Thursday, June 11, 2009

Saga- Generation 13

Saga- Generation 13

My recent attempts to find positive things to say- even in the midst of unmitigated Prog catastrophes and artistic debacles the equivalent of France’s collapse at Sedan in 1870- are coming to an end. Yes, there were things that deserved a nod of approbation this past week- the Christian band can play, Rush are fine musicians, even the Kaplan Brothers are at least sincere in their monumental ineptitude. Huzzah, huzzah, huzzah- the meanest critic alive, who hates with the perfect beauty of a Sicilian blood feud, looked in Prog’s toilet and found that at least the shit had been flushed. But then yesterday, while writing about Rush, I investigated more fully what some have called their “little brother”- Canadian power-pop progsters Saga, who, many years after their obsolescence had been reached, decided to record their first flat-out “concept” album in their entire career. And let me tell you, it is an effort of such stunning horror and unrelieved incompetence that preparing to review this wretch made me think of none other than that miserable French general himself surrounded at Sedan- “Nous sommes dans un pot de chambre, et nous y serons emmerdés.”

I feel sorry for fans of Saga. I really, truly do. As said yesterday, while I do not concur and feel it is somewhat juvenile for otherwise competent adults to still listen to Rush, I “get it”, and what purpose they serve- for those of taste decidedly louche, 2112 or Hemispheres is a guilty pleasure, a secret indulgence in a tacky bedizenment which, nonetheless, rocks. And for all those “Analog Kids” out there suffering the tortures of adolescent reindeer games, I certainly understand why they respond which such felicity to Peart’s platitudinous musings- he’s speaking for every teenaged chronic-masturbator who has ever lived! Rush fans have suffered enough, I'm getting off their back.

But what the fuck with Saga, man? I never liked these guys- even in my musically impoverished youth, Saga belonged to a grouping of pseudo-pop-progsters like Aldo Nova or Triumph whose music I just found annoying. And there were other things as well- like Michael Sadler’s knee- pads for his acrobatic traipsing about on stage. Clearly visible in the attached screen shot from my Mac (see below, the only way I could present evidence for their existing on this blog- PLEASE CLICK IMAGE FOR GREATER RESOLUTION!), the knee pads are a very personal irritant to me. This guy is so frenzied in his frontman calisthenics that he has to have special body armor attached to his white jeans? Oh for fuck’s sakes, what a jackass. But personally those ridiculous knee-pads evoke still more powerful disgust- because of a childhood friend whom I will refer to here as “Tazz Razzberri”, which was, in fact, the name given to him by the promoter who hired him for work as a male stripper many years later (this is, sadly, all very true). Before he was a stripper working for a man who obviously despised him, “Tazz Razzberri” was a teenaged loser and lover of really bad music- and my best friend- and he had a special yen for Saga, and wanted to buy protective pads for his body so he could “just take off running into the woods with wild abandon”, as I seem to remember him saying. We grew up in a horrible little town, and life was hard on both of us- many nights were spent listening to Grace Under Pressure in Tazz’s bedroom, if that helps you understand the misery of our shared youths in a town where the only blacks who ever lived there were literally burned out of town when I was about eight. Still, the misery suffered at the hands of gearhead Klansmen and the like does not justify wanting to be more like Michael Sadler with his ridiculous knee-pads, and I no longer speak to Tazz Razzberri, off as he is somewhere with a very large wife and probably still listening to “Dreamline”-era Rush in his convertible Miata. What a dumbass.

But enough about Tazz, let’s return to the even more stultifying issue of Saga. These guys had a nice run for about eighteen months in the very early 80’s, producing jazz-tinged Arena Prog of tepid musicianship and overly-pristine production. Sounding smoother than whale shit and having less substance than a Paul Auster novel, Saga should have segued gracefully to retirement after their bright-dancing-star moment of an era of power pop so insignificant that Disco seems positively reverential by comparison. But they didn’t. Like an athlete who just doesn’t know when to walk away, Saga has Favre-d it up for the next twenty years, releasing a horde of albums that not even their mothers can tell apart, with one incredible and significant exception: 1995’s mesmerizingly obnoxious copro-fesitval of pure shittiness, Generation 13. This, dear friends, is a very, very special album, and you must be aware the language is about to get very, very rough in describing it.

