CD Review: Saga - 20/20

CD Review: Saga – 20/20
Eagle Rock Entertainment/earMusic (edel)
All Access Review: A-
Saga - 20/20 2012
A signifier of perfect eyesight, the designation “20/20” holds special meaning for the long-running Canadian progressive-rock institution Saga. For one thing, 20/20 just happens to be their 20th album, and for another, it also refers to the eye operation keyboardist/vocalist Jim Gilmour had that has restored his vision to – you guessed it – 20/20.
More than that, however, the title is emblematic of Saga’s ability to visualize so clearly and with such detailed definition what it is they want to accomplish every time they step foot in a studio. Nothing, it seems, is ever left to chance for a group that has always been meticulous about sound clarity, even as they designed some of the most grandiose sonic architecture in the realm of prog-rock with Worlds Apart and other marvels. Cleanliness is next to godliness for Saga, and with the successful Lasik surgery conducted on 20/20, due to be released by Eagle Rock Entertainment, it appears there is nothing clouding their focus.
With Michael Sadler, one of the most distinctive and crystalline vocalists in all of prog, back in the fold, Saga seems re-energized on the futuristic 20/20, even if the music was almost entirely finished before his return. Between the breathless urgency and racing pulse of 20/20’s opener “Six Feet Under,” the wah-wah radiation burns of “Anywhere You Wanna Go” and the crunching, switchback guitar grooves of a particularly metallic “Spin It Again,” so reminiscent of early King’s X, 20/20 finds Saga adding some edginess and heft to what are often airy melodic passages – the likes of which are found in the breezy mix of light acoustic guitar strum and gently ruffling synthesizers that is “Ellery,” which checks in on the psychopathic main character of fan favorite “The Perfectionist.”
A defiant optimism pervades 20/20, as the pain and frustration of a life of unrealized potential vented in the chorus of sharp vocals and angry riffs in “One of These Days” give way to dizzying whirls of synthesizer and inspiring lyrical self-affirmations. Fighting against the erosion of imagination, “Till the Well Runs Dry” – featuring a deceivingly simple, but wonderfully executed Ian Crichton guitar solo and touches of jazz fusion – is swept up in a gushing geyser of a chorus of soaring, faith-healing keyboard swells and arpeggios and Sadler’s almost evangelical fervor for the subject matter. Tested again in the gorgeous ballad “Lost for Words,” Sadler’s expansive range and rare gift for expertly navigating melodies swim through an ocean of lovely piano figures, crystals of synth and acoustic guitar gold, before the surging electric rock – blanketed in dreamy vocals and pinwheel keyboards – of “Show and Tell” crash the reverie.
One of the most emotionally powerful and heartfelt records of the band’s history, 20/20 is, nevertheless, pretty typical of Saga the easy marriage of synthesizers and keyboards with diverse guitar forays allowing each entity enough room to make their mark.Though more muscular than past efforts, the utterly transcendent 20/20 is full of altered moods, dynamic shifts in tempos and guided tours of epic, byzantine instrumental citadels. In much the same way that countrymen Rush combine their adventurous inclinations with a grounding in solid rock riffing, Saga forges strong song structures and flowing, shapely melodies that can withstand experimentation and the occasional odd time signature. There is nothing wrong with Saga’s vision, even after all these years.
-            Peter Lindblad

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