Canadian rockers Saga have been an honest working band who haves never really gone away and continue to release studio albums every other year or so. A band always there with new material is always in danger of repeating themselves or stepping sideways out of fear of repeating themselves, and saga themselves have done both a few times. But this, 2004's 'Network', is a pretty solid effort with a lot of memorable moments, Despite a pretty raw sounding mix. Saga were going for a more 'organic' rock sound- analogue recording- and a more 'live' vibe. The drums in particular are a little murky. However, the playing is pretty solid. Saga fans will notice the absence of underrated original drummer Steve Negus, who had left the band. His replacement, Christian Simpson, is no slouch. A 'meaty'-sounding drummer, Simpson proves to be worthy to play in Negus' stead. So if you can look past the drum mix, you'll find Saga are still consistent in the drum department.
'Network' is an energetic disc, where heavy guitars, vintage synths and Michael's Sadler's distinct powerful vocals run you over like a train. The first three tracks in particular suckerpunch you and leave you for dead. There is a heavier edge to NETWORK this time, and no 'Chapters'. Having been recording and touring since 1978, at this stage in their career Saga probably have no grand plan on ruling the world and are content to focus their energies on the areas where they are the most successful(Europe, and Germany in particular). Some may say the last three or four albums have been 'Saga-by-numbers', but with NETWORK, they at least have solid ammunition and do what they do well. They sometimes play with their past a little in loving jest(the voice of 'Sam' from their 1995 concept album 'GENERATION 13' introduces the album). For those who want a little familiarity when they buy a record by one of their old favorite bands, Saga rarely disappoint.
NETWORK seems to have a semi-conceptual thread running through some of it dealing with the news, reality TV, and our generally information starved society. The songs:
ON THE AIR: synth opens the track in a 'prog-rock' style, which goes through many changes and themes. Jim Gilmour provides some 'Lamb Lies Down On Broadway' type key patterns.
KEEP IT REEL: a crunching rocker where Ian Crichton gets to strut his guitar-strangling talents. The synth sounds like an air raid siren. Drums knock you back too.
I'M BACK: the pace doesn't let up, as this driving anthem about new beginnings and new leases on life follows. The sound is unmistakeably Saga, and one of their best on the 2000's.
IF I WERE YOU: One of the album's balads which provides contrast from the first three powerhouses. Acoustic guitar, synths and soft backing vocals bring to mind some of Saga's 90's material.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: another softer track with soulful vocals and somewhat progressive middle bit.
DON'T LOOK NOW: a Saga-by-numbers heavier cut with piano and familiar Saga lyrical matter, self motivation.
LIVE AT FIVE: chunky guitar, hovering synths, true Saga.
BACK WHERE WE STARTED: keyboardist Jim Gilmour manages to sing a song per album sometimes, and on here he also provides some nice soloing as well, something often lacking with Saga. He doesn't usually do too many synth solos. Anyone interested in Jim's playing should also pick up his proggy new solo album 'Great Escape' as well.
BELIEVE: Sadler's tortured vocals drive home this somewhat sad sounding, moody anthem in a neo-prog direction of bands like ARENA. Brings to mind maybe 'Chapter One: Images' from the second album.
DON'T MAKE A SOUND: powerful, edgy and dramatic, in the tradition of perfect Saga album closers like TIRED WORLD or GOODBYE(ONCE UPON A TIME). This one was made for the stage. Gilmour's electric piano gives way to guitar crunch, a chanting middle part, and even new guy Christian Simpson gets in on the act with a semi-solo.
If you haven't heard Saga for a while, NETWORK is a good album to come back on board with.