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Old 09-02-2011, 07:02 PM   #201 (permalink)
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Random Track of the Day
Friday, September 2 2011

One of my all-time favourite bands today, with a track from their excellent and successful 2004 album, “Marbles”. It could be said to be the title track, but really only a quarter of that, as there are four songs, or pieces, called “Marbles” on the album, numbered I to IV. This is “Marbles I”.

Marbles I --- Marillion --- from “Marbles” on Intact


“Marbles” is a concept song, as it were, tracing the path from childhood to adulthood via the remembrance of simple things, like playing with marbles. As “Marbles I” opens, on a piano and keyboard line, very relaxed and a little jazzy in tone, it's a desperate search for lost childhood, reflected in the opening line “Did anyone see my last marble?” It forms the start of the piece, which then goes back to trace the singer's childhood and how marbles, as a game and a pastime, played a large part in that.

The song is under two minutes long, though the four parts taken together run for over six and a half.
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Old 09-03-2011, 09:18 AM   #202 (permalink)
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Hold me --- Laura Branigan --- 1985 (Atlantic)


I was, I have to admit, shocked and saddened to learn that Laura Branigan is dead. I had no idea, and when I went to research her discography for this review I found out that she died of a brain aneurym in 2004. Such a pity: she was so talented. In her relatively short then career she released seven albums, of which her most successful and best known was 1984's “Self control”, though she will always be remembered primarily for her huge hit “Gloria”, from her debut self-titled album. This however is my favourite of hers.

It opens with the title track, a slick, polished, street-rock song with dramatic keyboards and synthesisers telling the tale of a girl looking for love, and what she's prepared to do to find it. It's got a very eighties feel to it, with sax and horns and quite a funky beat. More straight-ahead commercial pop follows in the shape of “Maybe tonight”, with a great warbling keyboard line and powerful echoey drums. It's a song of “look what you lost and you'll be back” as she sings ”Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow/ It's just a matter of time/ Until you're running back in my arms again.” The song has an odd kind of tango-like rhythm, with Laura in strident voice, defiant and assured.

The first ballad comes in the form of “Foolish lullaby”, a song driven on breathy digital piano with synthesiser backup. It's another of those love triangle song s,where Laura asks ”If you're so sure that she's the one/ Why are you lying here with me?/ Did it ever cross your mind at all/ How all this feels to me?” As a ballad it really works, and is well positioned between the two previous fast tracks and the one that comes next, “Spanish Eddie”, which is a real rocker, with great synth and a jumping beat, kind of puts me in mind of the likes of “Flashdance”, then her version of Alphaville's hit ballad “Forever young” slows things down perfectly again. She does a great job on it, so much so that I think I prefer her version to the original. There's real power and emotion in her voice as she sings.

Much as I like Laura Branigan's work, it's again something of a disappointment to find that she did not write her own material, at least on this album (and looking quickly through her discog, none of the other albums either). She contributes to one track on this one, and there are the odd songwriting credits on her other releases, but very few and far between. Here, she has the likes of Jack White, Harold Fatermeyer and even Michael Bolton writing for her, and Faltermeyer also plays on the album. The songs are generally good, but it's always a pity when the artist doesn't create her own material.

She also recruits the talents of other luminaries, like Michael Landau on guitar and James Ingram on vocals, and in fact the supporting cast numbers close to forty. The production is top-notch, being handled by Faltermeyer, with Jack White and Mark Spiro. “I found someone” is a song made more famous later by Cher, but written for Laura by Michael Bolton. It's a power ballad, sung with great passion by Laura, but more restrained than Cher's punchy rock version. Whereas the woman with one name utilised a lot of heavy guitar and pounding drums in her version, Laura goes for an arrangement based around piano and keyboard, with just the right amount of percussion. It makes her version perhaps less aggressive than Cher's, but I believe better too.

“Sanctuary” is a pop/rock mid-paced song, with a good beat, and a really good guitar solo in there too, while “Tenderness”, the only song on which Laura co-writes, is a sort of cross between a rock and a dance number, with great horns. It's not great, not bad, but would have been a better closer than “When the heat hits the streets”, which is unashamedly pop/dance, and a little weak. Sorry, a lot weak. Bad choice to close what is essentially a really good album.

Laura's next album, “Touch”, just didn't do it for me, and I don't know what the albums after that were like, but I found “Touch” to be very heavily dance-influenced with not too much rock material at all. Here, there are pop songs certainly, but a decent smattering of rock too. Whether Laura changed her musical direction after this or whether “Touch” was a temporary aberration I don't know. Nevertheless, this album showcases some of her best work, some of her strengths and perhaps one or two of her weaknesses. Not a classic, by any means, but an album worth giving your time to listen to.

