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Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
4 stars There is some bad news and good news about Saga's 2021 album "Symmetry". The bad news is that it's an "unplugged" album with the band covering acoustic renditions of past songs. That's going to turn off a lot of people right at the start, and it definitely lowered my expectations when I heard that this is what the new album was going to be. The problem with these types of albums is that so many other bands have done it, and usually the results are disappointing, although some have turned out pretty good. The bands that have done this usually just put out a lazy album with very little deviation from the original except for being quite boring and less exciting.

Now, the good news here is that on this acoustic compilation, Sadler, Crichton and Gilmour are all there along with Mike Thorne on drums and Dusty Chesterfield on bass, and they are anything but lazy. Thank goodness that, on this album, they were not ready to just rely on melody and watered-down versions of their songs to carry this album into the dustbins of redone classics. Reimagined is actually a word that fits much better here. And, in most cases, it works very well on this album, better than one would expect. Even in the moments when the progressive passages come along, that is when things get really exciting here.

It all kicks off with the rather well-known progressive song from "Heads or Tails" called "Pitchman". In all honesty, I even love this version better than the original. It's more than just strumming acoustic guitars, and the band is trying to demonstrate that this is not going to be a lazy and boring album. In the first part of the song, the piano actually takes a quirky lead, Sadler's vocals actually fit in quite well in this setting, and the fiddle/violin that tends to show off a lot on this album will get your attention. And, yes, the progressiveness of this track is there in all of its glory and sounding better than ever. So, right away, this track will raise your hopes.

This is followed by "The Perfect Time to Feel Better", which is actually a medley of 3 tracks in 6/8 time. The combined songs here are "Time to Go", "The Perfectionist" and "We Hope You're Feeling Better". Though it starts off sounding pretty good, it gets somewhat boring with no meter shifts for 8 minutes. This was probably not the best track to follow the lead track with as it just wears out it's welcome and not much happens here, though Sadlers vocals are spot on, the music just won't sustain itself for this one. However, things get better again with "Chapter 1: Images" and also with "Always There" with some excellent guitar work from Crichton along with more violin. You'll notice that the acoustic guitar work here differs quite a bit from his usual style, but in reality, it's exactly what keeps this album interesting.

"Say Goodbye to Hollywood" is bookended by two short preludes which are simply two original acoustic guitar solos. As for "?Hollywood" however, it's the song that most resembles the original and features Gilmour's less dynamic vocals. This one is probably the least interesting of the tracks. As the album moves on though, things continue as before with some very nice versions that many times sound quite different than the originals, though they are still recognizable. The melodies themselves are retained for the most part, but it's the instrumental sections that see the most changes. "The Other Side of the Other Half" has some excellent interplay between the piano and drums and "Wind Him Up" is carried by strings with some nice cello passages, though the vocals are a bit disappointing here as they seem a bit weak. The original is the better choice here, but it's also nice to hear it in this style. "Chapter 5: No Regrets" uses Gilmour's vocals again, but they are much better here, and again, you get some piano interplay this time with a clarinet. The album closes out with one of the stronger entries here, "Chapter 6: Tired World" is amazing with the quick acoustic guitar passages, strings, a banjo with staccato notes, a smooth accordion all performing the progressive instrumental section.

When it's all over, its not the powerful return to form that you would like to hear from the band, but its also not an album to be thrown out just because it is an album of acoustic covers. The band is not willing to just release a lazy record. They put in a lot of effort to make these songs interesting, making them easy to recognize, yet providing a lot of surprises that you don't expect, and often retaining the progressive passages that we all know and love. It's good to hear that Sadler still has a lot of power in his voice and both Crichton and Gilmour are still as talented as ever. I was happy and sometimes quite excited to hear this new side of the band and that they have still retained their ingenuity, but because of a couple of weak tracks that didn't translate so well and the hope of hearing some new material, there are a few disappointments, however, Saga fans and progressive fans should still check this out. The album, overall, doesn't get boring except for "The Perfect Time to Feel Better" and has a few weak moments, but in the end, it is one that you know you'll come back to. There are plenty of exciting moments and changes here that will continue to keep the listener interested in the long run. Besides, in the band's extensive discography, it's nice to have a distinctive album that will stand out in a good way. I don't think too many fans will be overly disappointed with this album.