For starters: this fucking album flat-out fucking sucks. I mean it really fucking sucks. It sucks like a trailerpark granny desperate for one more bag of meth. It sucks like a Steven Soderbergh film festival emceed by Brett Ratner. Of all the miserable, execrable, intolerable and unlistenable fucking experiences I’ve had in my goddamn life- and I’ve had plenty of late, that is for good and goddamned sure- Generation 13 is such an insufferable exercise in tuneless futility that if this album were an ethnic minority, I would urge a campaign of genocide against it. We’re talking Hutu-on-Tutsis level of annihilation here- unmitigated tastelessness demands unmitigated slaughter. For all of the pretentious and loathsome attempts at creation that Prog has ever inspired, this boorish monstrosity is devoid of virtue and replete with excreta to such an extent that I’d rather listen to Queensryche songs sung in an eerie falsetto by David Surkamp in a sauna with Emerson, Lake and Palmer, all of whom forgot to bring their towels and are going “commando” for the day. Wimpy, whiny, saccharine-tinged like a crate of Diet Dr. Pepper and so poorly executed that I’m convinced the record company released it out of pure sadism, Generation 13 is to concept albums what Mark Kostabi was to painting: insincere, derivative, fraudulent, piss-poor and likely to evoke violence in any poor sap likely to hear it who doesn’t think “On the Loose” was the greatest rock song ever written. This is an absolutely Stygian experience of hellish invention, of Satanic maladroitness bordering on criminal, mindless as a Mormon and perverse as a Templar. In short, I really don’t want to think about an album possibly being worse than this, because if it exists, surely it is now being used in cruel laboratory experiments designed to make chimpanzees into perfect and remorseless killers, soon to be unleashed upon man by some diabolical corporation after having completely gone insane listening to the worst piece of shit ever conjured by a faulty human mind. Someone needs to pay for this fucking shit.

For one thing, how can you make a concept album where the concept is almost impossible to discern? I spent almost an hour yesterday searching the Internets for some kind of explanation that made ANY sense as to what possible story line these Canadian fucks had in mind with this garbage. An hour of my life, gone forever! And STILL I’m not entirely sure what all of this crap is supposed to mean. To be as succinct as possible, apparently there was a “cultural studies” book released in the early 90’s about “Generation X” (yep, that’s me and mine!) who were the 13th generation born in the United States. Oooh, spooky! ‘Cos, like, “13” is cursed and stuff, right? Star-crossed from our inception, no wonder we all voted for Obama- we’re fucking EVIL, after all, we’re number 13!!! Oh what unmitigated bullshit- for starters, what the hell is a Canadian band doing worrying about what generation is doing what in America? Excuse me, you judgmental bastards, but you killed your share of Indians too, and I’m getting sick of having this “healthcare” shit lorded over me by a nation that has given the world Loverboy, Snow, Nickelback (!) and...SAGA!!!!!!

And what a gift! Generation 13 purports to tell the story of “Jeremy” (oh fuck you and your Pearl Jam reference- how LAME!) who is, I guess, really upset about growing up to be like his father. Yep, more tortured-adolescence fairy tales from pompous Canucks, and this one the most inscrutable of all- because Jeremy apparently has a split personality, and the other side is “Sam”, who speaks like Tony from The Shining and directs Jeremy to self-destructive behavior. This goes on through twenty-five tracks, some of them spoken and the lyrics of the sung ones almost impossible to discern through all the noise and histrionic emotion of Michael Sadler’s voice. And the only thing I can tell you for sure is that Jeremy fucking vows, goddammit, that “I’ll never be like you”. And people wonder why infanticide is so popular in cultures that have any sense.

