We all know what symmetry is, don’t we? If we take this lovely picture of the dome of the Sheik Lotfollah mosque in Isfahan, Iran and flip it horizontally the resulting pattern will be indistinguishable from the original. There are several other operations we could perform that also leave the pattern unchanged – we might flip it vertically, for example, or perform any one of 32 rotations about the centre point. All of those operations are symmetries1.
In mathematics, a symmetry is any operation you can perform on an object that leaves it unchanged. I assume the Canadian rock band, Saga, has chosen to call their latest album Symmetry because it has taken songs that were released on earlier albums and given them an acoustic treatment. In this case the result is only similar to the originals, not identical, and doesn’t really qualify as a true symmetry. But I think we can allow them some poetic licence – this is art, after all, not science.
Saga was formed in 1977 and Symmetry, released just this month, is their 23rd studio album. They are usually described as a rock band but their music typically comes under the prog rock banner. Although well-known in Canada, Germany and other parts of continental Europe they have only very recently come to the attention of the Crotchety Crew. The new album sounded promising, so the C-Man took some time to investigate this long-running Saga. Here’s the first track:
Well, that goes down as a progressive pop song in the review notes. There’s a nice variety of instruments – piano, guitar, violin, accordion, clarinet, banjo – and it rocks along cheerfully. It’s a good start. The second track, The Perfect Time to Feel Better, is over 8 minutes long. It brings yet more textual variety with some cello but the triple time, country-tinged tune doesn’t really trigger much response in these ears.
Next we have the delicate Images. An introduction of acoustic guitar and clarinets in two-part counterpoint; vocals carrying a simple but pleasing tune; everything blending beautifully. This is a song about a pavement artist working in the rain, his pictures and his life dissolving before his eyes. This one track fully justifies a Saga entry in these pages.2
Moving on through the album we are presented with several pop songs enrobed in prog rock arrangements and interspersed with two short acoustic guitar interludes. There are faint echoes of Fleetwood Mac, 10cc and Gentle Giant in the pop songs. All the arrangements are carefully balanced and the musicians are highly skilled. If there’s a weakness it’s the unimpressive vocals. But, overall, this is a very listenable album.
With Symmetry fading away in the headphones, Crotchety Man sought out some of Saga‘s earlier material. A random selection of tracks from two or three albums gave a consistent impression of a rather ordinary prog rock band that would probably go down well in concert but whose recorded material largely failed to capture the spirit of the live band. Symmetry gets the Crotchety Stamp of Approval but I haven’t been able to find anything comparable in their other albums.
We all know what Symmetry is. It is the latest and, arguably, the best album by Saga.
- The rotations are, of course, symmetries of the circular dome rather than the rectangular photo.
- Images reminds me of The Black Rock by the Cauld Blast Orchestra.