TRACKLISTING

1. Hold me
2. Maybe tonight
3. Foolish lullaby
4. Spanish Eddie
5. Forever young
6. When I'm with you
7. I found someone
8. Sanctuary
9. Tenderness
10. When the heat hits the streets

Suggested further listening: “Branigan”, “Self control”
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Old 09-03-2011, 09:44 AM   #203 (permalink)
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Random Track of the Day
Saturday, September 3 2011

Always enigmatic, often eccentric, an acquired taste --- just a few of the labels often associated with the music of Nick Cave. Once you get into him though you'll recognise him for the genius he is. Like a modern-day romance poet on crack, or Tom Waits when he's just about sobre and REAL mean, Cave sings about anything that takes his fancy, with an uncompromising attitude that is sorely lacking in many of today's musicians. It turns some people off his music, but attracts many many others. In any event, Cave tends to write his music for himself, not for fans, record labels, sales or fame. A true hardcore artist, you can't help but be affected by his music, whether positively or negatively. One thing he is not, and that is boring or predictable.

New morning --- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds --- from “Tender Prey” on Mute



I've only listened to this album once, but it is fantastic. One of Cave's older recordings before he got into his orchestral period, it contains some excellent tracks. This is called “New morning”, and comes closest to a cross between a country track and a gospel song. Nice piano and harmonica, and one of Cave's least dark songs, almost a prayer. You can almost see the hulking, shadowy figure of Nick Cave standing in the pulpit, leading the congregation while the Bad Seeds play behind him, early morning light streaming in through the stained-glass windows of some church in East Nowhere, USA.
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Old 09-04-2011, 03:50 PM   #204 (permalink)
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Abominog --- Uriah Heep --- 1982 (Bronze)


There's little confusion as to what kind of music you're going to hear on this album! With a revamped and updated heavy metal sound, Uriah Heep released their fourteenth album to critical acclaim. Personally, it was another one of those records I bought strictly on the basis of the album sleeve! I loved that demonic face! At age nineteen, and into the likes of Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Sabbath and Saxon at the time, this was the sort of music I wanted to listen to.

Mind you, it's not totally heavy metal, and in some places it's more hard rock, but it is loud! As the opening guitar chords of “Too scared to run” blast out of your speakers, you know you're in for a headbanging time! The drums crash in and the song takes off, with one short break before it all powers off again and new vocalist Peter Goalby makes himself heard, stamping his identity on the song, and on the whole album. The chugging guitar of founder member Mick Box creates in great part the sound of this song, though the keys of new man John Sinclair play their part too, creating a heads-down rocker that hardly gives you time to catch your breath before slipping into “Chasing shadows”. Introduced on a boppy keyboard line it soon sparks to life as another hot rocker, although not as frenetic as “Too scared to run”, and driven mainly on keyboards.

“On the rebound” is another bouncy rocker, utilising the considerably talents of former drummer Lee Kerslake, and written by Russ Ballard, in fact the first of several covers: the band write about half of the material on the album, with the rest made up by cover versions. Great keyboard arpeggios here from Sinclair, with Goalby really stretching himself vocally. Some really mesmerising guitar from Box stamps his authority on this song, then it's on to John Cougar's “Hot night in a cold town”, where the pace slackens slightly. Not quite a ballad, it's certainly slower than the tracks on the album to date, and provides a welcome chance to catch a breather before we're off again, running with the lion...

A song originally recorded by the band Lion, of which John Sinclair was a member, “Running all night (with the lion)” was a track Sinclair brought with him from his time with Lion, and here the guys give it the Uriah Heep treatment. I must admit, I haven't heard the original, but this is a power rocker of the first order! Striding, brash, ballsy and with great guitars from Box and a down-and-dirty vocal from Goalby. Sweet! Two more covers then, first up is “That's the way that it is”, with great jangly guitar intro and an impassioned vocal by Goalby, backed up by some very Europe-like keyboards --- hair metal, ho!

“Prisoner” is a sort of a semi-ballad, starting off with lush keyboards and a gentle vocal, but then it ramps up and becomes a punchy anthem, almost with elements of gospel near the end. Great backing vocals, Box's wailing guitar underscoring the mood of the song. Church-like organ introduces “Hot persuasion”, which then gets into a great little groove, while “Sell your soul” is a real fist-clenching, air-punching anthem, where Mick Box gets to really let loose!