The music is pure symphonic-rock, that dreadful synthesizer sound of the 90’s that bands who’d been listening to too much Enya on the tour bus affected with such galling regularity. There seems to be a criticism of media culture somewhere in the bowels of this beast, but frankly I don’t care to discuss it because the writing is on the level of a high schooler who dismisses everything he doesn’t like in terms of “this is fucking bullshit, dude”. Of course there is an anthem that erupts in the middle of the story, and it is rife with horrible rhymes and soaring vocals and power chords of such earnestness that The Scorpions would blush. About the only thing that can be said positive about this “work” is that, like rape, it will inevitably end. Though at the end of the assault, I can honestly say I wish it was just my ass that was hurting. I Spit on Your Grave, Saga.

I don’t know. I just don’t know anymore. This all started for me several months ago when, one sleepless and unemployed night, I stumbled onto Pavlov’s Dog on The Pirate Bay, having been assured by the torrent creator that “if you like King Crimson, you’ll love this!” I was so blown away by the Dog- a band so insanely bad that I’m shocked that they’re not Canadian- that I had to tell the whole world, and in the process decided to deal with a long-cherished hatred of Yes in the process. Thus, the original Facebook Progressive Rock Hall of Infamy group was born. With the incredible and invaluable help of my partner, DJ Micah, a little republic was founded on principles of slaying those groups who have had such a reaming coming for many, many years. Over the months, there have been three radio shows, two stalkers, a death threat, and the identification of the International Cabal (PRIC) who conspire to see to it that Prog remains the most hated form of music ever invented by man. It’s been fun, and appalling in the way only a philosophical Masochist can appreciate. I feel the joy of the flagellant, and hope you've enjoyed your whipping, too.

But Saga has taken me to a dark place, friends. That murder, mayhem, torture and rapine occur in the world is a given- man is a cruel animal, after all. But you can usually chalk all of that up to a “lone nut”, or a good man who ignored the warning signs so as not to cause trouble. Saga, however, are a group of men who have committed a crime so foul (Generation 13) that it demands swift and severe punishment, yet...still they walk this Earth. People own this album, and like it, as one can see by a visit to the Saga discussion forum maintained by some German guy as a virtual shrine (the main Pavlov’s Dog fan site is German, too- curious, isn’t it?). Instead of being about as loved as small-pox and as avoided as a hypodermic needle sitting on a toilet seat, Saga has a wildly loyal fan base who bemoan only that Michael Sadler has left the band and moved on with his “art”. And I just don’t know how I can continue in a jocular vein dealing with these wretched records, trying to pretend that they’re just a small part of an overall mosaic called Prog that is wonderfully creative and uniquely fulfilling. I feel like Saga is just as capable of sucking beauty out of the world as Peter Hammill is of putting beauty into it; and there is no question whose output has been more vast of recent years. Malignant and fecund, Bad Prog is a galloping tumor of mediocrity birthed from inferior minds with superior ambitions; just because they fail and suck doesn’t mean bands like Saga aren’t trying. And I can’t stop them. I have finally decided...I just can’t stop them.

If this is the last review at the PRHOI, thank you for visiting. I’ve enjoyed the correspondence, the approbation, the hate mail perhaps even more. But this may be the limit, and could be, alas, a Saga come to end. Bad Prog doesn’t sleep; and this Curator is very, very tired today. - TR


  1. I just watched the video clip. Is it just me, or did Steve Howe in his later work (anything from ABWH and beyond) more or less rip off the "Saga sound"? I mean even some of this guy's riffs and lead runs sound exactly like Howe's later 80's/90's work. So how is it that Steve Howe is influenced by Ian Crichton? More importantly--WHY!?!

    FWIW, the more recent live clips of the band sound pretty much identical to the 80's stuff. The lead singer still has the pipes, which is sad in a way--Geddy's banshee wail is gone, but this guy's affectation-filled, chewy 80s sound is perfectly intact? It's just not fair.

  2. Geddy had screamed himself out by Permanent Waves; hence the transformation to FM-staple rock, in my opinion. Bastille Day for five straight years will do it to you, though the more adult-contemporary Rush of "Superconductor" years makes even the most rabid fan admit it would have better for him to take the aneurysm road home.

