Saga – The Human Condition (2009, SPV/Inside Out)
- The Human Condition
- Step Inside
- Hands Of Time
- A Number With A Name
- Now Is Now
- Let It Go
- Crown Of Thorns
- You Look Good To Me
Rob Moratti – Vocals
Jim Crichton – Bass
Ian Crichton – Guitars
Jim Gilmour – Keyboards & Vocals
Brian Doerner – Drums
Produced by: Saga
Total Time = 47:16
Canadian prog-rockers Saga have been churning out their special blend of AOR/Melodic Rock infused Progressive Rock for over 38 years. In January 2007 the band was dealt a major blow when founding member/lead singer Michael Sadler announced that he would leave Saga at the end of 2007 so he could explore other interests and focus on family. Sadler was one of the founding members since 1971 and replacing him would not be an easy task so, after Saga’s 36th anniversary tour (also Sadler’s farewell tour), the band got down to searching for a new lead singer. Enter ex-Final Frontier frontman Rob Morrati, who joined the band in 2008.
THE HUMAN CONDITION is pretty much the kind of record you would expect to hear from a veteran band: top quality musicianship, intelligent songwriting and excellent vocals. The music is still based solely around the guitars and keyboards that together give Saga that balance between AOR and Prog Rock. The bass and drums are just as solid as they always are…..the only question mark being the switch from the identifiable Sadler to Moratti. The answer is that Moratti has done a superb job in filling Sadler’s shoes and he fits right in. The vocals do sound different but Moratti still provides plenty of range and power when needed but his strength is his sense of melody.
The opening title track is pure Prog Rock instrumental with only one repeated vocal line from Moratti, both guitarist Ian Crichton and keyboardist Jim Gilmour weaving their instruments through each other’s sound to offer a spectacular wall of sound. ‘Step Inside’ is a lot heavier and almost into the Progressive Metal category following today’s contemporaries Dream Theater, Tiles or Shadow Gallery. While the song is heavier with more prominent guitars and drums, the song is still very melodic. Moratti provides a real classic vocal and the piano doesn’t overpower the rest of the band, it compliments it. The pace slows to a spacey kind of ballad on ‘Hands Of Time’ that sounds like something straight out of the Ayreon catalog with it’s swirling keyboards and mellow guitar. It’s definitely a change of pace but it fits weel in the context of the entire album. Things pick up again quickly with the more uptempo and majestic ‘Avalon’ and it’s about this time that the band has shown all it’s cards from pure Prog to Metal to Space Rock and now Melodic Rock. It’s a very diverse sound and there is really no way to know what to expect as there can be elements of all styles in a song. ‘Avalon’ starts more Melodic Rock but by the time the solos kick in both the guitars and keyboards take on a more Prog texture.
More pure Prog comes wrapped in the quirky ‘A Number With A Name’ that is complete with power guitar and complex keyboards setting the tone and the vocal harmonies building the sound. The arrangement goes from this quirky melodic pop vibe to straight prog with all kinds of little guitar and keyboard parts sprinkled throughout…..a very interesting and complex tune. ‘Now Is Now’ sounds almost like danceable Pop music with an ’80s appeal. This one isn’t one of my favorites on the album mainly because it’s so dated and predictable, it sounds like any band from the early ’80s with a keyboard and a good singer. The only redeeming quality is the mid-song solo. “Let It Go’ get things back on track with a more classic Saga sound complete with heavier guitars and a more focused direction. ‘Crown Of Thorns’ dives back into the Prog Metal area with some really crunchy riffs from Ian Crichton and double bass pedalling from former Helix drummer Brian Doerner. ‘Crown Of Thorns’ reminds me of early Saga where the band easily blended their Prog with a specific heaviness…..one of my favorites off the record. Last song ‘You Look Good To Me’ is very interesting…..it’s explicitly ’80s Pop Rock oriented and is a possible twin track of ‘Now Is Now’ but there is something about it that has caught me. The chorus is definitely catchy and the beat is infectious but there are a couple of quirky breaks in the middle that detract from the song. The only way I can describe it is to take classic Saga and mix it with ’80s New Wave…..it’s good but not great, Saga but not classic prog Saga.
There were a lot of questions going into THE HUMAN CONDITION but Saga has answered the critics and fans with a solid new album that explores different styles rather than the usual Prog Rock stylings everyone is used to. I think this is the album Saga had to make to separate themselves from the Michael Sadler exit and move forward with Rob Morrati. Really nothing has changed as the band itself has remained the same, the question mark was at the mic and Moratti has shown that he is more than up to the task. His performance over the course of the album is superb and he shows definite flexibility in his voice. He sounds smooth and effortless and that is kind of the way I view THE HUMAN CONDITION, maybe a little experimental also. There are a couple of songs that are more Pop oriented and seem a little out of place but when you listen to the entire album they actually flow well. Personally, I would prefer more contemporary Prog Rock/Metal than the Pop stuff. Overall I would call this a solid comeback for a band that has never gone away!
‘ The Human Condition’, ‘Step Inside’, ‘Hands Of Time’, ‘Avalon’, ‘Crown Of Thorns’