Closer “Think it over” is a slow rocker, comes in on gorgeous slide guitar and atmospheric keyboard, a great melody and a powerful closer to the album. Although a cover of sorts, this is in fact an original Uriah Heep song, which was performed by the previous lineup in 1980, before they broke up, so technically it's not really a cover at all. Just thought you'd like to know that!

Uriah Heep have of course over twenty albums to date, of which I've only heard this and their greatest hits (“July morning”, “Stealin'” and “The wizard” are great tracks, by the way), and I believe their earlier stuff is not as heavy as that heard here, but either way they have to be worth checking out on the basis of this album, and once I get some time (whenever that may be!) I'll definitely be dipping into their back catalogue.

For now, this serves as a great taster and an idea of what to expect from this old and established, and yet fully up-to-date and modern rock band.

TRACKLISTING

1. Too scared to run
2. Chasing shadows
3. On the rebound
4. Hot night in a cold town
5. Running all night (with the lion)
6. That's the way that it is
7. Prisoner
8. Hot persuasion
9. Sell your soul
10. Think it over
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Old 09-04-2011, 03:51 PM   #205 (permalink)
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Random Track of the Day
Sunday, September 4 2011

How random is that? Yesterday we had Nick Cave, today we have Josh Groban, two artistes who could not be any different, yet in many ways are quite alike. Great singers, powerful presence on stage, and a willingness to step “outside the box” on occasion. I've reviewed Josh's “Closer” earlier in my journal, so not too much to add, just have a listen.

Mai --- Josh Groban --- from “Awake” on Reprise


It's another of Josh's non-English songs, but don't let that put you off. With pristine production by David Foster, and a powerful orchestra backing him, this is a fine example of why Josh Groban is seen as one of the most accomplished and noted singers in his field today. Ignore the words --- you're unlikely to be able to understand them anyway, I couldn't --- and listen to the song. Proof that music can transcend the language barrier.
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Old 09-05-2011, 07:54 AM   #206 (permalink)
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Random Track of the Day
Monday, September 5 2011

Ah, the randomness continues, and sometimes it dovetails with what has already been reviewed, though this time it's an album reviewed very recently: Joe Walsh's “The smoker you drink, the player you get”. I thought this album would be a whole lot better than it was, given its reputation and the reviews I had read about it, but though it's by no means rubbish, I wasn't as blown away by it as I had expected to be.
Wolf --- Joe Walsh --- from “The smoker you drink, the player you get” on ABC-DunhillReprise



“Wolf“ is at least one of the better tracks on the album, a laid-back ballad with really nice guitars. Very Eagles sound on it. If you want to read the review of the whole album, head back a page.
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Old 09-05-2011, 08:19 AM   #207 (permalink)
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Time to hop on a bus to Weirdsville and take a trip, if not to the Twilight Zone, then definitely to the Late-in-the-Afternoon Zone, where I veer off from the kind of music I usually write about to feature some tracks from artistes I would normally either not have an interest in, or whose genre is not one I normally review. Weird sh*t I like, as the title says.

First off, here's a disco band. Well, maybe the disco band of the seventies. I was never into disco music at all, but Earth, Wind and Fire had something about them, and a lot of their music was at least the kind of thing I didn't turn off or switch channels for. This is one of their big hits, and in fairness it's infectiously danceable. This is “September”. Oh, and so it is...


And totally on the other side of the scale, well you just can't beat those old romantic ballads, can you? This is a song I actually got to know through, would you believe, “Star Trek Deep Space 9”. There are many versions of “I'll be seeing you”, but I prefer the slower ones. Hard to find, to be honest. I had one by Barry Manilow, but I've already subjected you to him once, and didn't feel that would be fair play, so here's someone called Jo Stafford, with the sort of arrangment for this song that I prefer.


And I truly HATE the Big Band sound, but even I can't fault the class of Glenn Miller on this favourite of his, “Moonlight serenade”.


Just to raise the tempo, here's Charlie Daniels and his band with a great favourite of mine. Couldn't really feature this anywhere else, so here he is with “The Devil went down to Georgia” (thought he lived there?) ---- just listen to them fiddles!


Probably sounds totally dated now, but when this came out first it was cutting edge! I remember seeing the Art of Noise on Top of the Pops and they had COMPUTERS on stage! Oh wow! Break that mould! Here they are with “Close to the edit”.


Okay, that's enough weirdness for now. What passes for normal service will now be resumed. Until next time....

