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Saga - 1983 Heads Or Tales



ARTIST: Saga
ALBUM: Heads Or Tales
LABEL: Portrait, Maze (Canada), Polydor
SERIAL: PR 38999, ML 8007, 815 410-1
YEAR: 1983
CD REISSUE: 1993, Portrait, RK 38999 * 1994, Polydor, 815 410-2 * 2003, SPV, SPV 076-7439A CD (remastered, bonus tracks)

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:

LINEUP: Michael Sadler - lead vocals, keyboards * Jim Gilmour - lead keyboards, vocals, sax, lead vocals 'Scratching The Surface' * Ian Crichton - guitars * Jim Crichton - bass, keyboards * Steve Negus - drums, percussion, electronic percussion

TRACK LISTING: 01 The Flyer * 02 Cat Walk * 03 The Sound Of Strangers * 04 The Writing * 05 Intermission * 06 Social Orphan * 07 The Vendetta (Still Helpless) * 08 Scratching The Surface * 09 The Pitchman

WEBLINKS: www.saga-world.com


Background
Completely overlooked in our GD wrap-up of Saga's discography is their 1983 record 'Heads Or Tales'. The band, hoping to cash in and go one better than their previous studio album 'Worlds Apart' look to the same recipe with producer Rupert Hine at the dials. The end result for 'Heads Or Tales' didn't quite emulate the promise from before, but still did enough respectably for the band to keep in their label's good books. Gone are the longer drawn pieces with intertwining lyrics and music for shorter pop/rock constructed pieces adorned for radio consumption. The other notable aspect of this album is the incredible production from Hine; making Saga sound like a million bucks. Even for the pre-digital era, the technology used to record this album must've been on the cusp of the analog/digital era. It sounds wickedly good.


The Songs
The first pair of songs should require no introduction for the long-time fan; 'The Flyer' an entertaining high-flying (excuse the pun) piece of Saga magic (as per the album cover perhaps?), while 'Cat Walk' is as cat-scratchy as the song-title would imply: tight, sharp and focused. The shuffly back-beat rhythm propelled by Steve Negus is what keeps 'The Sound Of Strangers' ahead of the game, along with an 'easy on the ear' chorus that makes it memorable for all the right reasons. 'The Writing' starts out with progressive traits and hints at their previous works. It's got a tough rhythm section underpinning it all, the overall sound slightly darker with a battery of synths coming through; and I do like the way they change direction for the chorus, which is both modern and accessible. Changing scope completely is the modern synth ballad 'Intermission', replete with all of the 80's tricks of the trade in terms of synth and electronic percussion standing out in the mix. 'Social Orphan' for mine is one of the highlights here; a pumping modern blast of prog based AOR not unlike the opener 'The Flyer' but with more bite and determination. 'The Vendetta (Still Helpless)' has a whimsical vibe, probably due to Hine's presence in the studio. I always felt that the combination of Saga and Hine was a match made in prog/AOR heaven, it's a pity they never went beyond two albums they recorded together, but then again, Hine was a busy man recording, producing, and working with his own solo and project related ventures. 'Scratching The Surface' features Jim Gilmour on vocals, and features a Genesis like construct amid some fat 80's synth patterns. I quite like this track, and with Gilmour's lead vocal, gives the album a little bit of colour and contrast. Finishing up with 'The Pitchman', could be a watered down version of 'The Flyer' and 'Social Orphan'; it has that same feel, probably a result of ideas sticking in the head during the recording sessions for this album.


In Summary
Both 'The Flyer' and 'Cat Walk' made it to radio, giving the album some impetus. As expected, 'Heads Or Tales' found a modicum of success in their popular markets of Europe and Canada; the album going gold in Germany and Canada but no such luck with the hard to crack US market even though the album was given a significant push by record label Portrait. As mentioned, Saga's liaison with Rupert Hine would cease after this effort; the band using Peter Walsh for their indifferent 1985 'Behaviour' album, after which a fracturing of personnel occurred with Steve Negus and Jim Gilmour being asked to leave. They would go on to form the Gilmour Negus Project later in the decade.


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Comments
#1 | Jez on December 30 2012 12:39:23
After the mega 'Worlds Apart' album Saga had a hard job to beat. This doesn't, but still contains some of their strongest songs. 'The Flyer' and the excellent 'Catwalk' to mention 2. Saga were moving into a more Aor/Pop territory, so at the time this one took a little getting into after the previous releases. Still played regularly here though and definately up there with some of there other stronger releases.
#2 | Nick C on December 30 2012 17:25:50
I was pretty much into this straight away, I don't think there's a bad song on here...Scratching the Surface is fantastic having a similar feel to No Regrets from Worlds Apart but still a very different song. I'd be stuck trying to figure out a favourite song on this though. Like Jez says maybe Worlds Apart edges it, but only just.
#3 | super80boy on April 18 2014 03:41:08
I'm so reminded of The Fixx when I hear this album. Michael Sadler shines again with his commanding voice. Along with the singles 'The Flyer' and 'Cat Walk', 'The Vendetta' and 'Scratching The Surface' are very likeable. Very much on par with Worlds Apart.
#4 | melodiapositiva on July 22 2017 11:45:32
Heads or Tales is one of Saga best albums imho. After the great Silent knight and Worlds aparts it was very difficult to reach that level again, but they did .And what is more important, not copying themselves. The greatness of 80's Saga is that they always were progresing on their sound and each album has its own personality .Something they lost in the last two decades. The mix of Rupert Hine with the band was perfect. I wish the band make one more great album to say goodbye.
 
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