    Howe is a whore who has great skill and poor taste. I don't know how old you are, Bart, but he one-offed an album in my teen years with Steve Hackett in an incarnation known as "GTR" that is as dated as any Fixx or Howard Jones record. I mean it was pure power pop, as if he'd heard what Wetton was up to w/ Asia and gotten jealous...but I'm spoiling the set list for the next Prog-a-Geddon show, and need to stop now.

    He also played w/ Dream Theater for a bunch of shows, and apparently there's a record of it lurking out there, though I really don't want to hear it. Neo-proggers covering the "classics" is something I've heard more than enough of, culminating in the arch-horror of Sebastian Bach (!) singing lead on Bastille Day with Portnoy on drums and a bunch of other tools from the Magna Carta shed...allowing me a neat wrap-up of the diagnosis of Geddy's End that started this note.

  3. Getting back to Saga for a moment:

    I gave some clips of Generation 13 a listen, after having refamiliarized myself with their late 70's/early 80's hits.

    What happened?

    Sadler's vocals, like them or loathe them, at least were somewhat unique--like a strident, idealistic, and naive version of Ric Ocasek (The Cars), with twice the overamped energy and half the self-possessed smugness. But here, in Generation 13, he appears to have a Robert Smith/Cure fixation going on. A lot of warbly whining.

    Strange choice. I don't think it had the effect they were looking for.

  4. Funny thing about this phenomenigma of a band known as Rush. I saw them play one of three sold out shows at the old 20,000 seat Richfield Coliseum south of Cleveland in 1980. The first two shows sold out in a matter of minutes so they added a third. I remember seeing nothing but old clunkers, rusted out beaters and jalopy hoopdees pulling in and out of the show that night.

    Fast forward two and a half decades later and a disproportionate number of cars were Lexus, BMW'S expensive SUV,s and other 30,000 dollar "Gleaming Alloy Air-Cars", packed into Blossom Music center 20,000- STRONG proving once and for all that the Rush Heads no longer reside in their parents basements (like most proggers) but rather are now pulling down their own "Big Money". Funny thing alright!!! I guess human intellect (unlike fantasy) plays a key role here. Here's to the future and seeing into it like the true prophets they are!!! One final note: The music of Rush has stood the test of time but the the once famous Richfield Coliseum has been torn down long ago...

    Live Long and Strong All!!!

    Greg V. (47 trips around the Sun and counting)

  5. Que estupidez, crees que oyendo Manowar te vas a ver como Connan the barbarian jaja Sabes , me encanta la trilogia The Lord of the ring pero tambien me gusta el jazz y la musica clasica, desde Bach hasta Finley. Tu no sabes un carajo de musica porque opinas? que has hecho en la musica, nose quien carajo eres, tienes algo que enseniar para hacer una critica de tu musica o solo sabes hblar mierda solo porque eres fanatico del metal medieval ah por cierto cuando salgas a la calle no olvides la espada Excalibur ja ja

  6. Wow, really? I get it -- you didn't like it. So tell me: What concept could you discern on Sgt Pepper's? How about Dark Side of the Moon? Wow, man, alienation. Yeah, that's tricky.

    But you sure had fun writing it, and that's the important thing, I'm sure.

  7. I know this thread is quite old, but I stumbled accross it and couldn't help replying: No offence, but this is not a review. Just a lot of ranting. If you're going to convince me of the foulness of this record, you need to point out examples. As one who has studied music, I can tell you these are no mediocre musicians. Your ignorance is surpassed only by your love of hearing yourself talk-- and with as many uninspired and unimaginative expletives as possible. Read some reviews by Stephen Thomas Erlewine; that is how to write a review with not only passion and grace, but with logic and reason. Agree or disagree he gives you something to think about. This sprawling drivel is as uninformative as it long-winded. I suggest you stick to the subject of the album in question without all the divergences that simply come across as "Wow, look how clever a writer I am; and look how much better my taste is than everyone elses." Two cents.