I always have difficulties when first hearing a Saga album, and it usually takes some time to decide whether I like it or not. That often arrives when their next one does and I can measure the former against the latter, which is not an ideal way of doing things. You’d much rather be looking at an upward trajectory than this constant state of validation. I came to the conclusion that their best album was Network, but only after I heard Trust, and so forth.
Yet I’m at a disadvantage with their latest, 20/20. The first aspect of this is that lead singer Michael Sadler is back with the band, but had only been away for one album (2009’s The Human Condition with vocalist Rob Moratti). While this makes sense because Sadler’s voice is inextricable from Saga…it is Saga, honestly; the sense that he hadn’t been away long enough for people to fully realize he was gone takes the urgency right out of the reunion. Things are how they should be, but the circumstances over getting there cloud the whole.
So does the track record that it seems Saga becomes the harbinger of doom for whatever label they land on. This marks the fifth or sixth company they’ve dealt with, and while I’m being facetious in bringing it up, I’m also giving a half-warning to new label Eagle Records…cover your rear ends!
And clearly we haven’t even brought up the most important part of the whole, being: how does the album sound? Well, it sounds okay, and rocks pretty hard, leaning more toward Network’s tuneful aggressiveness. What it misses is Network’s more melodic side (even at the loud points), and that seems to come from the band attempting to reposition itself away from the prog rock scene. In interviews, Sadler has said he doesn’t really see the band as such and assumes they got that reputation because of the keyboards. Okay, the keyboards do push some of that perception along, but so does their multi-album, multi-song story arc of “The Chapters.” Since it is much harder to assert that is a fan perception issue since the band themselves designed the corner they’ve painted themselves into, I’m calling BS on this new stance.
What we have then in terms of material on 20/20 is a forced hardness without the best hooky points that reeled in the listener, starting with the slightly skeevy second cut “Anywhere You Want To Go.” It might well be a fault of interpretation on my part but if I’m hearing this correctly, Sadler is singing about the woman that’s on her knees in front of him, as he admires her tramp-stamp on her back, thanks her for…whatever, and says he’ll take her “anywhere you want to go.” This is, I guess, supposed to be sexy/sleazy in the mode of late-‘80s synth-infused hard rock. It sounds crunchy but reads yucky, and would state the band has traded an uncool slightly out-of-date genre for another uncool slightly out-of-date genre. No trading up, just out.
Other songs on the album do attempt to inject some melody, but from such a starting point you wind up with a bad taste in your mouth. And those other songs don’t linger too long in the memory either, which is a more pressing problem. You can forgive one song out of a group so long as you can actually not forget some of the others, yet I did. Uh-oh.
But as I have already confessed, I’m most likely to gain an appreciation after Saga’s next release, whenever that should arrive, so I can only speak to my immediate disappointment that this one should not be the one to break that trend. For longtime fans, it’s a mildly entertaining hard rock album with keyboards and some flashy playing here and there, but I can’t get behind it the way I would like to. Maybe next time, folks.
20/20 is available from Amazon.com.