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: August 24th 2016
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Official Website
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Posted by Jon Neudorf, SoT Staff Writer on 2016-08-24 01:26:59
It had been twenty-five years since the original Asia line-up had released an album. Their sophomore effort Alpha was released in 1983 and in 2008 saw the release of Phoenix, their ninth studio album at the time. Of course, Asia fans will know the players are Geoff Downes (Yes, The Bugles), Steve Howe (Yes), Carl Palmer (ELP) and John Wetton (UK, King Crimson). Like the mythical creature on the album cover it should be only fitting the phoenix will rise once more, this time as a special two CD edition including the US and European mixes of the album. The European edition includes a couple bonus tracks, acoustic remixes of "I Will Remember You" and "An Extraordinary Life".
Anyone who has listened to the band knows they are not overtly progressive but what it lacks in progressiveness it makes up for in sumptuous harmonies, sophisticated playing and head sticking melodies. Songs like "Alibis" and "Shadow of a Doubt" are classic Asia, brimming with catchiness and pure pop bliss. The band stretch out a little on the eight plus minute "Sleeping Giant/No Way Back/Reprise" featuring an intro of delicious choral vocals and Howe's delightfully clean guitar licks. This is a more adventurous Asia before changing directions and taking the tune into pop rock territory but still including Howe's stellar guitar work. "Parallel Worlds/Voretx/Déyà" is another progressive track featuring transitions between ambient keyboards, complex drum work and stellar acoustic guitar. The choral voicings shroud the piece in a rich melodicism that one will not soon forget.
Really, there are no bad tracks and Wetton's vocals shine throughout as he is in top form. Whether or not fans will want to repurchase this album remains to be seen but if you are an Asia fan who didn't take the plunge upon its initial release this is a no brainer and comes highly recommended.
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