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.
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