Phoenix’ is all about the original Asia in the 21st century. Mostly, the songs here will appeal greatly to AORsters, and for me I’ll take what’s on offer.
Written by: gdmonline
SERIAL: FRCD 370
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: England
LINEUP: John Wetton – vocals, bass * Steve Howe – guitars * Geoff Downes – keyboards * Carl Palmer – drums, percussion
TRACK LISTING: 01 Never Again * 02 Nothing’s Forever * 03 Heroine * 04 Sleeping Giant – No Way Back * 05 Alibis * 06 I Will Remember You * 07 Shadow Of A Doubt * 08 Parallel Worlds – Vortex – Deya * 09 Wish I’d Known All Along * 10 Orchard Of Mines * 11 Over And Over * 12 An Extraordinary Life
WEBLINKS: Site Link
The return of the original line-up of Asia in 2008 pleased me no end. I was a huge fan of those first three Geffen albums by the band. It was always going to be an interesting exercise trying to do Asia justice after many years.
In the context of reviewing this album, I tried to keep the comparison to those first three albums. Not so much the 90’s material featuring John Payne, as that was a different version of the band.
As has every major AOR band in recent history, Asia too have signed with Frontiers Records, and will embark on a major tour during the 2008 year. After being apart for many years, their coming together should not mean an instant resurrection. Which means no remake of songs in the mould of ‘Heat Of The Moment’ or ‘Don’t Cry’.
After all, it’s been nearly 23 years since ‘Astra’. Time has moved on, and so too have the band members, and their musical influences and references. So what of the new material? Well, we’ve thrown a few words at each of the songs to give you an idea as to what to expect.
Harking back to 1982, ‘Never Again’ rediscovers the formula that made the debut such a success. It’s lovely to hear this style recreated once again decades later.
The parping brass lines from Geoff Downes gives ‘Nothing’s Forever’ a pompous feel. Though it’s only fleeting as the song takes on a subdued tone throughout. Occasionally it will spring to life usually around chorus time. Steve Howe gets to do the six-string dabble to colour up the song.
Piano balladry is the overriding theme on ‘Heroine’, perhaps similar to Wetton/Downes material. It’s a track where the guitar is pushed back into the mix, apart from the solo in the middle section.
‘Sleeping Giant – No Way Back’ opens its account with a combination of spicy trance-like keyboards and chorale like vocals. It’s like new world Asia meets olde world Asia in the recording studio.
It all segues into a massive blast of keyboards for the ‘No Way Back’ segment of this song. This one pumps along with a near AOR styled chorus. Imagine the Alan Parsons Project and Asia having a jam session!
Changing direction altogether is the happy pomp of ‘Alibis’. The musical structure, though upbeat and pleasant could be described as near ‘throwaway’. Surely not the most challenging piece ever constructed by Messrs Wetton, Howe, Downes and Palmer.
Another track to touch on the recent Wetton/Downes discography is ‘I Will Remember You’. The melodies are awesome as you would expect. But I’m not sure whether John and Geoff knew what hats they were wearing when they went into the studio for this one.
‘Shadow Of A Doubt’ hints at the warm familiar musical structure from the ‘Alpha’ era. But the appeal is lost with a limp drum sound, and a strange guitar solo. It sounds like a cross between a slide guitar and a violin. Sorry, it annoys me. Could the production on this one have been better? I think so.
The three part ‘Parallel Worlds – Vortex – Deya’ is an eight minute composition. Prog fans may get a kick out of this one. The second segment ‘Vortex’ works up some musical excitement, the tempo increasing a shade – amid a folk based backdrop. The third segment features a significant acoustic guitar section from Steve Howe. It’s not a signature Asia tune. It’s more like a combination of other projects that the guys have been involved with in the past.
The structure of ‘Wish I’d Known All Along’ is bouncy and staccato like. Again not something you would normally associate with past Asia material, but interesting to hear nonetheless. The keyboard solo from Downes through the middle section is pretty cool.
Unusually titled though it may be, ‘Orchard Of Mines’ is a deeply melodic tune. It has keys and a haunting piano motif laying the atmospheric platform. Wetton brings his emotive vocal phrasing to the mix, to create what is the most atmospheric song on the album.
‘Over And Over’ is a slightly different style away from their typical trademark sound. The guitars have a faint country-twang to them. The mandolin styled picking from Howe adds to this musical illusion, though this influence is teased out of the arrangement by songs end. Downes tries to keep a lid on it with his lush synth layers.
‘An Extraordinary Life’ is the finale of the album. It recounts John Wetton’s recent health problems in the style of a musicalogue. The vocal harmonies are really superb on this track. Altogether it’s an uplifting tune and nice to hear the band finish off this set positively!
The thing that made those first three Asia albums such a winning trifecta was the fantastic production. Mike Stone and the band really did come up with a massive wall of sound which was captured perfectly.
Though all recording artists are now working in the digital domain, it doesn’t mean that perfect results are going to be yielded each and every time. Some of the songs on ‘Phoenix’ sound fantastic sonically, but not all of them hit the right spot for me. My guess is that some punters are going to be looking for something akin to ‘Asia’, ‘Alpha’ and ‘Astra’.
And for those of you who are, you will be disappointed. Occasionally, the band echo back to that 1982-1985 timeframe, but not often. So too do they duck into that Wetton/Downes period as well, but again, not often.
‘Phoenix’ is all about the original Asia in the 21st century. Mostly, the songs here will appeal greatly to AORsters, and for me I’ll take what’s on offer. Knowing that we’ve got an album from the original band, even if it’s nowhere near the bombast of the Geffen years.