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Saga - Saga CD (album) cover

SAGA

Saga

 

Crossover Prog

3.68 | 198 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars The late 70s was hardly the peak period for progressive rock bands as the musical styles were shifting but some acts that were emerging skillfully walked the tightrope between the sophistication of the early part of the decade with the more pop oriented new wave that was gaining popularity towards the end. One of Canada's most prolific and enduring bands SAGA was amongst the first to bravely tackle this hybridization in perfect form. While emerging from a band name Fludd and then starting out under the Pockets moniker, SAGA has become one of Canada's greatest export having sold millions of albums alongside Rush and Godspeed! You Black Emperor.

The band hit a high note right from the start and found some moderate success of the eponymously titled debut album which was released in the early part of 1978. The sound of the band stood somewhere between the sophisticated keyboard driven prog of Kansas and the more mainstream rock of bands like Styx and Supertramp with the unique charismatic vocal charm of lead vocalist Michael Sadler and more progressive elements. While the band's overall sound and style has changed throughout the years as has the lineup, on the debut SAGA, they unleashed a keyboard and Moog rich pastiche of catchy grooves augmented by synthesizer solos, dreamy atmospheres and new wave guitar charm.

The trademark alien insect debuted as well which played a prominent role in another unique feature of the band, namely the interesting concept of "The Chapters" collection of tracks that appeared scattered out of order throughout various albums. Two of them, 4 and 6 appeared on this debut album. The "Chapters" display SAGA's more sophisticated approach in lyrical content keeping them more on the prog side of the equation than bands like Supertramp, Journey or Toto. It recounts the tale of a young Albert Einstein and would find all of the tracks compiled later on "The Chapters LIVE" but to date has not been released in a compilation form with the original studio tracks sitting side by side. Sounds like an anniversary bash release if you ask me.

In the beginning, SAGA was all about the Moog and this album is just drenched in keyboards here, keyboards there, keyboards everywhere which has given this first release by SAGA the claim to be one of the first neo-prog albums as it very much sounds similar to the wild synthesizer-drench antics that Marillion would conduct in their music all throughout the 80s albeit Marillion nurtured the progressive elements to even greater lengths. Nevertheless, the bouncy beat, the rich synth drenched motifs and the brash bravado of the lead singer certainly bring the Fish led era of Marillion to mind when i'm listening to this. The poppy infectious tracks gleefully hook you upon first contact along with interesting twists and turns but never deviate from the general pop formulaic approach.

Four of the five members contributed Moog and keyboards to this album leaving only guitarist Ian Crichton to focus on one instrument and he doesn't disappoint as he prognosticates the new wave and progressive pop styles of Asia and Genesis that would fully take root in the early 80s when MTV would provide a new format for the synth generation of pop and rock music. SAGA may have been too early at this stage for the video star status but still found an instant crowd with a major following in Germany. The second track "Humble Stance" has become one of the band's all time favorites and has been performed in virtually every live appearance since. While the pop hooks are characteristic of the album's overall feel, some of the keyboard solos are quite exquisite as they not only deliver amazing speedy effects but supreme virtuosity.

While SAGA hasn't become a household name like some of the other bands of the era, their music is definitely unique for the time in how it incorporates hard rock, power pop and symphonic prog into a unique mix that took the logical next step in musical hybridization which would become the norm in the synth-dominated 80s. While SAGA themselves would succumb to the simpler radio friendly hits that were expected in the following decade, on this debut album they deliver the perfect mix of prog pomp mixed with catchy new wave danceability a full five years before bands like Asia and Yes found new life with their own progressive pop styles. This is quite the brilliant album if not perfect. The perfect 70s crossover album for sure.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |

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