Umpteenth twist of the nut by Geoff Downes in order to grow green again the laurels of the, in years past, great “supergroup” of early 80´s, an invention plotted by David Geffen, who got together and milked John Wetton, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer and Geoff Downes, four musicians with a great background. The band sold millions with its debut “Asia” and the follower “Alpha”. The balloon went flat with “Astra”, with ex Krokus Mandy Meyer, and finally got bursted with the live album “Live In Moscow ” (with Pat Thrall on guitars) and the freak compilation “Then and Now”.
From that moment, Wetton (who co-wrote all the tracks) left the ship and Asia vessel went off course. Geoff Downes allies with John Payne (bass, vocals), ex ELO, and recruit lots of guitar players and drummers for the following albums. “Aqua” (92) and “Aria” (94) are mediocre albums except two or three tracks; “Arena” (96) is a bit better but not a masterpiece at all; and “Aura” (00) went almost unnoticed. In addition Downes loses control and Asia began to release dozens of live albums (some of them with infamous sound), compilations, etc.
If progheads and (specialized) media already walloped Asia´s music with Wetton branding it as mainstream, there was a shower of slaps with every album in Payne´s era. Although I´m a fan of Wetton, I must admit “Asia” and “Alpha” have the sound of a decade, but there aren´t the Progressive Grail. And of course Payne´s albums neither. Downes is a lucky guy who achieved a great success along with Trevor Horn with the song “Video Killed the Radio Star”, and he won the big prize of the lottery when he and Horn joined Yes in order to record “Drama” (something like Pet Shop Boys playing with The Flower Kings). The album wasn´t bad – it was already written – and Downes became renowned.
Given that the last attempts become unsuccessful, the last magazine of Asia´s shotgun has the following bullets: a) absence of Roger Dean´s cover art (the logo stays on); b) absence of a title with beginning and ending with letter “a” (hmmm… I hoped someday an album would be titled Algora); a “normal” line-up (this is not a novelty. “Aria” had Michael Sturgis and Al Pitrelli as “normal” members); and of course the typical “back to the roots” advertising ploy.
All of these would be excellent if the album was good. But, even it´s better than the previous Asia-Payne´s albums, definitely it is not a “back to the roots” album. Magician Downes takes good pop and AOR songs with progressive arrangements out of his top hat, as guitarist Guthrie Govan does a good job, and drummer Chris Slade makes us missing anyone else behind drumset.
And what about songs?... nothing change under the sun, catchy refrains (“What about love”) excessive references to old songs from Payne era (“Long way from home” (6:00) is very similar to “2 Sides of the Moon” and “Ghost in the Mirror” (4:37) is a sort of “One Step Closer” + “Who will stop the Rain”), but this time Asia´s music is well dressed and the digestion is pleasant thanks to tracks like “Midnight” (6:23). This time the tracks are longer than in previous albums, so there is room enough for some instrumental glints as in the Floydian “Blue Moon Monday” (7:16), guitar arrangements and ending bass of “Silent Nation” (6:04), the energy of “Gone too far” (6:48), or the dark and experimental (hey, we´re talking about Asia not After Crying) “Darkness Day” (6:17). The album ends with a nice “The Prophet” (5:15), that contains a good guitar solo and a beautiful instrumental part. The funniest side of the album is the track “I will be there for you” (4:09), a sort of “Heat of the moment revisited”.
Although you could think the album is not worthy after looking at the rating, I think old Asia fans could give this band a chance after the latest fiascos. Of course those who don´t like easy-to-listen progressive (¿?) sounds won´t be happy with this album. But if you like Asia, Saga and that kind of bands that blend mainstream (pop or AOR) with progressive sounds, and you thought that Asia was finished as a good band, you´ll have a good time listening to this album that it´s better, by far, than any other of Payne´s era.