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Old 09-05-2011, 08:24 AM   #208 (permalink)
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Close --- Kim Wilde --- 1988 (MCA)


I was never a huge fan of Kim Wilde, and only bought one other of her albums (apart from the greatest hits compilation), and that was 1986's “Another step”. I was relatively disappointed with it, but on hearing the single “You came” I decided to try again, and I was glad I did. This is widely acknowledged as one of Kim Wilde's best albums, and it's easy to see why.

It opens with the disappointingly disco “Hey Mister Heartache”, which just does nothing for me at all with its funky bass and its bland synth lines, drum machines and frankly forgettable melody. That this was chosen as the first single from the album is staggering, and it's probably as well that I never heard it, or I would have passed on the album. All comes right though with the next track, the aforementioned “You came”, the second single and the one I heard that convinced me to take a chance on the album.

Yes, it's a disco/dance song, but the lush keyboards on it and the clapalong beat mark it as a much different song to the previous. You could hear Kylie singing this. What do you mean, that's not a good thing? Whereas the melody on the opener was confused and failed to stick in the brain, this has an unforgettable hook and a great beat. The whole album is based fairly closely on keyboards with some guitar, and although I see no bass player credited there must be one --- unless they're doing bass on the synth? Anyway, it's a well-rounded song, a real hit and got into the top ten, marking the return of Wilde for the first time since the days of “Kids in America”, “View from a bridge” and “Cambodia”, all about five years previous.

Still, good as “You came” is, if you want lush, listen to “Four letter word”, with its grandiose keys and its seventies disco melody. A semi-ballad, it's sung with passion and belief by Kim, with a lovely melody and great backing vocals. Her brother, Ricky, helps her out a lot on this album, playing keyboards, guitar, and programming the drum machines, while her famous father, Marty, has a hand in most of the songwriting.

“Love in the natural way” is a soul/disco song that could have been written for Luther Van Dross or James Ingram, a nice cheerful song, but it doesn't measure up to the quality of what has gone before. “Love's a no”, on the other hand, is a bittersweet ballad, perfectly crafted and played. A plea for patience and understanding, it gets very intense as the song progresses, then a dirty guitar introduces one of my favourite tracks on the album, the boppy “Never trust a stranger”, with great keyboard lines and a great break in the middle, with a great bassline (whoever's playing it!) and a powerful ending. Probably the closest to a rock track on the album.

Another ballad then, the superlative “You'll be the one who'll lose”, with atmospheric keys and nicely picked guitar, and a drum machine beat that sounds like fingers clicking. Cool. “European soul” is basically Madonna's “La isla bonita”, then “Stone” is back to disco/pop but with an element of rock in there too, good beat with nice synthesiser-created brass. The album ends on a cover, a song by Todd Rundgren called “Lucky guy”. It's a pretty simple piano ballad, with some nice string arrangements (presumably on synth) and a really nice piece of slide guitar to close the album on a satisfying note.

Yeah, Kim Wilde won't be everyone's cup of tea (though you would, wouldn't you?) but this is an album worth taking a chance on. It's a lot better than I expected it to be, and while it didn't blow me away I was very impressed with it. Some really well-crafted songs and some melodies you may just still be humming as you put the disc away.

TRACKLISTING

1. Hey Mister Heartache
2. You came
3. Four letter word
4. Love in the natural way
5. Love's a no
6. Never trust a stranger
7. You'll be the one who'll lose
8. European soul
9. Stone
10. Lucky guy
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Old 09-06-2011, 04:25 AM   #209 (permalink)
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Random Track of the Day
Tuesday, September 6 2011

Something totally different this time. I've only recently heard of, then downloaded, this album but already it's showing promise. Isabel Oversveen, otherwise known as Issa, is a 26-year old rising talent from Norway, who has cut her teeth with all manner of bands there and earned the respect of the music industry. This is her debut album, and for a first effort it's commendable. Watch for a review of it once I get a chance to digest it properly. Hey, for now just admire, huh?

What can I do --- Issa --- from “Sign of angels” on Frontiers
Moderator cut: image removed


“What can I do” is from her debut album “Sign of angels”, and listening to this it's sort of hard to believe that this is her maiden voyage. Good commercial heavy rock with some well-known (in Norway) musicians backing her, and she has a voice that's just suited to rock and hard rock, coming from the same school of singing as veterans like Ann Wilson and Pat Benatar. On the strength of this, I would say Issa has a very bright future ahead of her, and I'm certain the wider world will hear more of her very soon.
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Old 09-06-2011, 04:34 AM   #210 (permalink)
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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.

TRACKLISTING

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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