ASIA: ARCHIVA (1996)
CD I: 1) Heart Of Gold; 2) Tears; 3) Fight Against The Tide; 4) We Fall Apart; 5) The Mariner's Dream; 6) Boys From Diamond City; 7) A.L.O.; 8) Reality; 9) I Can't Wait A Lifetime; 10) Dusty Road; 11) I Believe; 12) Ginger; CD II: 1) Obsession; 2) Moon Under The Water; 3) Love Like The Video; 4) Don't Come To Me; 5) The Smoke That Thunders; 6) Satelite Blues; 7) Showdown; 8) That Season; 9) Can't Tell These Walls; 10) The Higher You Climb; 11) Right To Cry; 12) Armenia.
Apparently, this is how this album (actually, two albums — Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 came out separately, but I am no superhero to review them together) came through. One fine day in 1996, upon returning to their studio, the band members found out that a pipe burst through, destroying much of the equipment and, apparently, quite a few archival tapes lying around. At this moment, as I can reconstruct the situation, «oh no!», said Geoff Downes, «just imagine — all of our unreleased treasures could have been destroyed! not that we were ever going to release it, since it all sucks anyway, but imagine coming in here one day and IT'S ALL GONE! Would history ever agree to pardon us? Isn't this a sign from God and all?»
Well — you understand what happened next. Apparently, these frickin' bastards had tons of songs they'd recorded over the past few years, none of which originally made the grade; and now, just because a silly pipe had to blow up at an inappropriate moment, they pushed twenty-four of these on the market. Now you might think that, with such a large number of tracks, there could be surprises. After all, it does happen sometimes that, driven by an odd understanding of the word «commercial», artists release sterile crap while keeping the real keepers under the pillow. If so, you can relax: this is clearly not the case here. Most, if not all, of these tracks were left unreleased because there was a damn good reason to keep them unreleased.
Basically, these are all outtakes from the pre-Arena era of Payne — the worst single stretch in Asia's entire career. One single listen to one single choice of a cover track will suffice: the way this band butchers ʽShowdownʼ, one of my favourite ELO songs, is inexcusable, with an abysmal combination of plastic drumming and pop-metal riffage replacing the subtle textures of the original. And everything here is molded according to the same stylistics, be it «rocker», «ballad», or, God help me, «mood piece».
Every once in a while, I feel like a hypocrite here — after all, it's not as if I were ever bothered by the production style of ABBA, for instance, where other people would say exactly the same that I am saying here: «yes, there may be melodies all right, but how can one stand these arrangements? Glitzy trash!» Yet, for all its unfortunate glitziness, the music of ABBA never for one moment took itself as doggone seriously as Asia. Truly and verily, I cannot stand a song like ʽHeart Of Goldʼ because each single instrument, each single vocal note, each single second of it pretends to be Lord Fuckin' Byron, dark hair waving in the stormy wind as the Turkish guns raise hell from all four sides and the earth rumbles under the feet. Against this impression, unless your music is at least Beethoven-quality, no single pop-rock melody, no matter how good — and these melodies, whatever one might say, are at the very least nowhere near «genius» — will be able to come across as anything other than «moronic to the core».
I wish I could recommend at least one of these tracks, but as I browse through them once again, they all seem to be doing one thing — compete with each other in the single nomination of «How High Up In The Sky Can You Deliver Your Romantic Battle Cry?». Even when they try to let their hair down and just deliver some good old-fashioned rock'n'roll (ʽA.L.O.ʼ) or blues-rock (ʽSatellite Bluesʼ), the effect is the same. With these drums and guitars, you might just as well be rock'n'rolling on your PC's motherboard — and the «social» bite of ʽSatellite Bluesʼ is completely lost against the same background as well. "Underground is just the place to be", howls Payne — not a bad idea, guys, why not actually try it out?
Overall, this is all awful: expect no random wonders, and keep a close eye on those pipes. Body waste freely floating around is fairly yucky, but at least it's natural, unlike this kind of «spiritual» waste, which has all the markings of a strong chemical weapon on it. Thumbs down, and if it were up to me, I'd slap a biohazard sign on it as well.