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Friday, January 13, 2012

Asia: Then & Now

ASIA: THEN & NOW (1990)

1) Only Time Will Tell; 2) Heat Of The Moment; 3) Wildest Dreams; 4) Don't Cry; 5) The Smile Has Left Your Eyes; 6) Days Like These; 7) Prayin' 4 A Miracle; 8) Am I In Love?; 9) Summer (Can't Last Too Long); 10) Voice Of America.

The worst sort of rip-off there is: not only was this a straightforward attempt to cheat clients out of their money with minimal effort, but the ludicrous title also added a streak of smug hypocrisy, passing this off as a «conceptual» artistic decision: «First, close your eyes and we will help you remember how Asia sounded five years ago. Now, open your eyes and you will hear how Asia sounds TODAY! Isn't this a fabulous experience? Hear the difference? No? You are absolutely correct. Neither do we. Sorry, no refunds.»

That was then, of course; now the financial issue is no longer so pressing, due to obvious circum­stances. But the original rip-off still remains a rip-off: Then & Now is of potential interest to the rare breed of die­hard Asia fans (yoohoo, anyone under 30?) and Roger Dean album art collectio­ners. The idea may have been to record a new album, after five years of procrastination, but if so, the well was so dry the band had to resort to cheating. In the end, they did not even fill out an en­tire side: the Then part takes up all of Side A, then gives way to four brand new «Now» tunes, then returns to wind things up with 'Voice Of America'.

I shouldn't even be reviewing the album as such, but it does have 'Days Like This', which I ho­nestly consider a good song, with a strong vocal part from Wetton and a relatively tasteful way of delivering its upbeat, optimistic message. The production is predictably awful: maybe someday somebody will have the brains to cover it in the style of classic Cheap Trick, with crunchy power pop guitars, and throw in a real brass section during the anthemic climactic moments. But they do nail it fairly well on the "days like these I feel like I could change the world" chorus — there is a brawny, fists-clenched aura about it without the song degenerating into hair metal or heart-shred­ding power balladry that I really like. It may not be coincidental that the song was not written by any of the band members, but by Steve Jones of the little-known roots-rock band The Unforgiven. Or it may be coincidental. After all, it's not as if Asia band members themselves never ever wrote a single good pop song. I «despise» the band like any fine, upstanding citizen of the world, and even I am not ready to make that claim.

Unfortunately, they do a fine job of provoking me into it on the other three songs. 'Prayin' 4 A Miracle' may have some integrity (if you like Wetton's singing at all, you have to admit that the «praying» thing in the chorus has a bit of epic touchiness to it), but, on the whole, is still rather languid and draggy. 'Summer (Can't Last Too Long)' is neither epic nor all that catchy, just a re­gular bouncy throwaway with zero meaning. And worst of the lot is 'Am I In Love?', a textbook example of «adult contemporary», but done with a touch of Diane Warren. On top of the song's creamcheese-and-corn atmosphere, the chorus "Am I in love, or is it the magic of tonight?" might just be ro­mantics' darkest hour. I have no doubt that, at one point or other, it must have been syn­dicated for Santa Barbara.

As for the Then part, well... the selection is fairly mediocre, focusing on the hits and additional band-cherished material on which we probably do not see eye-to-eye (I would rather prefer 'The Heat Goes On' and 'Cutting It Fine' than 'Wildest Dreams', obviously). But even if this were the best possible compilation out of a hundred choices, this wouldn't matter: Then & Now is a rotten, fake concept at the heart, and deserves nothing but a thumbs down regardless of the circumstan­ces. Not even the well-fed, glossy Pegasus, towering over all three past mascots of Asia on the front cover, can save the day with its unsubstantiated symbolism.

Check "Then & Now" (CD) on Amazon


  1. Well. I used to love most of these new songs, but that was back when I loved "Voice of America" and "Rock and Roll Dream". "Days Like These" was, back then, my LEAST favorite of these due to the obvious Southern rock influence, but it's growing on me. Nice message in the song. "Summer (Can't Last Too Long)" is one that I've never been able to like- it, I feel, is a clone of "Hard on Me". And stuff. "Praying for a Miracle" (I refuse to text-language it) is really powerful, even though it's not only a little dumb. "I'm all out of luck, spent my very last I'm prayin', prayin', prayin' for a miracl-leeeeee." "Am I in Love", then, is one I LOVED, I thought it was SO PRETTY, and you know, I still thought "Hold On My Heart" was pretty. Ha. I LOVED adult contemporary- why do you think a whole buncha Moody Blues songs like "Nervous" are among my favorites? And hey, that's it? Then I'll just leave my comments on the three unreleased tracks on Aurora. "Ride Easy" is really really great, but I can't say why- maybe it's the part where the band drops out and it's just the harpsichord-synth? "Daylight" is really optimistic and powerful, and have you ever read the story behind it? GREAT melody in the verses, and the only thing that mars the song is the keyboard in the breaks between the lines of the chorus. "Lyin' to Yourself" is a superior clone of "My Own Time". I'm done.

  2. This is even more of a cheat than you know. As you might guess, this comes straight from Contractual Obligation Land. After "Astra", Wetton, Downes and Palmer still owed product to Geffen Records. So, they were allowed to submit outside projects. Downes released an album of instrumentals, "The Light Programme"; Wetton put out an (supposedly, really bad)album with Phil Manzanera; and Palmer teamed up with Keith Emerson and Robert Berry for an (infamously, definitely bad) album. As you can imagine, none of these burned up the charts, so Geffen called in a greatest hits album.

    But the "Now" tracks were only "Now" in the sense of the philosophical concept that past, present and future are "now" in the eternal. I don't think that's what they had in mind. Why is "Voice of America" here, for example? It wasn't a single. Maybe because "Astra" was such a bomb, they figured nobody would notice that it was actually a "Then". I actually like the song, but that's besides the point.

    "Am I in Love?" is actually an outtake from "Astra", with good reason. This thing is SO schmaltzy that it makes "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes" look like Iron Maiden. "Am I in Love,/or is it just the magic of tonight?" Did Wetton write this one at his junior prom? Terrible.

    As for "Summer", Palmer doesn't appear on it. It dates from 1988, when Wetton and Downes tried to assemble a new lineup around drummer Michael Sturgis and guitarist Scott Gorham. Like all Downes projects during the previous four years, it didn't work. Although it's interesting to hear Asia trying to be the Beach Boys.

    "Prayin' 4 a Miracle" (boy, does Wetton look dumb following Prince's spelling conventions) isn't even really an Asia track. Wetton is is the only band member actually on it. It was on some movie soundtrack credited to Asia. It tries to sound tough, but how could something co-written with David Cassidy (of all people!) be tough?

    Which means that only "Days Like These" was recorded specifically for this album with Toto's Steve Lukather on guitar. It's by far the best "Now" track. It actually improves over the crappy Bon Jovi-esque original version by a mile. Downes' synths and Wetton's voice give the track its anthemic feel, although Palmer's drumming is pretty bland (if it is actually him). By the way, I'm glad that you cleared up which Steve Jones wrote this. I was always wondering how the Sex Pistols' guitarist could have possibly written a song like this.

    This was a pretty useless release. Nowadays, the "Gold" anthology has every track from the first three albums, B-sides and the "Now" songs. Any new Asia fan (and there might be a few, given the reunion) should grab that instead.


  3. I had no idea that Carl Palmer wasn't on drums on summer you learn something new everyday, that is actually my favorite song on this entire disc. The original review of this is a bit brutal. I have seen record companies and vans put out and do much worse. Besides the album went gold. Am I the only fan of the album Astra?