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Old 01-20-2023, 03:48 PM   #151 (permalink)
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Styx are a guilty pleasure of mine, honestly. If nothing else they always had killer synth parts. For all his Broadway rock corniness, Dennis DeYoung had absolute taste in synths.
My old band use to do Suite Madam Blue, which nobody knew cause I don't think it was ever a radio hit or anything, but it would always go over amazingly well.

Absolute killer synth work on that track!
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Old 01-20-2023, 03:49 PM   #152 (permalink)
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Styx are a guilty pleasure of mine, honestly. If nothing else they always had killer synth parts. For all his Broadway rock corniness, Dennis DeYoung had absolute taste in synths.
To me Styx were the ultimate jack of all trades master of none band of the 70s. Hard rock, prog rock, yacht rock, they did it all and always with a generous topping of cheese.

Todd in the Shadows once compared Dennis DeYoung's vocal style to that Dana Carvey "Choppin' Broccoli" song from SNL and now I can't unhear it.

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Looks like some bizarre mashup between Max Shreck and Daft Punk.
Well that and it's an absurdly racist Japanese caricature like something straight out of a WW2 Warner Bros cartoon.
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Old 01-20-2023, 03:54 PM   #153 (permalink)
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Well that and it's an absurdly racist Japanese caricature like something straight of a WW2 Warner Bros cartoon.
Looks like a villain from a Kabuki theater production.

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Old 01-20-2023, 08:59 PM   #154 (permalink)
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All right then, on to the second example I’m going to take. I’m reliably informed this is one of their best regarded, and it comes two years after the previous one. It also has the hit “Wind Him Up”, which I’ve heard of, but not heard, and two more of those Chapters things. Let’s see if this changes my mind, or reinforces it.

Worlds Apart (1981)

I don’t want to judge an album by its cover, but my god it’s pretty awful. I had to check twice to see what it is: seems to be some sort of sorcerer or demonic guy holding a map while everything either explodes or steam covers everything. What’s the idea there I wonder? Do I wonder? Not really. Don’t care. It’s certainly a step down from the first album I looked at, in terms of covers. Very unattractive. Well, let’s see what the music is like.

Got a bit more of a punch to it as it begins, kind of a military beat to “On the Loose”, which was a hit, and I see it says Michael Sadler, the singer who annoyed me so much on the previous album, changed his vocal style at the urging of the producer. Much better. It’s very early, of course, but does this sound prog to me? At this particular moment, not really, but it has a certain charm. Not sure what makes it so much better than any of the previous Saga songs that it became a hit, but whatever. There is a more mature sense about it, so that’s something. Still using that APP main melody though. Hmm. “Wind Him Up” is next, and apparently this became a hit - mostly in Canada - due more or less to its heavy rotation on MTV. That can be a good or a bad thing: if the song became a hit because people liked the video the song itself may not be that good. Of course, it could also be that both are good. That stuttery riff runs through this track as well, though.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mhNM4XqTN4
It’s decent, perhaps even better than decent. Is it changing my mind about Saga? The jury are still in the box, never mind retired to consider a verdict. Evidence is still being presented, Your Honour. “Wind Him Up” is another playful, boppy, uptempo song but again it froths rather than slays, for me anyway. I will admit that I was singing “Mouse in a Maze” this morning, so they’ve made some impression on me. That was the last album, of course. Can this one do something similar? Well, “Amnesia” is slower, and conjures up, of all things, images of 80s Genesis, around the time of the self-titled oh no it doesn’t, just went into another bippity-boppity rhythm which robs it of the sort of gravitas it was beginning to attain. Meh. And meh to the next one too. A common problem with bands like this, with me anyway, is that songs tend to blend together and I can never remember any of them after the album is over. This is not an issue with bands like Arena, Threshold, Marillion, Big Big Train and a hundred others. I take it as an indication that, to me at any rate, the band, and possibly the album(s) is or are not very interesting, at least not enough to keep my attention.

