Album Reviews

Saga - Generation 13

After the highly successful Counting Out Time series, we thought it was a good idea to pay attention to some more of the greatest albums in prog history now and then. This Milestones series is a continuation of Counting Out Time and a shift from DPRP's focus on new releases.

"It's time to face our own worst fears
the 13th Generation's here"

Band Members: Steve Negus - Drums & Percussion; Jim Gilmour - Keyboards, Vocals & Clarinet; Ian Crichton - Guitars; Jim Crichton - Bass; Michael Sadler - Lead Vocals & Pipe Organ
Additional: Mary Newland - Backing Vocals on track 24
Orchestrations: Richard Baker & The Panorama City Philharmonic

Producer: Jim Crichton
Additional Producer & Engineer: Roger Sommers

Tracks: 1 Chances Are #1 (1:42), 2 Generation 13 (Theme #1) (2:42), 3 All Will Change (1:57), 4 The Cross (Home #3) (4:06), 5 Danger Whistle (0:45), 6 Leave Her Alone (4:34), 7 I'll Never Be Like You #1 (0:43), 8 "My Name Is Sam" (Finding A Friend) (0:36), 9 The 13th Generation (4:27), 10 The Cross (2:03), 11 The Learning Tree (4:58), 12 I'll Never Be Like You #2 (3:59), 13 Snake Oil (1:07), 14 We Hope You're Feeling Better (The Test) (4:57), 15 "My Name Is Sam" (Your Time Is Up) (2:36), 16 Generation 13 (Theme #2) (2:39), 17 Where Are You Now (1:20), 18 "Screw Em" (4:14), 19 No Strings Attached (5:20), 20 All Will Change (It's Happening To Me) (2:00), 21 The Victim (2:59), 22 One Small Step (3:25), 23 Sam's New Friend (2:30), 24 We Hope You're Feeling Better (1:21), 25 Chances Are #2 (1:39)

Introduction: Canada and Concept Albums

Canada: home of the maple leaf, ice-hockey, French and English - and, of course, progressive rock. Two giants within the genre come from this North American country: Rush and Saga. Rush has already entered the Counting Out Time series with their album Hemispheres, but Saga has remained out of it until now. With this in mind, we feel that it might be appropriate to explain the choice of album to represent Saga. Generation 13 is one of their stronger albums in that it revitalised the band, preparing them for the entry into the new millennium. Yet in many respects, it would be just as essential to claim a COT space for one of their first four albums (and maybe World's Apart from 1981 in particular) which gave the band a huge breakthrough. However, the album at hand is important, not only in Saga chronology. It is an exceptional concept album, released in a year that seemed to soak the genre of progressive rock with massive (and high quality) concept albums - Aragon's Mouse and Savatage's Dead Winter Dead come to mind. It is from this perspective that we offer a view, not only of Saga and one of their greatest albums, but of one of the really great concept albums in rock history.

Jim Crichton and Michael Sadler

The Saga Of Saga

The first foundation for the Canadian rock band that would become known as Saga was laid in the summer of 1977 when three ex-members of the groups Fludd and Truck joined forces. Jim Crichton (bass guitar), Steve Negus (drums) and Michael Sadler (vocals) chose the name Pockets for their project, which was changed into Saga upon the arrival of Jim's brother Ian Crichton (guitar) and Peter Rochon (keyboards). The band released its self-titled debut album the next year. Saga already featured the typical Saga-sound that has remained their trademark through the years; distorted, staccato guitar lines, often doubled by Michael Sadler the keyboards, and Sadler's emotional, somewhat high voice. The first album also meant the beginning of the "Chapters"; songs that form different parts of a bigger story that has not yet found an end. Most records included one, two or three pieces of this musical puzzle, usually not in chronological order. The band has claimed that the tale will be concluded on the next album (which should be released at the end of 2002 or the beginning of 2003). Saga might at some point in the future put all the chapters together and release it as one album, but if and when that will happen is as of yet unclear.

Rochon left the band before the recording of Saga's second album, Images At Twilight, in 1979. The keyboard duties were taken over by Michael Sadler until Jim Gilmour joined the band. Silent Knight (1980) was therefore the first album by the line-up that has been most consistent through the years and is the current one as well. Through the addition of Gilmour, the band also acquired another great vocalist. Apart from singing backing vocals, the keyboard player has done some nice lead vocals on various tracks.

Ian CrichtonFrom the beginning, Saga's catchy, chorus oriented songs found an audience all over the world, which lead to chart notations for, among others, Humble Stance, Wind Him Up, On the Loose, The Flyer, How Long and Don't Be Late. This success could, however, not prevent the temporary split that occurred after the 1985 album Behaviour. Jim Gilmour and Steve Negus temporarily left the band to pursue other musical interests. On the next two albums, Curt Cress filled in the empty spot behind the drums whereas the keyboard parts were handled by the Crichton brothers.

Much to the enthusiasm of many Saga fans, Gilmour and Negus returned to the nest in 1991. This had a positive effect on the band, which had, according to many, lost its edge during their absence. The Security Of Illusion from 1993 therefore more or less signified the rebirth of Saga. However, neither that album, nor its follow-up, Steel Umbrellas (part of which had been composed for the TV series Cobra) prepared anyone for what was still to come. The dark concept album Generation 13 featured a completely different musical and lyrical style from the Canadians' previous work.

The Book Behind The Concept

13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? by Neil Howe, William Strauss, R. J. Matson (illustrator) and Ian Williams (contributor), first printed in March 1993, is a description of the notorious generation X, the 13th generation born in the United States. The authors have assembled all kinds of quotes, cartoons, computer dumps and comments about and from the members of this generation to illustrate their assessment of the characteristic properties of the people born between 1961 and 1981 (see the example pictures below - click on pages to read).

