High Notes

My SAGA Saga

By Chris Anderson

It’s no secret – I love music. I love everything about it. I love discovering new music and championing

some artist long before they’re relevant. Even more so, I love discovering some band or artist who is so

late in their career that they are often far past relevance, but boasting a vast body of work. It’s like

finding some secret room in your house that you never knew existed. Sometimes those rooms are filled

with treasure, sometimes they are filled with fuzzy memories, and sometimes they are filled with doors

to even more secret rooms. But every so often that room is dark and full of cobwebs and other

obstacles and you know there is something really cool in there but you just can’t see it, for one reason

or another.

That happened to me with Widespread Panic for about a decade – I would buy their albums and trade

for bootlegs and I would listen and know that I was supposed to like them, but I just didn’t “get” it. I just

had this aversion to them and I could not put my finger on it. Until one day, for some random reason, it

finally clicked. And then they went on to become one of my favorite bands in the world. Now, I don’t

even really remember what it was that turned me off.

Another band that did that to me is Saga. Far less popular than many bands out there, they nonetheless

have kept up a career for almost 40 years and have released 21 albums, to date. They are Canadian and

have a prog mentality. There is no reason why they did not exist in my musical palette. But every time I

listened to them, I wasn’t sold. And that drove me totally nuts, to be honest with ya.

A band simply cannot be that prolific, with that lengthy of a career, and not know what they are doing. I

had to get to the bottom of it.

Last Summer, Saga released their 21st studio album, Sagacity. I was living in St. John’s, Newfoundland,

and I spent a lot of time walking around the city, listening to that album. I was determined to come

around. Upon first listen, I will admit I still didn’t love it. But I didn’t hate it either. There was

something very clever going on, that was obvious. Each time I listened, I found myself enjoying it more.

I still wasn’t totally sold, but I was getting there. I nosed around their earlier work and enjoyed some of

the old hits like “On The Loose” before eventually moving on. But – and this is important – Saga was on

my radar. Finally, an understanding was in sight.

So that brings us to the present. For some reason, some small chain of musical events led me back to

Saga and I put on Sagacity again, after not hearing it for about eight months. And that was it – the

genius of this band, and this album in particular, finally hit me. I wound up ordering it on vinyl and it has

hardly left my turntable since.

In my car, I have been going through their entire catalog for the last couple of months, listening to

pretty much nothing else, sometimes blasting through the albums in order, sometimes revisiting albums

and listening to them over and over. Not only did Saga finally click for me, but I figured out exactly why I

had such a hard time making sense of them, to begin with.

Saga sounds like no other band on the planet.

There is a bit of prog in there, but Saga is not quite prog. There is a bit of pop in there, but Saga is not

quite pop. There is a bit of AOR rock in there, but Saga is not quite AOR. There is a bit of metal in there,

but Saga is not quite metal. There is a bit of new wave in there, but Saga is not quite new wave. It goes

on and on. This amalgam of styles that are “not quite” their individual ingredients….it obscured any

solid reference point for me. And I think that is why I couldn’t understand this band before. I expected

them to be something that they weren’t, and it clouded my perception. Usually when you come across

a band you like, it’s because there is something in their sound that strikes a familiar chord in your soul,

whether you are aware of it or not. That didn’t exist for me, in Saga’s music. There was nothing familiar

to grab a hold of. Which is a good thing. A very good thing. Because that is the entire point of this

band, I think. And once I realized that, it totally came together. And I am happy to say that I absolutely

love Saga now.

I will probably always be partial to Sagacity but other highlights of their career are Worlds Apart (1981),

Heads Or Tales (1983), House Of Cards (2001), and 10,000 Days (2007). There are only a few albums

that I don’t dig but time will tell on those.

One of the things I love so much about Saga is the very thing that initially turned me off – their

songwriting. Their songs are mostly serious, sometimes playful, and they always steer clear of the cliché

topics – there are no songs about cars, girls, or rock & roll, no mystical, cosmic gobbledygook, no angst

or overt political tones. Instead, they write very clever songs about the human condition, songs that

aren’t terribly complicated but are far from simple. There are plenty of hooks and very original

arrangements. Saga is a wickedly creative band and there is obviously a great deal of thought put into

their music. They play exactly the kind of music that I want to hear and I often find myself thinking –

where have they been all my life?

Turns out they were under my nose the whole time.

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