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Old 09-06-2011, 04:34 AM   #210 (permalink)
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Join Date: Oct 2008
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Phoenix --- Asia --- 2008 (Frontiers)

The Second Coming of Asia? Well, after the somewhat disappointing “Silent nation”, which was the first ever Asia album not to have a title beginning and ending in A --- from “Asia” through “Alpha”, “Astra”, “Aqua”, “Aria”, “Arena” and “Aura” --- Asia reunite with the old lineup that last played on 1983's “Alpha” (one great album!) and the difference is there for all to hear. The band reunited with longtime cover artist Roger Dean, whose services they had dispensed with for the previous outing, and the classic Asia feel is back. Okay, so it's not a title beginning and ending with A --- there's not even an A in it! --- but it's the sound we've grown used to and love. It's almost 1983 all over again!

The album gets going with “Never again”, a heavy rocker with that classic guitar sound from Steve Howe that first introduced us to “Heat of the moment”, all those years ago. John Wetton is back on vocals, and doesn't he sound great! His new solo album is definitely going to be worth checking out. In something of the same vein as the title track of “Arena”, this song declares the singer's determination that ”Never again will I raise arms/ Against my brother/ Never again will I spill blood/ Of any mother's son.” Geoff Downes, back behind the keys, sounds happy to be there, and of course there is no other Asia drummer than Carl Palmer!

The theme of the song could also possibly be interpreted as “never again will we break up”, though that's a matter of conjecture. There's no denying though that the guys seem to be happy playing together again, almost three decades since they cut their last record as a band. “Nothing's forever” starts with an acapella intro before the keyboards of Downes announce themselves and the track gets going, a mid-paced rocker which lopes along nicely, and is the only song on the album completely written by Wetton. The big ballad of the album is the mighty “Heroine”, with its lyric affording all the power to the woman in the singer's life, in a nice turnaround from the guy being the hero who protects the girl. Wetton sings ”You are my heroine/ Do with me what you will/ This is no time to die/ No time to kill.” This is an interesting conclusion coming from the opening lines, which seem to describe an attempt at suicide: ”I hold the razor blade up to my face/ And feel the pulse benath my skin/ The crimson line describes the outer trace/ Of my broken heart within.” Of course, the guy could just be shaving, I guess.

The music is dramatic and powerful, nice piano and solid keyboards from Downes, fragmented guitar from Howe and steady drumbeat from Palmer. It's a classic Asia ballad, and doesn't disappoint we who know their music. Wetton's voice is full of admiration and passion as he sings, and whether or not this is semi-autobiographical or just a generic idea I don't know, but it sounds a little personal. Nice touches on the keys by Downes as he picks out some piccolo/string arrangements.

The next track is a long one, and a three-part composition at that. It goes under the banner of “Sleeping giant”, and starts off with a nice instrumental intro, some very seventies guitar from Howe, almost reminiscent of the soul stars of the day, with nice choral vocal accompaniment and a keyboard theme pulsing through the song. A nice bass line and dramatic keyboard chords herald the second part, “No way back”, a basic rock tune, which in fairness probably could have stood as a track on its own. The final part is just called “Reprise”, and it's just that: a retuning of the opening part. “No way back” works, but I think this whole “Sleeping giant” thing is unnecessary, a case of overextending something that did not need to be as long as it was.

A good boppy rocker then in “Alibis”, with bright keyboards and great backing vocals, which is another thing Asia do very well, one of their many strengths. Great solo from Howe here, showing that after almost thirty years he still has it! Nice guitar outro by him to the song, too, then it's another ballad, piano-led and with Wetton in strong voice. “I will remember you” is very good, but basic Asia fare, nothing terribly special. It's followed by a fast rocker, “Shadow of a doubt”, and then we're into the second multi-part composition, “Parallel worlds.”

It starts off with a nice slow guitar intro and a balladic song develops, which last about three minutes and then becomes an instrumental with Steve Howe's guitar leading the way as the pace increases until it suddenly stops and we are treated to three more minutes of guitar, this time Spanish guitar, from Howe, in a piece which makes a viable bid for the best playing on the album. It's emotional, heartfelt and evocative, and closes the piece nicely. This one works as a multi-part, in the same way “Sleeping giant” doesn't, as the other parts are not merely there to bracket and extend the original song. Sheer beauty and class.

Howe pens solo two tracks on the album, the first being the ominous sounding mid-pacer “Wish I'd known all along”, echoing remembrances of Arena's “The day before the war” and “Suspicion” from 1985's “Astra”. Not surprisingly there's a good bit of guitar in the song, but to his credit Howe doesn't build the song around his own instrument, and there's plenty for Downes to do as well. The only song on the album not written by at least one of the band members is, ironically, one of the best tracks on the album.

The rather strangely titled “Ochard of mines” is a truly beautiful little ballad, competing with “Heroine” for ballad of the album, and putting in a fair shout for standout track too. It's gentle, swaying and restrained, with one of Wetton's best vocal performances on the album. Howe's other composition is the rather nice ballad “Over and over”, and the album closes on “An extraordinary life”, a fast-paced but ultimately forgettable track, and not one I would have closed the album on --- how many times do I say that?

So, the verdict. Well, first of all it's Asia, so expect no huge surprises. If you like Asia's music you'll enjoy this album, if you don't then it's unlikely you'll get into it. There's little new or innovative about “Phoenix”, other than the two multi-parters, which Asia have never attempted prior to this. One works, one doesn't, so whether or not we'll see further experiments of this nature in later albums is open to question. There are the usual lush ballads, rockers and some heavier tracks, and as I said, it's the original lineup from “Alpha”, so to many people's minds the “proper” Asia.

I certainly enjoyed it more than I did “Silent nation”, although that album has some very good tracks. The difference is that “Phoenix” has very few, if any, weak tracks, and even the poorer ones are better than some of those on “Silent nation”. But when they're good, the songs are exceptional, which really makes this album a triumphant return for Asia, and validates the title without question.


1. Never again
2. Nothing's forever
3. Heroine
4. Sleeping giant
(i) Sleeping giant
(ii) No way back
(iii) Reprise
5. Alibis
6. I will remember you
7. Shadow of a doubt
8. Parallel worlds
(i) Parallel worlds
(ii) Vortex
(iii) Deya
9. Wish I'd known all along
10. Orchard of mines
11. Over and over
12. An extraordinary life

Suggested further listening: "Asia", "Alpha", "Astra", "Aqua", "Aria", "Arena", "Aura", "Silent nation", "Omega"
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Last edited by Trollheart; 05-10-2013 at 05:44 PM.
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