SAGA could be described, from this reviewer’s point of view and the general Canadian record buying public as, “weren’t they the Canadian band that was very successful in Europe”? In fact popular opinion would probably have been more like, “are Saga a German band”? …”what do you mean Saga are a Canadian band”?Canadians visiting Germany and experiencing their music scene (especially in the 1980’s) are often asked why Saga are not held in such high esteem in Canada ? Having said that, they are and always were very much a Canadian act. Sharing a lot in common with bands like – Styx, Zon, Triumvirat, and Yes – Saga carved out a reputation as a progressive keyboard – heavy rock band that put on spectacular visual live shows. Never ones to skimp on production, some of their live spectacles rivaled or surpassed many of the “superstar” groups of the era.
Saga are comprised of Greater Toronto Area musicians – Michael Sadler (lead vocals), Steve Negus (percussion), Jim Gilmour (keyboards,vocals), and the Crichton Bros – Ian (guitars) and Jim (bass,synth programming). Formed in 1977 in Toronto from the nucleus of Fludd, and originally called Pocket, Saga stuck to their guns off the get go and played only original material. Signing with Polydor, their 1978 self titled debut album went largely unnoticed in Canada and the USA, however it struck a chord with German listeners and sold 30,000 copies there as an import. Polygram Europe saw the potential and signed the band to a multi territory contract. The early 1980’s were their most successful worldwide. 1981’s World’s Apart culled three radio friendly hits – “On The Loose”, “Time’s Up” and “Wind Him Up” went top 20 on Billboard and gave the band gold and platinum awards in Canada, the USA and most European countries. Saga toured the world over and garnered a Juno Award in 1981 for Most Promising Band. The 1982 live release In Transit became an even bigger hit worldwide. Rupert Hines, who produced World’s Apart, was brought in again to produce 1983’s Heads Or Tales and the singles, “The Flyer” and Careful Where You Step”. “The Flyer” received heavy rotation on MTV and was the bands biggest hit in America. The 1985 album Behavior produced a hit with “What Do I Know”, although the album didn’t chart nearly as high as it’s predecessors. Negus and Gilmour split in 1986, only to return in 1991. They released an album called GNP (Gilour-Negus Project) in 1989 on Virgin. 1994 saw the band write and record the music for the television show “Cobra”. Always a band with high tech aspirations, Saga got involved in the multimedia revolution of the 1990’s. Saga continued to record and tour, but they’ve not since achieved the mass success and acceptance they were once accustomed to. No longer on Polydor, they were with two different labels, Bonnaire and SPV , from 1987-1998 and worked extensively in Europe. They enjoyed considerable success in Germany and certain European markets .
Full Circle was produced, recorded and mixed by Jim Crichton in Los Angeles at Sound Image Studios in 1999. As always, spectacular cover sci-fi artwork (painted by Fabian Kraus) adornFull Circle and most Saga albums. Not unlike contemporaries Yes (who often utilized Roger Dean’s futuristic artwork) Full Circle is aptly titled for not only the cover work and original lineup but for the return to the unmistakable sound that is indeed Saga. Gilmour’s epic, yet tasteful keyboards, Michael Sadler’s trademark cutting vocals and Ian Crichton’s unrestrained guitar really push Full Circl. The leadoff track “Remember When (Chapter 9)” hastens listeners back to the classic sound Saga fans would be all too familiar with. Tracks like “The One”, “Uncle Albert’s Eyes” and “Timebomb” all combine heavy guitar and wild synthesizer histrionics that will undoubtedly be concert staples. Saga undoubtedly wrote many of these songs on Full Circle to take to the live setting. There doesn’t appear to be a bonafide single amongst the albums 10 strong tracks, although a few of the aforementioned tracks should receive airplay. On a less bombastic level, “Home” is a beautiful paean to their native land and “Goodbye” ends the album and commences with a long synth intro reminiscent of a Scottish lilt that builds to a beautiful power ballad that could possibly be a show closer.
Full Circle will no doubt appease the legions of Saga fans and bring them some new ones, but it will not bring them the mass appeal that World’s Apart and Heads Or Tales once did. Overall the album is not their best and far from their worst. A very good outing, Full Circle (their 15th album) encompasses all of the elements that Saga have always been, yet it pushes the band into the 21st century. Saga continue to mine the depths of their progressive roots and grow as musicians and songwriters. Full Circle is just that. The band has come full circle after a long and distinguished career. They’ve come back to Canada, signed with True North and are now on tour in Canada and the US as special guests with STYX.