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