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3 stars Three stars and a half, better album than many progfans would suggest. The beginners guide. was released after two disappointing albums. But this album shows a return to the sound the group is known for. For me, the best Saga albums are the first 5, but this one comes close. I still find myself playing the album every now and then. The album was issued in 1989, you can hear this by the use of many electronic percussion and sound effects. But once you get used to that, you really can enjoy one of Saga's finest albums. The beginners guide is a bit of a concept-album as the story in the lyrics is about a schizophrenic boy. The music is typical for Saga, only the massive keyboard-sounds of their first albums is missing. But the songs are great, maybe some tracks like "Starting all over again" tend too much to pop music but other tracks like "giant" are reminiscent to "Worlds apart". In 1989 Saga was only a trio : Michael Sadler and the two Crichton brothers. In the nineties Jim Gilmour and Steve Negus would return but this wouldn't mean, the quality of the music would always be better than on this album
Report this review (#17620)
Posted Sunday, June 20, 2004 | Review Permalink
3 stars Well first let me say I love a lot Saga but as they are not real prog I can't give them more than 3 stars (like most of the Asia albums). For prog AOR I would give this one 4 stars! The band is now composed of 3 guys, Sadler oviously, plus the Crichton bros. They are three but they do a great job! Synths parts are very good and only the drum is sometimes not really terrific. Some tracks are jewels like How Do I Look, Shape, As I Am and The Giant (which is a real prog one). Finally, like their 5th first albums, it's definitely a must have for easy listening prog. Moreover, Sadler sings again like he did in the first albums with his so incredible voice.
Report this review (#41164)
Posted Monday, August 1, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars I'm not a great fan of SAGA but I like their music as well. My collection of their albums is not complete because of two reasons. First, even though I like the music as it has its own musical identity, it's not the band where I am a die hard fan. Second, most of the CDs of SAGA albums are very expensive. Usually I purchase only the CD on secondary market because it's not worth it for me to buy the expensive item for band that I do not a great fan of it. This "The Beginners Guide To Throwing Shapes" CD I purchased from a secondary market with only USD 6 and I think this album is not bad at all. In fact it demonstrates SAGA's consistency in the kind (and characteristic) of music they play.

The key colors of this album (like any of Saga album) is the beautiful combination of unique Ian Crichton guitar riffs and unique keyboard style of Jim Crichton. This combination builds the strong foundation of SAGA music. The opening track "How Do I Look" (4:33) proves how this combination work in intertwining fashion. Ian brings his riffs, rhythm section followed with solo, augmented nicely with Jim's beautiful keyboard. It does continue with the following tracks "Starting All Over" (4:01), "Shape" (5:10) and even "Odd Man Out" (4:54). One of my favorite track from this album is "Scarecrow" (4:20). This song has a very beautiful opening guitar riffs followed with nice rhythm section when vocal enters the music. Well, I do really enjoy how the guitar is played during rhythm section. In fact, this is what makes this song is very powerful for me - the rhythm section by guitar! Keyboard augments the guitar very nicely. Melody-wise, this is also not bad at all. What then makes me more enjoyable is the interlude part where guitar switches its role as rhythm section into solo, augmented beautifully by keyboard. Yeah! The concluding track "Giant" (7:10) is also of interest to me especially with its varied styles and textures. The guitar sounds like mandolin at intro part.

Overall, this album has a good balance of combination in demonstrating keyboard and guitar in its unique way. It contains good songwriting and performance and it's consistent with SAGA music style and approach.

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#121061)
Posted Monday, May 7, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars The last great album with that Saga sound(and 1993's _Security Of Illusion_). Considering this followed the stinker _Wildest Dreams_, this album is a return to form and stands alongside other Saga greats like Heads Or Tales, Behaviour and Worlds Apart. What's most impressive on this is an aggressive Ian Crichton guitar sound. He does his usual arpeggio runs on the frets, but delivers a crunchier sound here...almost like an excited Steve Morse(Dixie Dregs). Production is really crisp comparable to the album Heads Or Tales. Highlights are Shape(excellent vocals), Waiting In The Wings(best Crichton guitar track in Saga history as far as I'm concerned)...and Giant - which is instrumentally similar to Power & The Glory-era Gentle Giant. The only throwaway track here is Nineties...but it's still not that bad a track. I've heard worse. I'd give this album a 3.5...but it gets a 4 on to up the rating. :-)

If you like the early Saga sound, do not overlook this album. It's worthy of any neo-proggers collection. Worthy of note - recommended to guitar players. Ian Crichton really shines here. If I could compare A Beginner's Guide To Throwing Shapes to another band's album known to other prog.rockers, let's just say this is Saga's Stationary Traveller(as per CAMEL).

