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The original line-up of Asia is back with their first CD since 1983's
Alpha, as they find themselves on EMI America Records here in
the US (Frontiers Records internationally) for their first release in
25 years, titled Phoenix. Surprisingly, though they are no
doubt much older and wiser, the band seems to have not lost a step at
all, as Phoenix basically carries on in the tradition of the
self-titled debut as well as Alpha as if no time had passed at
all and none of the subsequent Asia releases and line-ups had happened
in the interim. Bassist John Wetton, despite all the health problems
he has had over the years, sounds great, his voice rich and melodic on
tracks such as "Nothing's Forever", "Heroine", and "I Will Remember
You", and his bass playing still carrying that distinctive 'Wetton
touch'. If you like the more "ballady" part of Asia, then there's
plenty of that here for you. When the band rocks out a little more,
and dips into their proggy bag of tricks, as on "Never Again",
"Sleeping Giant/No Way Back/Reprise", "Shadow of a Doubt", or the
adventurous "Parallel Worlds/Vortex/Deya", it's guitarist Steve Howe
who really shines, laying down plenty of those snakey, sinewy lines
that we know so well through his many years with Yes. Through it all,
keyboard player Geoff Downes drops in an assortment of orchestrations
and synth tapestries, although at times you have to wonder about his
choices of sounds as quite a few have a sterile sort of feel to them.
What about Carl Palmer you ask? Well, the ELP legend clearly holds it
all together, but don't expect too much in the way of flamboyant drum
wizardry, as Palmer basically plays what is right for the songs,
injecting some snazzy fills on tunes like "Alibis" and the ELO-ish
"Over and Over", but overall just keeping things in line and holding
down a solid groove. The band saves the best for last on the wonderful
"An Extraordinary Life", an addicting piece with Howe's fleet fingered
solos, Wetton's soaring vocals, symphonic keyboard riffs from Downes,
and classy stick work from Palmer. It's one of those songs you can
easily play over and over, as the melodies just scream for you to hit
the replay button.
While Phoenix is probably not going to be the chartbuster that
Asia's self-titled debut was, it's a solid return for a bunch of
seasoned veterans who still obviously have plenty of magic left to
show us. Catchy melodies abound here, along with some tasty, if
understated, instrumentation, signaling the return of a band that
quite frankly has been missed for many years. Welcome back guys!
1) Never Again
2) Nothing's Forever
4) Sleeping Giant/No Way Back/Reprise
6) I Will Remember You
7) Shadow of a Doubt
8) Parallel Worlds/Vortex/Deya
9) Wish I'd Known All Along
10) Orchard of Mines
11) Over and Over
12) An Extraordinary Life
Added: May 12th 2008
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Official Website
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Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2008-05-12 20:01:58
It's been some twenty six years since we've found ourselves in '82 and it seems as though the disco hot spots still hold no charm for many of us who had grown up in music since Asia first came upon the scene and released their incredible self-titled debut. While their biggest hit was "Heat Of The Moment", the bands success was not really surprising to many considering the groups makeup of members from Yes, King Crimson, ELP and The Buggles. With Steve Howe, John Wetton, Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer under one musical roof this was without question a supergroup at a time when the term actually meant something. The lineup would do another full album before many of the members went their separate ways until the critically acclaimed reunion tour of 2006 which gave us a live CD and DVD release entitled "Fantasia". The success of the tour found the members once again writing material which fans are finally able to enjoy on the their first album together in twenty five years - "Phoenix". Named after the mythological bird, "Phoenix" represents a rebirth of the group in some sense while in another case it presents a logical progression from their last album together which was "Alpha". Yes, the band continued on with different members for two decades and had a popularity of its own, but this is the return of the core starting point that many had been hoping for. The album starts off with a rousing number called "Never Again" and it's one of the most up tempo offerings on the release and shows that the band is again locked into place and able to deliver powerful and worthy tracks. "Nothing's Forever" has that regal keyboard that we loved so much on the band's debut and then they deliver a wonderful ballad with "Heroine". Personally I would have waited a little longer for the touching piece but its fine in the end result. A multi-sectioned winner comes next with "Sleeping Giant/No Way Back/Reprise" as this brings us back to the Asia sound from so many years ago. Of course it's not a nostalgia trip at all, but more of a tip of the hat to the sound they first gave us when they hit the scene with the blockbuster album. After all, the group's fans have also grown up and for the band to deliver anything completely retro could have been perceived as insulting their intelligence. Asia was always a group of Progressive Rock leaders who had joined together for the common good and while their original efforts shone like a star it is with "Phoenix" that they show levels of melodic maturity and that they have honed their craft to new levels of mastery. Steve Howe is as excellent as always on guitar and the rich keyboards of Downes are atmospheric across every single track. Wetton is also on top of his game and his voice sounds great. Carl Palmer takes more of a steady timekeeper role on the recording with brief displays of percussive flourish tossed in every once in awhile. He never really went over the top in the Asia songs in the first place so listeners should not expect too much of that on this one.
"Alibis" is another of their fast paced tracks and it reminded me slightly of "Don't Cry" from "Alpha". The big chorus works wonderfully and makes this one of the catchiest of the tracks. Another ballad follows with "I Will Remember You" and this is sure to get the lighters or cell phones lit up when performed live. Next to "Never Again", "Shadow Of A Doubt" worked as one of my favorites from the CD. It is a mixture of classic Asia of yesterday with today's contemporary vibe holding it together. I will let you discover the other numbers for yourself but must make mention of the recordings wonderful closing song "An Extraordinary Life". Wetton feels this is one of the best tracks that the group had ever recorded together and he could be right based on the premise that led to the track, its musical vibe and strong lyrical message. In 2007 the singer underwent bypass surgery which put the recording on hold but after his successful recovery he found a new appreciation for every single day he was alive. The number is quite poignant as it reminds us all that we should seize the day and enjoy it while we can in the event something dire happens. It is the kind of track that once it has gone by that you will listen to again and again and perhaps even find yourself in agreement with them. Congratulations Asia on a successful rebirth with "Phoenix". This is one album that stands strong as a return to form for the legendary players and will go down in their own catalog history as a vital piece of their collective musical contributions.
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