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(50 min, InsideOut)
TRACK LIST: 1. On the Air 6:30 2. Keep It Reel 4:22 3. I'm Back 5:04 4. If I Were You 5:53 5. Outside Looking In 4:28 6. Don't Look Now 5:11 7. Live at Five 5:25 8. Back Where We Started 4:21 9. Believe 5:00 10. Don't Make It Sound 6:25 LINEUP: Jim Crichton - bass Ian Crichton - guitars Michael Sadler - lead vocals Jim Gilmour - keyboards; vocals Christopher Simpson - drums
Prolusion. Here is another chapter of SAGA, their freshest (sixteenth) studio album, "Network", to be viewed this time out. What would I add here? I think the preamble to the review of Saga's previous release, "The Chapters: Live", is enough informative to manage without details here.
Analysis. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that like most of their albums in general, "Network" has no significant departures from the trademark Saga sound, although the tendency to consciously simplify their music that the band demonstrated on "Marathon" is continued here (the matter reminding me slightly of where the group found themselves in 1987-'89.) There is a difference between the content of the first and the second half of the album. It may be barely perceptible, especially upon the initial listening, but it does exist. Regardless of their belonging to one or another songwriting style, the first five tracks are simpler in construction than most of the further ones, containing only four different vocal themes at most and, thus, revealing rather many repetitions. The arrangements in the instrumental sections don't shine with diversity either, at least not in their overall appearance. (The guitar solos are great everywhere they are, but the proverb "one's as good as none" sounds topical in this case; I mean Ian Crichton of course.) Besides, obvious repetitions take place even there. The songs: On the Air and I'm Back are a combination of Saga's traditional well-crafted vocal-based sound with hooks and an ordinary AOR, as is Keep It Reel, although it is much heavier overall, with the guitar riffs dominating nearly throughout. Built around the beautiful passages of piano and acoustic guitar, If I Were You and Outside Looking In are nice Art-Rock-like ballads located in the vicinity of each other, and yet, it's quite difficult to derive pleasure from them in future, perhaps just because they follow one another. The next to last song, Believe, is much of the same story, but it doesn't bore me, being in the right place, surrounded by the songs with a denser and more intense sound. So, the picture changes on the sixth track, on which the progressive listener finally finds himself in a more comfortable atmosphere to stay until the end of the album. Furthermore, the group's performance, and Michael Sadler's singing in particular, seem to be much more heartfelt here, on the CD's conditional Side B, providing each of the five songs below the album's equator with a healthy dose of that genuine salt, which is so typical for, say, classic Saga. The remaining four songs: Don't Look Now, Live at Five, Back Where We Started and Don't Make It Sound are Saga delivering that really fine balance between the seemingly opposed forces of accessibility and progressiveness, which they have always mastered with ease, over the years. The sound is still vocal-based, but is integrated with really colorful and diverse instrumental maneuvers, manifesting the finest of Neo Prog. This is not all however. Each of the four is notable also for something unusual, displaying the band's willingness to experiment. (It is no secret that Saga is one of the most conservative bands with regard to the style they've once chosen.) Some vocal lines on Back Where We Started, and especially Live at Five, are certain digressions from Sadler's typical ways of singing. The middle instrumental section of Don't Look Now is an amazingly intricate Prog-Metal, and the lushly symphonic, particularly in finale, Don't Make It Sound ends with a beautiful acoustic guitar postlude. These two are the progressive highlights of the album. The CD's special edition includes a Bonus DVD. It represents the 5.1 mix of the entire album, with band photographs, frames from their various live performances, short cartoon films, beautiful cosmic landscapes, etc, serving as a background for the music. It is unimportant to me that the 'bonus version' is made with the use of modern technologies, but I must note that I perceive the album much better when I listen to it while watching the DVD.
Conclusion. There are not many bands whose creation would've been as stable as Saga's (especially on the stylistic level), and "Network" is just another album to prove the band's ability to successfully balance between Prog and mainstream Rock, still without becoming a parody of themselves. What would I add here? I think the conclusion to the review of Saga's previous release, "The Chapters: Live", will tell more to Prog lovers about where they should look first in the case of Saga. As to the band's traditional audience, I believe they don't need any additional recommendations if they have read the review as such. Of course, the band's die-hard fans don't need any recommendations in general.
VM: January 6, 2006
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