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Friday, December 23, 2011

Asia: Asia

ASIA: ASIA (1982)

1) Heat Of The Moment; 2) Only Time Will Tell; 3) Sole Survivor; 4) One Step Closer; 5) Time Again; 6) Wildest Dreams; 7) Without You; 8) Cutting It Fine; 9) Here Comes The Feeling.

In the big book of rock music, Asia (and its follow-up, Alpha, recorded with the same lineup) must hold the re­cord spot for «Largest Amount of Wasted Talent Ever Assembled in One Spot». It took all the expertise of Family/King Crimson bassist/vocalist John Wetton, Yes guitar wiz Steve Howe, ELP drum giant Carl Palmer, and Geoff "Video Killed The Radio Star" Downes —to release the «arena pop» album to end all «arena pop» albums, and, in the process, to serve as a textbook illustration of so many things that were wrong with the Eighties.

Let me be heard here: I would actually love to try and see Asia re-recorded, or, at least, re-mixed from the original tapes with new overdubs. There are some genuinely strong pop melodies here. There is an atmosphere of starry-eyed idealism carried over from the Yes/ELP camp, as if the spirits of Greg Lake and Jon Anderson were silently watching over the studio. There are some really nifty guitar parts: Howe is always Howe, no matter which crazy project he is getting draf­ted into. It's just that, in the end, everything is ruined by the «heat of the moment» — namely, the commercial requirements of the time.

In a different age, under different stage lights, these people might have come together to record a new Close To The Edge, sharpened by a touch of Red and tempered with a dip of Brain Salad Surgery. But "now you find yourself in '82", according to what the album opener tells us, and the next two lines load and display the program: "The disco hot spots hold no charm for you / You can concern yourself with bigger things". See? How do you justify the fact that you have just gone from playing in the intellectual-est prog bands of the last decade to churning out generic are­na-pop? Simple — just put yourself in the position of «educating the masses». Yesterday, they were all grooving along to 'Jive Talking'; today, prog masters are leading them on into bigger and better things. It's The Three Tenors!!!

Yet I have to admit — for some reason, I really like this record. Every once in a while, it plunges into the unbearable, like the power ballad 'Without You' (a disgrace to the respectable name of the other power ballad 'Without You' — the Badfinger one); but for the most part, it is catchy, not always trivial, highly melodic stuff whose main deficiency lies in the arrangements. Chief cul­prit is Downes, playing lifeless, predictable string-imitating Eighties keyboards. Minor culprit is Carl Palmer, not so much for the unnecessary electronic enhancement of his drums as for not really justifying his presence on the songs — most of these parts could have been performed by anyone. The lyrics are better left alone, to avoid getting burned by their mock-Byronesque seriousness. Other than that — Asia rules (on all of the rather small territory that remains).

My personal favorites include 'Only Time Will Tell', mainly for the excellent in-between verse breaks, punctuated by a screeching guitar part from Howe (also, imagine how much better those synth fan­fares would have sounded if played by real brass); and the first part of 'Cutting It Fine', with Wetton's vocals and Howe's guitar locking their jaws in a slightly more aggressive bite than usual. The big, anthemic hit single 'Heat Of The Moment' needs to be mentioned, but it is way too radio-oriented to remain in memory as a major highlight. Suffice it to say that the generic pop-me­tal guitar tone, so popular with the arena-rock of the times, appears on Asia in all of its ste­roid-based muscular form only on 'Heat Of The Moment'. The rest of the songs are usually rhyth­mically driven by the keyboards, whereas Howe's guitar is reserved for gentle melodic soloing (and that soloing is well worth tracking out and following throughout the album).

It is, I think, predictable, that four guys like that could not have created an utterly worthless al­bum. They tried their best, to be sure, but, in the end, Asia still emerges as a «survivor» — a re­cord hopelessly chained to its rather tasteless epoch, but with enough merits to compensate for the tastelessness. Put it on for your kid if you want to teach him what the «overground» used to be like in 1982. At least it beats Kim Wilde. Thumbs up, if that helps.

Check "Asia" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Asia" (MP3) on Amazon


  1. I was interested in this band ever since I learned it had a few Yes members in it. This review is helpful - I might pick it up.

  2. I'm with you. Here's my take:

  3. It's a pity you don't mention two other influences: the album Return to Fantasy and the band UK. Weird how people forget to which band Wetton went after King Crimson. He himself doesn't: "In KC I'd been playing the most ridiculously complicated rock music in strange time signatures. UH offered me a refreshing break from all that. I could just be myself, have some fun and play some really strong rock music. The reason I joined was definitely not for the money. At that time Roxy Music were offering me the same money as UH, if not more."
    The same Wetton who wrote all the songs of this album, if that helps ....

  4. Haven't listened to this one in a while, but I like to think of it as the dark shadow or evil twin of 90125. Both records feature about half of the line-up of Drama-era Yes, and both of them are radio-ready pop rock despite retaining the complex time signatures typical of prog rock ("Heat of the Moment" is in 10/4, and the intro to 90125's "Changes" amounts to 34/16).

    Asia is far inferior for a number of reasons. The most glaring problem is the lyrics, more specifically the dissonance between their mostly downbeat tone and John Wetton's mighty delivery. It's especially ironic considering that this is the man who sang "Starless", where he conveys the song's sadness admirably. Asia also lacks the exciting chord sequences that are probably 90125's greatest strength - there's no "Cinema" or even "Hold On" to be found here.

