The question on everyone's mind regarding this release: have Asia seriously risen from their original ashes to give a grand return to form and the classic Asia sound?
It's a testament in itself that these guys refuse to quit playing, even though in the past two years, both Carl Palmer and John Wetton have been through heart surgery (which we're all happy was 100% successful!)
What Does Today's Asia Bring Us?
I loved the old Asia and even began to enjoy the Asia that Geoff Downes had going with John Payne on bass/lead vocals before these guys got back together again. I really enjoyed the last album with that lineup, Silent Nation, but I guess tha'’s all behind them now and we have the old, classic Asia lineup back with us.
So what do they bring to us today?
In a nutshell, a very good album that mixes the pop/rock pomp that got them played on every radio station back in the early '80s but with a more daring element that will certainly appeal to the progressive rock fans who loved the background that these guys came from.
Opener "Never Again" brings to mind "Go!" From the Astra album but it also reminds me of another very well known tune that I can't quite put my finger on. Suffice to say though, it's classic Asia at their best.
"Nothing's Forever" is another done in typical classic Asia style, with big harmony vocals opening the track before the brassy fanfare from keys man Geoff Downes. It's a strong power ballad with soft touches here and there and, of course, big harmony vocals throughout the choruses.
"Heroine" starts with an ELO=like intro, before leading into familiar Asia major ballad territory. Class!
Next up is the first of two long (over eight minutes) three-part musical escapades. "Sleeping Giant" sequences keyboards and chanting "Ah ah ah ah ah's" with some melancholy guitar from Steve Howe that then blends into an incredibly catchy "No Way Back." It's great pop/rock of the finest quality. "Reprise" awakens "Sleeping Giant" then fades away.
Asia's Progressive Influence
"Alibis" leads with gentle guitar soloing before getting into a track of "Don't Cry" quality. The verse actually vaguely reminds me of "Secret Lives" from ELO's Balance Of Power. But this is much more than some copycat track. These guys still are just pure class in all they do.
Another soft touch with "I Will Remember You," which reminds me in places of some classic lost UK prog rockers like Keats (featuring Alan Parsons Project members and Colin Blunstone of The Zombies) and Barclay James Harvest.
"Shadow Of A Doubt" starts slow before leading into a catchy rocker. At this point I begin to think it would be good if these guys would just add some kind of edge to what they are doing. I guess they're not getting any younger, though, so we should just be thankful for the quality of the music they've produced.
Next up is the second three-part piece. At first the opening of "Parallel Worlds" reminded me of the intro from "After The War" from Astra, but then it took a different direction with a soulful ballad style. "Vortex" is a more traditional, more prog rock, challenging affair, with so many intricacies that it becomes spellbinding. Awesome piece! "Deya" is a more acoustic piece a la "Spanish," almost flamenco in Steve Howe’s style, but don't think the others aren’t pulling their weight here, as everyone’s presence is felt for sure.
Where's the Asia Edge?
"Wish I'd Known All Along" really reminds me of Barclay James Harvest again, even John Miles, another older name in Brit rock. It contains some great keyboard touches from Geoff Downes, his real shining moment on here, along with "Vortex."
Next up, "Orchard Of Mines" seems to bring John Wetton out to push himself a little here. In general more of the prog feel to this one, so no big catchy chorus or hook.
"Over and Over" is another similar to the last one, with a little more to it, although towards the end of the album, it feels like it lost a little of the flow. Perhaps the order of songs could’ve been shuffled a little better.
That said, "An Extraordinary Life" has a little more to it and is a pleasing closer.
All said and done, it's not what Asia and Alpha were, maybe not quite Astra either, but when you think how long it's been since these guys last "did the Asia thing" it's certainly a respectable return.
Although I didn't mention Yes or King Crimson here, there really are elements of them throughout the album that these guys really can't escape. While this should keep those of the true prog rock persuasion more than happy, it also reminds me that this release lacks a certain edge that many will agree was what hooked us with those early albums we heard.
I believe they could've given us a little something more but maybe this was just an appetizer and the next one will really deliver the goods!
by Alun Williams