Read Page 3
Read Page 15
Read Page 10

According to Howe and Strauss, Generation 13 is pretty much a materialistic, somewhat dumb, lazy, often drug-addicted bunch of people. This is mainly caused by bad leadership, inferior education, inept parents, a rising information overload and the negative attitude of the generation before them. The fact that the US economy and society are not optimal only adds to their discomfort, which often results in a sense of not "fitting in". On the other hand, the 13-ers have learnt to live under those circumstances. They have developed skills that may be alien to older generations, but that nevertheless help to get things done.

As is so often the case with descriptions of a certain group of people, 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? causes very different reactions among its readers. Both members of the generation concerned and others seem to either love it or hate it. Quite a few think that the book is over-generalising the characteristics of people born between 1961 and 1981 and that it does not give an accurate description of them at all. Others think that the authors have managed to capture the 13-ers rather well. They argue that Howe and Strauss are not just dissing them, but that they actually highlight Generation 13's positive qualities as well; taking away some of the lingering fears that things will go down the drain when this generation get in charge of the country.

Generation 13 - The Album

Saga - Generation 13 Album Cover

So, how can one make a concept album inspired by such a book? The answer to that question would most likely be: by being daringly eclectic and creating a viable story-line. Jim Crichton does this by inventing Jeremy, who is the main character on Generation 13. Jeremy is an obvious 13-er and the album depicts his inner turmoil and some of the external reasons for it.

For the purpose of telling the story, Saga has a list of "Players" (characters and their actors) in the sleeve, and, naturally, on the CD. These "Players" are:
Jeremy (Michael Sadler); Morty (Roger Sommers); The Father (As a teenager & Mr. Monger) (Michael Sadler); The Barker (At the carnival) (Steve Negus); Jeremy's Sister (Penny Crichton); The Orphanage Master (Michael Sadler); The "80's" Ghosts (The Goodnight LA-Bv's.); The Amateur Show Host (Michael Sadler); Sam's New Friend (Christopher Crichton); Sam (On a good day) (Jim Gilmour); Sam (On a bad day) (Roger Sommers); Sarcastic Sam (Jim Crichton); The Psychiatrist (Roger Sommers); Java Joe (Jim Crichton).
These characters then come out in the songs both in sung and spoken parts. There is a certain kind of fragmentation in this narration as only (with a few exceptions) the sung parts are given in the booklet. This together with the fact that the sleeve not even in the sung lyrics states who the "Player" making the statement is (and, as should be clear from above, many characters are sung/read/played by one person) makes the overall story of Generation 13 hard to grasp. Then again, so it seems is the broken mental state of our 13-er, Jeremy. The Sam persona (good and bad alike) could, and should probably, be read/listened to as a split personality in Jeremy's fragmented mind; the parental situation and the memories from childhood seem to hint at this even further. It is possible to read even more of the characters as internal to Jeremy's mind (more split personalities), merely acting out his inner trauma.

Lyrically, this takes the expression of sad, somewhat cynical, observations hinting at the never-ending circle of this situation (place for instance the two Chances Are - opening and closing the album - next to each other and you can see that they are more or less interchangeable; leaving us, in a sense, where we began) and angry, mad protests against the memories of childhood and the forceful images of breaking with a past and a social context that one does not feel at home in (for instance, The Cross and I'll Never Be Like You themes and The Learning Tree).

Musically, Saga becomes eclectic to some extent. The repetitive themes going through the album bring both classical music and Pink Floyd's The Wall to mind. Both of these references are enhanced by, in the first case, the use of a Philharmonic Orchestra, and, in the second, by soundscapes that can only be described as Floydian - or even "Wall-esque". Furthermore, in this state of being in a clear concept album environment simultaneously to being more symphonic than ever (which is not to say little when it comes to a band often categorised as Symphonic Rock), Saga also becomes heavier than ever before. Ian Crichton's guitars have more edge and together with a harder approach to the playing of the other instruments, the music can in some cases (for instance, the Generation 13 (Theme)) only be described as metal. This does not stop Saga from still being very soft in-between their attacks or even from writing some of their more typical, strongly chorus oriented numbers (side by side with tracks clocking under the minute; tracks without time for a chorus). The mix of these elements becomes a strong, expressive kind of music which easily carries the fragmented story about Jeremy's fragmented mind.

Although this dark concept offers little hope, Saga has added a written epilogue in the sleeve which at least seems to suggest that we must take responsibility for this whole situation. It claims that the perpetrators are no others than ourselves.
"It's so easy to play the blame become a Victim...but surely it is Us. We are all accountable. It's time to stop complaining and try to focus."
It does not come across as a redemption for Jeremy or the real world, but at least, it hints at the possibility of a solution.

Epilogue: Beyond Generation 13

After Generation 13, the band released Pleasure And The Pain in 1997. Far from the standards of the preceding album, it shocked the audience with experimentation and a rawer sound, featuring covers of both The Beatles and some of the band's own earlier material (e.g. You're Not Alone). Possibly some of that came out of Steve Negus's not participating as he was busy with another project. Following this (maybe not quite as qualified) album, the band more or less returned to the sound of their early albums, combining it with some of the heavier and darker elements of Generation 13, on the albums Full Circle (1999) and House Of Cards (2001). These two albums also included a return to the "Chapters". Saga are now heading for their 25th anniversary, which will be celebrated with a concert in Germany, their number one market.

Written by Joakim Jahlmar
and Hester Stasse

SPV Records - official site
The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia
The Official Saga Pages

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