Roland and Nina’s DECADES IN MUSIC: 1983 – SAGA – Heads or Tales

Review by Roland Bruynesteyn
Album assigned by Nina A

 

 

I recently reviewed a pop rock album by an obscure Bulgarian group (Tangra) from 1982, called Our Town. As this is roughly from the same time and sounds somewhat similar, it may be interesting to compare them. The one thing you immediately notice is the (way) bigger budget, resulting in better production techniques, better positioned instruments, a much cleaner sound. Big arena sound, roaring guitars, good low end, solid drum sound and clean guitar sound. Sadly, there the differences end, as this album is not a whole lot better, if at all. Let us proceed with caution…
The Flyer opens the album energetically, Phil Collins in hard rock mode (imagine Easy Lover on cocaine). But it’s a lot worse. Apparently this was the single; I’m immediately getting worried.
Cat Walk has a somewhat interesting (guitar? keyboard?) sound at the beginning and goes down within a minute. Think of the worst possible 80’s power pop hit and you end somewhere here. The title is repeated ad nauseam, without making you want to know why.
The sound of strangers could have been improved with a more organic drum sound, and perhaps Jon Anderson on vocals, but not by much.
 
The Writing, ah, the ballad. No it’s not, it’s Toto jamming with Survivor, on a bad day.
 
Intermission; this must surely be the ballad! If you want to know how horrible a string synthesizer and a drum computer can sound, listen to this. The voice is OK though and may actually be the best part of the song. It sounds somewhat processed (although this recording predates autotune by decades). The guitar sound around the 4 minute mark is nice as well, but gets drowned in the tacky, cheesy keyboard.
 
Social Orphan (nice title) sounds like Starship, fronted by the singer of Alphaville (of Big in Japan fame). Not a good idea. The Vendetta has the same singer fronting Depeche Mode. Doesn’t work either.
 
Scratching the Surface is musically the worst song (especially the drums) and possibly the best, as there are some nice guitar lines. The fact that they combine these sounds really reflects badly on Saga.
 
The Pitchman, Jesus, does this ever stop? “Hey, I cannot really sing? Will you sing with me?” “Well, I can’t sing either…”. “That should work then; let’s do this…”. “I have an even better idea! We put some meaningful background voices in the instrumental break!”
And we end with another version of Cat Walk, twice as long. I really, really listened to it once, but I have no relevant comment to make.
This falls into what I propose to call the Asia/Styx/Foreigner/Boston/Starship genre of professionally recorded but loveless performed power pop music that was all the rage in the first half of the 80’s. Not interested then, not interested now. In retrospect, if you’re into this, for reasons I couldn’t possibly want to understand, go listen to Tangra, a low budget and altogether more sympathetic version of this type of music…
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