Report this review (#158354)
Posted Friday, January 11, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars Still in bussines

Saga by the time they reached late '80's was no more that magic band from the late '70's or early 80's , albums like Images at twilight or Worlds apart are among the best they ever done with a great cominations between symphonic aproach and key orientated AOR. Well this album is good no doubt, but less intristing than the first 4-5 albums. Even here remaining only 3 musicians, Negus and Gilmour left the band in 1986, a transitional period for them anyway. The music here has Saga flavours and quite typical for the band with many electronic aproaches, but not bad, examples are : How Do I Look, As I Am and Starting All Over, the best pieces , the rest are also good. So a 3 star album for me, i like very much the Saga's music, that unique manner of interpretation, intristing textures and keyboard pop orentations. So if you like Asia or Styx this band is the right choice for you

Report this review (#182013)
Posted Monday, September 8, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars I owe this album almost two decades now and has turned in one of those forgotten discs by now. I happened to discover it in the pile and it's time for the review now. When I bought and got to know it I didn't really know what to think of it. I didn't really like it I remember but it's predecessor was the mediocre, almost poor Wildest Dreams so it couldn't get much worse and that's how I looked at it. The original and much more symphonical Saga had gone for quite some time already (1983) and made way for a much more art rock like band. With this album it was becoming very obvious. The symphonical elements there were at least slightly to be found on Behaviour (1985) had disappeared completely and I can imagine that the majority of proggers don't even consider this true prog anymore. On the other hand, if that is a fact, what is it ? Because this is no pop music either so where do they fit ? Maybe at this point they were not to pigeonhole at all. Some years later they released Security of Illusion and Generation 13 and these 2 were much more prog again so that makes Saga a drifting ustable band in the period 1985- 1995. Last 13 years they got back to the style of this album again as if this was the omen of their final destination. Not that their last 6 or 7 albums are exactly like this one but the general style is somewhat the same in my believe. Short songs with only slight progressive elements, quite accessible.

I don't really want to go in to all the different songs in this case because besides the above stated there is not much to say about them. Back then I mainly liked Odd Man Out, Scarecrow and As I am but even these didn't really impress me. Still I think this album is more enjoyable than Wildest Dreams so I will give it 3 stars in the end but it's severely rounded up (2,6). Fortunately the next few years they delivered some nice ones again (SoI and Gen 13) which made me love Saga again. But this one almost ruined it.

Report this review (#187683)
Posted Sunday, November 2, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars One of their best works in the eighties (or nineties for that matter), and their best work as a trio. A killer-sound, although sometimes a bit too electronic sounding, if you ask me.

The drums are played here by Curt Cress, and that's the only weakpoint in the album.

Especially Ian Crichton has his strongest moments ever on this album, in Odd Man Out he plays both an acoustic and electric guitar solo, in Giant he plays some banjo and a lot of Synthaxe-wizadry is found throughout the record.

The vocals of Michael Sadler sound better than ever (comparible to Behaviour and Wildest Dreams).

This album is often overlooked because of the weird title and cover. Also because the AOR-approach of Wildest Dreams and the arena-rock approach of Security of Illusion, some might think the in-between album is no good aswell, but it surely is a must have for Saga and eighties proglovers.

Report this review (#189063)
Posted Thursday, November 13, 2008 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
3 stars Starting all over

Saga released their self-titled debut album at a time when Prog Rock was already going out of fashion and over the course of the 80's the progressive elements were gradually abolished from the band's music culminating in poor albums like Behaviour and Wildest Dreams. On these two albums, the Saga of the 1978 debut could no longer be recognized at all. Along with these developments, the quality of the song writing also diminished significantly. With The Beginner's Guide To Throwing Shapes, however, Saga finally broke out of their downward spiral and started to make interesting and good music again.

Some key members had been lost, having reduced Saga to a trio around this time. They were still the very same trio on the present album, but they seem to be willing to expand and, dare I say, experiment with, the Saga sound. The vocals and the melodies are once again typical Saga. The use of the synthaxe brings Allan Holdsworth to mind occasionally! The drums have been wholly replaced here with electronic percussions, but it does not sound as bad as one could think. There is, on the other hand, more room for solos and instrumental breaks this time around. Overall, the sound is very electronic and slightly "robotic". Maybe even futuristic at times. The approach here is actually not that far removed from the one that fellow Canadians Rush followed in the mid to late 80's.

The songs are generally strong with only a couple of less good numbers in the middle of the album. The Nineties is the worst one, featuring some rather cheesy lyrics. How Do I Look?, Starting All Over, Shape, Waiting In The Wings, and Giant are great tracks. The latter is one of the more progressive Saga tracks, at least since the band's early days. It is almost as if they were finally allowed to release something that had been inside them for years and a newfound inspiration automatically came with it. With the next album, they would once again be a five piece and make an overall even stronger album. But this one is not bad at all.


