-reggae, quasi-funk, disco, riffing or shredding.

Conversely, none of the delicate contrapuntal writing, haunting melodies, formal experimentation and deliberately anti-mainstream rhythmic devices can be found in Saga's music.

The Recommendation

While it's tempting to recommend that you move onto the next band - nothing to see here - there is a fan base that think very differently to me, and appreciate the music of Saga.

If anything, this album is possibly at the root of Prog Metal - there's a lot in common with both Queensryche and Dream Theater, even if the overall sound isn't in the metal domain. Fans of those bands should check this out, as I'm sure that some of the soloing and riffing will really appeal, but personally, I wouldn't even recommend the music or songs to that 'orrible person who scratched my car at the supermarket the other day, grrrr...

I'd really like to award this the "Poor" rating that I think it deserves - as I think it's a real stinker - but I acknowledge fully that I plain don't like it and might well be biased.

Therefore, I'd recommend this to fans of Prog Metal and of Saga themselves - but if you're a fan of Saga, you've probably already got this and are violently disagreeing with everything I've just said.


Certif1ed | 2/5 |


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