By 1993 Saga’s classic early 80’s lineup had reunited after two excellent albums as a three piece (with Kurt Cress guesting on drums).
Written by: Lee South Africa
ALBUM: The Security Of Illusion
SERIAL: 517 391-2
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Canada
LINEUP: Michael Sadler – vocals, keyboards * Jim Crichton – keyboards, bass * Jim Gilmour – keyboards * Ian Crichton – guitars * Steve Negus – drums, percussion
TRACK LISTING: 01 Entracte (Instr) * 02 Mind Over Matter * 03 Once Is Never Enough * 04 Alone Again Tonight * 05 I’ll Leave It In Your Hands * 06 The Security Of Illusion * 07 Stand Up * 08 Days Like These * 09 Voila! (Instr) * 10 No Mans Land * 11 Without You
WEBLINKS: Site Link
By 1993 Saga’s classic early 80’s lineup had reunited after two excellent albums as a three piece (with Kurt Cress guesting on drums). Jim Gilmour and Steve Negus had been out of the fold since the ‘Behaviour’ tour’s end, keeping busy with side projects but making little commercial impact. The rock landscape had changed alarmingly in the four years since 1989’s ‘Beginner’s Guide To Throwing Shapes’ though, the flannel brigade polluting our ears with droning grunge purveyed by Nirvana and Pearl Jam among others.
A very sad time in music for most of us, while this rubbish was dominating popular rock culture. Undaunted though, Saga set about creating a comeback masterpiece of sorts, flying in the face of current trends and sounding like the 80’s had simply continued. Good on them for taking this approach, we all surely remember the disastrous results when bands like Dokken tried to convert to alt/grunge. So what does the ‘Security Of Illusion’ have to offer?
58 bizarre instrumental seconds on ‘Entracte’ heralds the return of classic Saga, a skewered calliope accordion and laughing voices conjuring up visions of some sinister carnival magic show. ‘Mind Over Matter’ then launches with riffs everywhere, a slightly tougher prog AOR blend still leaving plenty of room for airy melodies and a simple chorus that works, not unlike what Eloy were doing at the time except the keyboards are a little restrained here.
‘Once Is Never Enough’ annihilates the prog AOR bullseye though, again inviting the Eloy reference. Wispy keyboards fly over the soundscape like those first harbingers of an approaching cold front, riffs hitting their mark like stealthy paragliders. And the chorus? Shifting dunes of harmony and melody, immediately AOR yet holding some darker power. Ian Crighton is, as always, all over the map on guitar as he navigates the song effortlessly.
‘Alone Again Tonight’ slows the pace right down, almost hypnotic in combination with a wistful melody. Imagine ‘Caught In The Light’ era BJH, only somewhat less delicate and dainty. ‘I’ll Leave It In Your Hands’ is a surprisingly straightforward AOR workout with pomp tendencies, very crisp and efficient, even chilly like much of Saga’s output – yet their gift for comprehensive melody wins the day, Eloy references once again inevitable.
Come to think of it I seldom listen to Saga these days without breaking out some Eloy material, such is the prog AOR kinship between the two bands. The title track once again drops the tempo, this time bringing on the majestic acoustic balladry. Ethereal melodIes and chord changes create a sonic dreamscape, at once melancholy and uplifting. Crighton’s jarringly beautiful acoustic solo only adds to the magic. BJH influence hovers in the vicinity but only to an extent. This exists largely in it’s own space, pure minstrel AOR.
‘Stand Up’ delivers some funky tempo with typical Saga pomp/prog on the overhead highway, something like Dan Reed Network downing Genesis tablets. Engaging at times but the chanted chorus they seem to be going for is somewhat barked out, and ends up sounding shrill and awkward. One of very few weaker moments on the album.
‘Days Like These’ immediately sets things right, combining 80’s Asia with still more period Eloy. High calibre AOR not to be missed, especially the honey coated chorus coming on like a sea shanty singalong in AOR context! ‘Voila’ is yet another short instrumental, a quite beautiful piano piece with definite classical leanings. It works well as an intro to ‘No Man’s Land’, a workmanlike AOR tune full of crisp decisive hooks and easy on the ear vocal melodies.
The best is left for last though, ‘Without You’ surely must rank as one of the finest tracks Saga ever recorded. You’d swear the Kodo Heartbeat Drummers Of Japan had invaded the recording session! Tribal drumming kicks the track off and reprises throughout this monster AOR excursion without ever disrupting the flow of backbeat. The hook is immense, but the biggest of many highlights has to be the chorus. Tiered layers of melody and drama rival the most ornate wedding cake, then managing to escalate the emotion and drama even further the longer it goes on. I’m amazed this didn’t open the album, but it surely makes for the best closing cut I’ve heard.
As hinted at, ‘The Security Of Illusion’ didn’t stand much chance of commercial success stateside. Europe received the album very well though, some richly deserved success emanating from Saga’s traditional stronghold. On a personal level I tend to focus almost exclusively on the 1976 to 1995 era, with most of that focus on the 80’s (which is why a 2012 year end ‘best of’ article from me is fairly pointless!).
It takes something quite exquisite to pull me out of the 80’s and into the 90’s for a while, and this disc is one of only a handful with that ability. Recommended listening in conjunction with your ’80 to ’94 Eloy albums. Saga would follow this crisp, urgent AOR with the much more laid back ‘Steel Umbrellas’. While that one drew mixed reactions, rest assured this will get the AOR pulse racing.
Entire Album (Select Tracks)
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