Report this review (#491074)
Posted Wednesday, July 27, 2011 | Review Permalink
2 stars This is supposed to be the comeback album after the rather miserable Wildest Dream album. I have not really picked this album up before now after being rather wanting to buy this album for two decades or so. Now is the time.

Saga is continuing down the 1980s path with a mix of English new romantics (Duran Duran etc etc) and their own take on music. There are a lot of typical 1980s pop here with a lot of strange rhythm figures too.

This album is missing the type of great songs Saga at their best is able to come up with. There is no really good songs here. It seems like the band had run out of good ideas here and was just threading the water. Hence my disapproval of an album I hoped was going to be good. It is not.

2.5 stars

Report this review (#578943)
Posted Wednesday, November 30, 2011 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars The year 1989 rolled around, and by this time, prog was considered outdated and Saga was a band that had started out strong, became really popular for a short time, then fizzled out with the less interesting and more pop-sounding albums "Behavior" and the awful "Wildest Dreams", the latter album turning the band into more of a joke. The band was still only a core trio consisting of the Crichton brothers and Sadler on vocals. Other than that, session musicians were used with Curt Cress appearing on drums for "Wildest Dreams". Cress would return for the next album, but carrying the same line-up as the previous flop was not really what the fans were looking for.

Saga released "The Beginners Guide to Throwing Shapes" and tried to convince the public that this album was a return to their original sound. Listening to this album, you do tend to get a feeling that they were giving it a good shot, and they actually turn out a much better album than "Wildest Dreams". However, it didn't quite reach the pinnacle of "Heads and Tails" and everything else that came out before it. The good news is that there is more prog on this album than there had been of late. The bad news is that the guitar pretty much carries the instrumental sound, while the keyboards are used more for some neat fill and short riffs here and there, so that original sound isn't quite there. It's no accident that the band was trying to have a more guitar-heavy sound because that was the direction popular music was going at the time. The band is also a bit to afraid to completely let go of the popular style, just in case there was some room in the top 40 for them. It turned out, there just wasn't room for them. Fans were disappointed by the last few albums and didn't think this one was going to bring them back quite yet. There was pretty much no chance of winning over new fans either, as Saga had the prog background and reputation, so many considered them dinosaurs. As a result, this album did not sell very well in any country.

Saga fans should not completely write this one off though. This album may have done some work to redeem the band as future albums would begin to see more and more fans slowly come back into the fold. The guitar work on this album is actually very good, but even with it being the center piece of the instruments, there still isn't enough of it, and the daring keyboard work of yesteryear was sadly missing. But, if you do happen to see this album out there, it is one that you should think twice before passing it off as another 1980s misfire. There are some redeeming songs on here that bring back hope of the band's glory days. "How Do I Look", "Starting All Over" and "Shapes" give the album a respectable start, but after this, the songs in the middle start to sound too similar, following similar patterns. The album also ends on a high note with the most progressive song on the album, the 7+ minute "Giant".

Overall, however, in chronological order, this album gets lost in the struggle to win back fans and respect. The band manages to bring back some of the feel of the earlier albums, but really shows no progression. This is a bit understandable as the band had regressed so far, that even a hesitant approach to the sound of their better days is an improvement in comparison. It's just that, looking at the full picture, it only manages to become an okay album, but nothing to get too excited about. The first and last parts of the album are pretty good, but the rest of it falls into the trap of being too formulaic.

Report this review (#2481343)
Posted Monday, November 30, 2020 | Review Permalink
2 stars Huh? After listening to this album many times I still do not see how it is a 'comeback' or 'return to form' album. It is better than the previous 2 albums "Behaviour" and worse yet "Wildest Dreams". But this is not a Saga that I can easily say is anything like the one of the first 4 albums which is the core foundation for the band. "Heads Or Tales" was not all that great either and started them down the path of trying to create pop success.

As far as I am concerned Saga took a full decade off from putting out good albums. They put out the really good 4 followed by the not so good 4 but this album marked the end of the slide. Sure, the slide was slowing on this record but not enough. Saga is hard enough to categorize as prog for many people so it doesn't take much to push them into pop land chasing new wave sensibilities which is what they did.

When they sacked Steve Negus (drums) and Jim Gilmour (keys) it was said to be over management issues but that may be a mask for musical direction. They went on to form a band of their own. Thankfully they came back for the follow up to this album.

The songs that stand out a little are "How Do I Look" which is good but there is too much overly digital electronic noise with a disco beat. The guitar work is good which is why the song is notable. "Shape" is decent enough. The song "The Nineties" is catchy and not such a bad tune. But again they focused too much on electronic sounds which was part of that era but not part of who they were.

If this is a 'return to form' it is only a return to "heads Or Tales" which is a far cry from their earlier work. At least they were about to do something to make right some wrongs.

Report this review (#2936704)
Posted Friday, June 30, 2023 | Review Permalink

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