    When I saw Yes in concert, the only 90125 song they played was "Owner of a Lonely Heart". ("Oh, there's a big surprise." /sarcasm) When I remarked to a fellow Yes fan after the concert that I would have liked to hear something else from that album, she said something like "but isn't that where they got a little Asia-ish?" *Rolls eyes.*

  5. This is a decent album for the genre, and I don't mind some of it's followup either. I wish you luck if you plan on tackling the rest of their catalog. Perhaps there's some surprisingly good stuff on their 90s albums (with only Downes remaining in the lineup), but uh I kinda doubt it. I'm not exactly going to seek 'em out myself in order to find out. I am a little curious though!

  6. I love Asia. But why?
    They've got very good songs..."Heat of the Moment" was the song that got everyone and me into Asia- it's anthemic and kinda rockin' and has good harmonies. Hey, all Asia has good harmonies. "Only Time Will Tell", which you obviously like more now than you used to, has really great guitar lines, and pretty harmonies. "Sole Survivor" is a REALLY good one, although I don't really know what it's about. Epic. "One Step Closer", though, is the one song on here that I really hate- first of all, the singing is kinda bad (Steve instead of John), the music is kinda stupid (based on scales instead of ideas), and the lyrics..."The hum of conversation will dissolve you into me". Yuck! But then there's "Time Again", the angriest song on the album, on which the drumming is boomy and the lyrics are mean and the last chorus is the best. "Time time time time and time again! BOOM BOOM...BOOM...BOOM BOOM...BOOM...". "Wildest Dreams" is actually one of my favorites on the album, with its catchiness, the fact that it's the only track on the album that showcases Carl Palmer's technique, the harmonies (of course), the piano that fades in an out of the third verse, and, of course, the "They fight...WE FIGHT for king...FOR KING and country...". "Without You" is another favorite, a power ballad (and I love power ballads) that is extremely pretty, regardless of "smoke fires". It has the best bridge on the album ("Wanting things the way they used to be...". "Cutting It Fine" is yet another great song, and I just can't find a real problem with it. It is basically another "Sole Survivor", but who cares? That one was a really good song, and this one's even better, with a bolero-ish ending (and I love boleros). Then, "Here Comes the Feeling", the only truly happy song on the album, is, well, happy pop. That's it. Nice album. By the way, George, will you review the John Payne era? You at least need to review Aqua and Aria.

  7. Hey, I just realised, those nice guitar breaks on our mutual favourite song "Only Time Will Tell" are ripped off from ABBA's "Two for the Price of One".

  8. Wetton got tired of being in all these (financially, anyway) unsuccessful art rock bands, so he was going for the most commercial sounds possible. Downes was the perfect one to provide the pop hooks for him.

    This came out when I was in grad school, and, as I said elsewhere, I watched a friend of mine play the album through a graphic equalizer (we were nerdy engineers and computer scientists, what can I say?). It was interesting to see that the frequency response across the spectrum was IDENTICAL. I don't anything about record production or mixing, but it seems indicative of the attempt to make the music as radio-friendly as possible.

    Plus, manager Brian Lane named the band "Asia" (a stupid name for this group of players, IMHO) so that the record would show up, alphabetically, first in the bins, ready for purchase!

    All this, of course, worked. I heard at least half of the album on the radio. I even heard "One Step Closer" (actually a Howe-Wetton duet, Ross) played once. As you mention, at the time, a lot of us thought this was a big waste of talent. Now, though, I can appreciate it for what is -- it's arena rock, but played at prog levels.

    So, it's more distinctive -- Wetton's baritone instead of the usual tenor vocalist; Palmer still sounds somewhat distinctive, doing more than just keeping the beat; and Steve's unique stylings, instead of weak Who or Led Zep imitations. My biggest complaint with the production is that it does tend to bury Steve somewhat, but he does break out on occasion, such as on the crackling "Sole Survivor" and his razor-sharp intro to "Heat of the Moment", which really makes the song. Weak moments include the attempt of prog on "Wildest Dreams" (the staccato Buggles chords don't work here) and the wimpy electric piano on "Only Time Will Tell" (but I also like the soaring harmonies on the bridge). And too many uncreative romance lyrics (although this would get worse on the next album). On the whole, though, I think the album is still listenable because of the catchy melodies and decent musicianship, which dates it far less than say, REO Speedwagon.

    I saw the band on this first tour and they seemed to be at a loss, mainly because, except for Howe's solo of "The Clap" amd "Mood for a Day", they refused to play anything from their old bands. So, we got a seven minute drum solo from Carl, and an unimpressive keyboard solo from Downes, which consisted of him wandering between keyboards on his extensive rack. Two new songs were also previewed -- a wimpy version of "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes" (more thin electric piano) and "Midnight Sun" (all four band members on synths, with backing tapes). Otherwise. it was just playing the album straight. Disappointing, for the most part, but they'd finally get it right for "FantASIA."

  9. official lyrics list it as 'you *can't* concern yourself with bigger things'.

    Perhaps those lines are programmatic, but not in the way you take them. What does the next line mean, anyway? "you catch the pearl and ride the dragon's wings" Yes, it's on the cover. Drugs? Enlightenment?