Report this review (#2525048)
Posted Monday, March 15, 2021 | Review Permalink
4 stars SAGA was formed in 1977 in Canada, has sold ten million albums and has performed in 20 countries in front of more than 15 million people: in short, one of the most famous Canadian hard-progressive groups of musical innovation, symphonic with riffs to kill. Saga doesn't play like Kansas, Asia, Rush, Styx or Yes, Saga does Saga. This so-called acoustic album offers a different listening, abandoning their original soul here; Shane Cook, Stephany Seki and Beth Silver give them a tremendous helping hand.

"Pitchman" launches the festivities with accordion solo, gypsy violin and flute! Well the piano is phew, the a capella voice of Michael still young, another banjo solo; the 1983 electric title on piano and brushed drums is astonishing to any Saga lover; it reminds me a bit of the ZZ Top title in "Back to the Future", in short, we are not on an acoustic but of a energized remix with the emphasis on instruments, a must for beginners. "The Perfect Time to Feel Better" for the 1st medley with the intro of "time to go" on splendid piano-guitar-violin, then the idyllic symphonic "silent knight"; a progressive variation then brings on "the perfectionnist" of their beginnings, a little sluggish interlude until the insane final "we hope you're feeling better" cult title of their concept album of 1995. The accordion and the violin are enjoyable, bringing on bluffing memories of fact, more than a moment of revision. "Images - Chapter One" piano, clarinet and banjo to accompany Michael's tender voice, I cry with emotion; the original melancholy side gives on the languid intimist, the final with banjo calls out to me not being able to make me forget the electric solo but the clarinet yes the enlightened clarinet is great. "Always There" and the banjo as the musical thread for this ballad track, reminiscent of the Archangel Gabriel on one of his hits; the remodeled acoustic solo shows Ian's dexterity and signs the little extra of this fairly common track at the base. "Prelude # 1" and an interlude by Ian on acoustic guitar, notes that flow between his fingers, simple sweetness. "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" by "Steel Umbrellas" revisits a less hit, more prog-pop song with Jim on vocals and gives cello and Floydian accordion digression; title causing the change because we could almost find the original Saga.

"Prelude # 2" short guitar solo as given for a simple and fresh music theory lesson from?! "The Right Side of the Other Hall" and the 2nd medley with "Trust" on display; "Footsteps in the Hall" almost like the original with bass drums and piano violin, all supported by the angelic voice; then sections of "You Were Right" and "On the Other Side" follow on a Celtic violin starting on a folkloric bourrée with baroque accordion; to listen to in a remote port. "La Foret Harmonieuse" for the last musical dessert on the piano of Jim, study on "Book of Lies" with a light phrasing of Michael. "Wind Him Up" with a 12-string guitar and a cello, a title that works especially in memory of the original, lacking pep to take off and you need the final Zeppelinian led to move buttocks, the violin having something to do with it . A track almost too flat for any fan of the group in my opinion. "No Regrets - Chapter 5" and Gilmour singing almost like the real one, piano and dry guitar in their place, the excellent clarinet transcends this title and gives more liveliness, incredible but true, a title which prepares the best way for the " Tired World - Chapter 6 "huge progressive title: the synths replaced by guitar-banjo-piano- accordion boost this monument; the quick notes make you forget the electric side, the central staccato section gives another life and revisits it, regenerates it 42 years later, offering a memory interlaced with an updated sound; you weren't expecting as much from my favorite band that I review objectively.

Symmetry offers a singular reading of classics through different, complex tones and delicately worked arrangements; the cruel pandemic allowed them to transcend themselves and forget their vintage sound. I cursed while listening to their video at the start, I have to apologize for the thought of listening to this overly bluffing and anachronistic album, a real timeless gem. CD, LP and download in a box set awaits you for a nice surprise.

Report this review (#2527524)
Posted Wednesday, March 24, 2021 | Review Permalink
4 stars As the reviewer TCat already pointed out, for fans there is bad news and good news. The bad news is that the album does not contain brand new material. Instead it contains acoustic versions of previously released songs. And now the good news is, Saga re-invented their tunes augmented with new interludes with surprising arrangements in a way that it sounds astonishingly fresh and sometimes even better than the original. The playful acoustic guitars, which creatively intertwine with the vocals and the other instruments, and the use of cello, violins, clarinet, accordion and piano give the tunes a folk-ish, classical and world music touch. Now and then the British progressive folk band Gryphon comes to mind. Especially the re-imagining of their big hits 'Wind Him Up' and 'No Regrets' are truly stunning listening experiences.
Report this review (#2607134)
Posted Saturday, October 23, 2021 | Review Permalink

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