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Saga - The Human Condition CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.49 | 114 ratings

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4 stars Saga returns with a new singer. And what a return !

Now before I begin, I ask that any & all comparisons I make be understood as a way to describe this album for those who either do not know much of Saga, or who gave up on them after their initial glory days that ran up to Heads or Tales.

The Human Condition starts out the album with a "follow us if you can" guitar / keyboard run that sounds like a band re-energized. A treated vocal comes in at times, but this one should put a smile on musos' faces.

Step Inside keeps the pace up. In a way, it almost sounds as the group is reclaiming its " once upon a time" reputation as the first "Neo" band. It brings to mind recent New Prog like Pendragon's Pure & some Porcupine Tree in the heavy guitars. Heavy Saga ! But not ham-handed. The lyrics did seem a bit too simple at first, but repeated listenings dispelled any effect it had on my loving the music.

Hands of Time - here's is where I'll make my first comment on Rob Moratti, the new vocalist. Yes, his voice does recall Dennis DeYoung a bit. But on this song, if I close my eyes, I hear Roine Stolt. Not in the sense of imitation. But more in the way that his tone comes across as positive emotion in song. Indeed, this song wouldn't sound out of place on a Flower Kings album. But you could also compare it to early Saga like Don't Be Late, but coming to a calmly rising crescendo.

Avalon - I'm practically in the midst of bliss after this song. As a fan of Neo bands like Marillion, IQ & Pendragon, this one brings me back to the same good feeling as I had listening to these bands latest releases. Yes, there is the pop & AOR influence, but they add their bit of class, sophistication and prog to the song. The group's mix of old & new Saga is in full bloom here. I'm going to have to go through my collection to see if Ian Crichton influenced Nick Barrett, or did Ian pick up some things from latter day Nick. Truly, Saga is besting the best of the today's Neo scene with songs like this.

A Number with a Name - Ian Crichton and Jim Gilmour are back in classic Saga mode. Their interplay, which I so fondly remember from albums like Saga & Heads or Tales, is all over this song. A bit heavier on the guitar, a reminder of the aspects that Saga shared with Rush, but classic Saga. It brings to mind Saga's first song - How Long - with Saga's Gentle Giant influence coming through. Gilmour's piano at times reminds me of Kerry Minnear's playing from songs like Just the Same. Here Rob's vocals are reminiscent of Steve Walsh at his peak.

Now is Now - is best described as Saga doing classic Styx, or rather (smirk, smirk), Saga showing Styx what they could or should be doing. Moratti's voice here is a mix between DeYoung and Steve Walsh. Indeed, the solo section at the end reminds me of some older Kansas. Gilmour's array of keyboards on this song is fascinating. Floating Synths, tinkling piano, with an electric piano sound carrying the main melody. Add Ian Crichton pulling off a solo of Alex Lifeson heights.

Let It Go & Crown of Thorns- A Neo Rush ? Or did Ian Crichton pull an Alex Lifeson and push for a heavier sound. Heavier on guitar, with the keys more as backing. Apart from the vocals this could have fit well on recent Rush albums. But again, the similarity is due more to the aspects that the group shared with Rush in the early 80s. Of course, Gilmour keyboard playing outmatches Geddy's, and again we hear what led many to call Saga a Neo band before Neo.

You Look Good To Me - Did I mention Gilmour's piano occasionally bringing Kerry Minnear to mind ? Well, here the main melody line played by Ian Crichton Gary Green's , a sound very reminiscent of an updated Just the Same from Gentle Giant. A pre-verse that Dennis DeYoung in his glory days used to be able to write effortlessly, onto a chorus that hits pop heaven . No improvised free jazz middle part, but a complete showcase of Saga's pop strengths, and how at their best, they can bring in prog aspects without sounding forced. A solo part more straight ahead than Gentle Giant's Just the Same, but a nice detour into the classic heavy guitar, and modern synth interplay thatCrichton & Gilmour do so well. And Brian Doerner, who I should have mentioned more often holds it all together with just the right touch.

All in all, this album should be gladly welcomed by old Saga fans, and I strongly recommend it to fans of Neo AND what PA classifies as Crossover Prog. This is joyful music, very welcome to these ears. And this is one that seemed to grow quickly on me.

Are Saga re-energized from the Contact 30th anniversary tour & that last show with Michael Sadler ? Are they re-invigorated because of having found themselves with a new singer ? Either way, this sounds like a fresh (re)start for the group. And nothing like starting at the top, eh !

Now off to Spin-It Records to see what LPs or CD that may have of Saga.

debrewguy | 4/5 |


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