1995 saw Canadian proggers Saga enter the realm of the full-blown "concept album", and now 8 years later this fine CD gets a royal remaster treatment. Those used to the soaring harmonies, pop hooks, and intricate, complex instrumental interplay evident on most of Saga's releases might be surpised at the darkness and heaviness of Generation 13, both lyrically and musically. In fact, this album probably sounds closer stylistically to Queensryche's Operation Mindcrime, or The Who's Tommy than recent Saga releases like Full Circle or House of Cards.
Comprised of 25 tracks that segue into each other, the story is a complex work, one which I'm still trying to figure out fully, but deals with the differences between the main character and his father, as he struggles to grow up and not be like him, to take his life in a different direction. Sounds like a common problem huh? How many times have we heard "we all grow up to be just like our parents!" Well, here's a guy who is desperately trying to find himself, to discover that inner meaning, so he can shape his life as an individual. Not much in the way of characters names are mentioned (except for an interesting chap named "Sam"), and there are some religious themes thrown in, but for the most part, this is pretty heady stuff. As a bonus, there is a great live version of the track "The Cross" added, which along with the great sound on this remaster, gives you an extra incentive to pick this up.
Musically, Generation 13 moves to some new ground for Saga. No symphonic synth textures here, nor rippling guitar/keyboard exchanges. Ian Crichton does lay down lots of plodding heavy riffs, and Michael Sadler gets to inject plenty of ominous pipe organ, which adds an almost gothic quality to much of the album. There are a bunch of instrumental sections interspersed throughout, the best being "Generation 13 Theme #1", a rampaging guitar onslaught that also has some ethereal synth patches as well. Vocally, this is a tour-de-force for Sadler, who handles all the different parts to perfection, as he displays styles never before heard on any previous Saga album.
Generation 13 is a dense, complex, and dark departure for Saga, but one that really works. While it probably won't go down in history as a must-have classic (and probably just misses out in terms of Saga's top tier of releases) it is still one of the best concept albums in recent memory.