This one is called “Framed” and the only real thing I can tell you about it, other than being yet another uptempo pop/rocky thing is that there’s a very annoying voiceover about people being framed, and then a pretty decent guitar solo and instrumental part, which almost, but not quite, saves the song. Other than that, like a lot here, it’s more or less passed me by. “Time’s Up” isn’t bad, to be fair, but again it’s not going to remain in my head afterwards. “The Interview” has a return to that tougher, marching beat the opener had, and the arpeggios are good. I’d actually say it’s the first really good track on the album to date.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bYA6ZXjkow
Okay, “No Regrets”, the first (only?) ballad is pretty damn fine, and I’d say close to being the first song of theirs I would consider truly progressive rock in its style. I like that one a lot. Great ambient sounds, kind of tubular bells somewhere in there too, and the vocal really suits the music. So two good tracks one after the other: are they going for a big finish here? Let’s see. Oh, and that’s one of the Chapters things, if you care. Next up we have “Conversations”, which has a sort of confused speech thing at the beginning; not exactly ground-breaking but at least it fits in with the title. Good opening instrumental - or is it all instrumental? Again very much more prog rock here, perhaps Saga are beginning to come of age. I don’t know if this would be classed as an instrumental, but the only vocals on it are the - presumably taped - snatches of discussion and talking going on, so maybe.

The closer then finally gets a little closer to the kind of song length you might be expecting on a prog album, though at just seven minutes it’s not quite what you’d call an epic. Not that length of track equals quality, but just generally, when I’m looking at new albums that are - sometimes mistakenly or undeservingly - labelled as prog, I do often tend to check the track lengths. It’s not the only yardstick by which I measure prog, of course, but overall, in a general sense, you don’t find too many other genres with songs over ten minutes, apart from maybe Atmospheric Black Metal, Ambient and a few others. “No Stranger”, then, opens with some sort of dark chant going on, quite moody in its atmosphere, slowburner perhaps, and it’s another of those Chapters. It’s, well, it’s all right, but it goes through too many changes and certainly does not leave me singing it at the end like I was with the last album’s closer.

Track listing

On the Loose
Wind Him Up
Amnesia
Framed
Time’s Up
The Interview
No Regrets (Chapter Five)
Conversations
No Stranger (Chapter Eight)

I can see a little more promise in this one, at least on the second side, says he, showing his age. But I’m still not convinced. I had hoped for a big blockbuster ending, and what I got was a fairly half-decent but in the end limpwristed shrug. So it seems to me anyway. Still, there are a few good tracks here, but like they say, in the same way that a few good tracks don’t make a good album, one good album (which I’m not convinced this is) does not make a good band. And this being acknowledged as their best, most commercially successful and loved album, kind of makes it look to me as if there’s only one way to go from here, and that’s down.

You want me to say it, don't you? Go on, admit it. All right, I will. I'll say it.

At this point, it seems Saga and myself are still... worlds apart.
Bum-tish!

Has anything on this album impressed me at all? Oh yeah. Much more than the previous one. I liked “No Regrets” and “The Interview”, though “Framed” (despite the very decent instrumental section) and “Conversations” both annoyed me, and I was disappointed by the closer. Overall though, I'd say this is a more progressive rock album than the other one. A step in the right direction, but we've a long way to go yet.

Result for this album:

Result so far:
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Old 01-24-2023, 08:09 PM   #155 (permalink)
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And so Saga have one last chance to impress me. Is it likely? At the moment I would say I’m slightly less meh towards them, but not much. This, then, is the third album I’m taking, going on recommendations from their fanbase, and as it’s a good deal more recent than the first two, who knows what might happen?



House of Cards (2001)

So we’re now twenty years ahead of Worlds Apart, and it’s interesting to me to note that this album did not chart, nor have any hit singles. Could it be better for that, or will it be a really poor effort? Still no long tracks, despite this having twelve, the most of the three I’ve looked at so far. The opener, “God Knows”, has a long-ish ambient sort of intro but then turns into another sort of uptempo boppy thing, though there is a harder edge to this, I will admit. The speech samples are quite annoying, and this is not the first time Saga have done this. I can’t say this excites me anyway. It’s not terrible but it’s still kind of meh, and really, I’ve always been a believer that you need a good track to kick an album off, and this isn’t it. Maybe it’ll get better. “The Runaway” has a sort of AOR feel to it, which has always been where I see Saga more positioned than as a prog band. It’s pretty guitar driven, and again it’s okay but not what I would call a breakout track. Sounds a little like something maybe Pat Benatar would have put out in the mid-eighties.

