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Asia - Phoenix CD (album) cover




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3.20 | 176 ratings

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4 stars The return of the prog supergroup that is Asia. Actually, they hadn't really been away, but I always had a profound disdain for the John Payne era, and this was THE Asia reunion that we had all wanted.

Incredibly commercially successful in their 1980's heyday, prior to egos getting bashed and bumped all the way into band oblivion, this reunion has, certainly in the context of modern progressive rock, been a success, albeit not in the truck loads of records sold in days gone past.

The massive theme of this album was the near fatal heart problems vocalist John Wetton suffered shortly before the project was originally due to go ahead, and, it has to be said, this profound experience led to some of the finest pop/prog being recorded in a very long time.

Needless to say, with such a stellar lineup, the musicianship is superb throughout, and you instantly notice that Steve Howe got his wish to be far more directly involved in both recording, playing, writing, and production. For the first time since the debut classic, his incredible guitar signature comes out loud, proud, and clear. In fact, this is one of his finest works. Just listen to that glorious work on Heroine, a wonderful track in which Wetton gives praise to the support from his loved one when almost dying, and Howe, to these ears, tells the story as well as the lyricist and vocalist himself. It's a wonderful track, very commercial, and very effective.

As well as the distinctly commercial stuff such as the single Never Again, which is good without being memorable, and the incredible An Extraordinary Life, there are also some extremely good pure prog rock moments. For those who remember Wildest Dreams, a classic from the debut, this should not be much of a surprise. The opening to Sleeping Giant/No Way Back/Reprise could almost be from a classic Yes album, with Howe sounding as if he was recording Close To The Edge, Downes a la Wakeman, and Palmer doing a Bruford with percussion, added into which are some memorable choral vocals. The main theme of the track, which commences with a blasting synth solo, is pure progressive rock, jazzy and symphonic in its intention and execution. A superb track.

In addition, Parallel Worlds/Vortex/Deya features some of Howe's most sublime work, and quite why it wasn't played on the subsequent tour is beyond me. A progressive rock masterpiece, to be sure. Symphonic, melodic, and amongst some of the best instrumental passages ever recorded following the vocal section, it really is that good.

There are a couple of throwaway moments, notably I Will Remember You and Over And Over, but, by and large, this album is a huge success and a masterful comeback, doing what they always did best, marrying commerciality with fine progressive rock. For no better example, listen to the hugely enjoyable, keyboard led, Alibis, which is both a fine pop song, and features some intricate playing beyond the ken of most pop bands, especially without a Steve Howe to play such technical guitar.

The only real complaint I have is that at Cardiff, on the subsequent tour, I went to see the tour manager after the gig, and asked him for a photograph and quick word with the band as a member of ProgArchives. By this time, Wetton, Howe, and Palmer had left, leaving only Downes enjoying a family party (he is Welsh). The manager asked Downes, who gave a resounding no. Miserable ****!.

Four stars for this. This is a hugely enjoyable album and very highly recommended.

lazland | 4/5 |


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