ASIA: ARIA (1994)
1) Anytime; 2) Are You Big Enough?; 3) Desire; 4) Summer; 5) Sad Situation; 6) Don't Cut The Wire (Brother); 7) Feels Like Love; 8) Remembrance Day; 9) Enough's Enough; 10) Military Man; 11) Aria.
Since most fans gave up on Asia completely with the release of Aqua, I am sure that Aria is remembered even less — particularly since no one could deny that it simply tries to repeat the formula of Aqua. An odd decision — with the overall flop that Aqua was, one would have thought that the boys would take a look around and try and introduce some changes. But, horrendous realization as it is, it is quite possible that they actually liked what they were doing with Aqua. Let's face it, if even a handful of the fans still liked what they were doing, why shouldn't the band be entitled to looking at their pathetic blintzes as «artistic statements»?
But Aria, strange as it is, slightly improves over its predecessor. Compared to Aqua, there is less sap and less power balladry: most of the «romance» is given an upbeat pop sheen, whereas the «epic» numbers tend to be presented as dark and ominous rather than heart-on-sleeve declarations. The fakeness of it all never disappears, but fakeness is always easier to digest when it is not overcooked, and Payne's vocal hooks, crescendos, and phrasing show a tad more restrain. As a result, this is still boring, but not sickeningly so. (With the obvious exception of the Titanic-bound 'Feels Like Love', but that is just one song and I am going to pretend I forgot all about it).
Fans of Yes' Big Generator might even enjoy 'Are You Big Enough?' and its steroid riffs: I always imagine that the question of the chorus is addressed directly to those riffs, rather than the listener, which makes it a much more fun listen than the song actually deserves. 'Don't Cut The Wire' is another salvageable track, with an impressive three-step build-up from verse to bridge to chorus — bring in a decent guitar track (something swampy, perhaps), a grand piano, remove some of the vocal overdubs, and there just might be something there.
Plus, some of the choruses are just damn catchy. The pathos of 'Military Man' challenges Michael Bolton, but I still cannot get that goddamn "don't come running here to find me..." bit out of my head. So is the chorus of 'Enough's Enough', which, upon close inspection, turns out to be a Marxist anthem: "Enough's enough / It's eye to eye / Enough's enough, we cry / Enough's enough of smoke and steel / Enough's enough of turning this wheel" — and now, ladies and gentlemen, you all know the secret of why Asia were still selling something: they were positioning themselves as the working man's progressive rock act. (No wonder a few of these tracks sound like they could easily fit on some of Springsteen's late-period flops, like Human Touch).
According to some sources, there is an objective explanation for these feelings — namely, that Aqua was essentially made up of rejected leftovers, a quick throw-together act to solidify the band's relationship with Payne, whereas Aria was more carefully thought out and represented genuine «hard-working» collaboration between Payne and Downes. Basically, that answers the question of which album to get first — although, in a perfect world, none of us would even need to pose that question, because a perfect world has no need for either. Then again, a perfect world would give little incentive to produce art as such. Fact is, in order to have Carole King, we must also endure Diane Warren; and without an Asia, there might never have been a Yes — even if they do come in reverse chronological matter.
Anyway, thumbs down, but without any particularly hard feelings; more of a puzzle here — what in the world made these presumably intelligent human beings and professional musicians work in this mode, from album to album? This is not a Black Sabbath sort of case: in 1994, it was clear to everyone that nobody whose opinion matters would ever have a kind word to say about the album, never in a million years. Did they enjoy being called names? Did they see it as a brave defiance of current taste standards? Such a poor album, and such a lot of mystery.
Check "Aria" (CD) on Amazon