Could “Always There” be that breakout song? It’s certainly caught my attention, so that’s a start. Sort of a slow-ish acoustic guitar riff running through it, with a nice hook in the melody. I have to say, I like this one. Again though it has more an kind of maybe indie vibe rather than anything prog, but then Marillion have “After Me” and there are plenty of non-proglike songs in the catalogue of any prog band you care to name, so that’s not really a minus against them. I don’t think i’d call this a ballad, but it certainly is the slowest track so far. And, at the moment, far and away the best. “Ashes to Ashes” is a lot more proggy now, and I think I may also like this one. Got a sense of mid-era Arena about this, for sure. Another of the Chapters things. Good keyboard parts, with some ambient sounds in there too. It is a little repetitive though. Far better is “Once in a Lifetime”, a sort of waltzy semi-ballad that sounds like it could really have what it takes, as long as they don’t blow it as they tend to do so often.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CkmEb32jjE
No they didn’t try to overextend it or make it into something it wasn’t. That was very pleasant, and a good hook in it too. If they wrote more songs like that it’s possible Saga might impress me more, or at least induce me to look into their other albums (this is fourteen of twenty-two, so far), and in fact “Only Human”, rather surprisingly, continues the trend set down by “Once in a Lifetime” (there is another track, called, rather appropriately, “So Good, So Far”, but it’s not on my version, being only available on US and Japanese pressings). Another kind of semi-ballad with some nice soft percussion and picked guitar, it has a good sense of emotion in the vocal, and even an almost Rotheryesque guitar solo. Impressive.

And it more or less keeps going with “That’s How We Like It”, which ups the tempo but resists the urge to do their usual and stomp and bounce along, keeping well clear of the pop side of things, and again putting me in mind of Arena and maybe It Bites too. The chorus is perhaps a little cheesy, but I can probably forgive them that, seeing as, after a shaky start, this album is proving to be much more enjoyable than I had expected. The short piano instrumental is lovely, and then another uptempo but no less great song in “We’ll Meet Again” with some fine guitar work and a driving beat, and this is another of the Chapters. That leaves us with only two tracks, and to be fair, even if they’re shit - and at this point I don’t think they will be - this album is still a quantum leap forward for me in my attempt to get into Saga. Maybe the later albums are where it’s at.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFI-YlJZK8I
Okay well there’s a somewhat embarrassing semi-rap or chant at the opening of “Money Talks”, but once it gets going it’s a pretty damn fine song, even if it does tend a little too far into pop, even (shudder) boyband territory. The hook is enough to earn it forgiveness for that though, and I’m still engaged. We end then on a sort of descending piano line into a guitar riff and a strange laugh as we pile into the title track, with a sort of boogie blues tune which confuses me a little, and I would have to say it’s not the ending I would have hoped for. “Money Talks” would have been a much more satisfying closer, not to mention that they bring those speech samples back in and really I find the track quite a mess. It’s a poor final taste of this band, but I’m still happy enough with this album, head and shoulders above the other two I listened to.

Track listing

God Knows
The Runaway
Always There
Ashes to Ashes (Chapter 11)
Once in a Lifetime
Only Human
That’s How We Like It
Watching the Clock
We’ll Meet Again (Chapter 15)
Money Talks
House of Cards

So at the end of my little excursion through the music of Saga in three albums, have I changed my mind? Well, a little, to be honest, mostly based on this one. I still don’t see them as a band I would be too interested in pushing myself to like, and if, as I imagine is the case, it’s only the later albums - say, those in this century - that might appeal to me, well then there are another, what, eleven albums I’d have to listen to which I might not like. And it’s not worth that. Not to mention that, should I find I do like the post-2000 ones, there are only eight more of them to listen to. I can’t see that it’s worth my while, whichever way I look at it.

All I can say is that I’ve gained a smidgeon more respect for them as a band, but as a progressive rock band, I’m afraid that, a few tracks here and there apart, I really don’t see it. If I had an icon that was a partial smile, I’d use it, but I can’t say Saga have put a smile on my face yet. Still, it’s a better result that it was before I began, and I guess that’s something.

Result for this album:

Result so far:

Final result (for now) on Saga:
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