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Friday, February 3, 2012

Asia: Aria

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


  1. Mick Wall, in his "When Giants walked the Earth"
    ( )a biography of Led Zeppelin, says that, while the public where ecstatic over this new Band, many critics and musicians weren't as happy, claiming it was too loud. Maybe twenty five years later Asia perhaps thought hah we'll show those guys how to really rock.

  2. "The working man's progressive rock act". That would be the Groundhogs, cf. "Who Will Save The Earth", "Hogwash", "Solid", any of which will easily make mincemeat of Asia's overblown AOR tomfoolery.

    1. "What in the world made these presumably intelligent human beings and professional musi­cians work in this mode, from album to album?"(c)GS

      I'm sorry for going banal, but Mr Downes really loves the 80'es AOR vibe. That is just what he likes to do. No matter how bad or irrelevant it may sound now, or in the 90'es...I could even give him some respect for "we don't give a fuck about the times and trends anymore", even if i just can't stand most of this damn stuff.

      Ah, and 'Are You Big Enough?' could be the single most proud hymn to the essence of 80'es pomp AOR cock rock ever. You can almost feel, that he really sings this chorus to his own cock !

  3. I'll admit it- I do like this one less than Aqua. This one has a more "dumb" feel to it. It's a little less worldly and a little more worldy. (Clever, right?) I don't know, really. So. Easily the best thing about "Anytime" is the spooky/sad beginning. "Are You Big Enough?" is so friggin' stupid. "Desire" is great! A "world" track about sex. Awesome, and when the organ runs come in near the end, it turns really awesome, although the song is pretty dumb too. "Summer" is alright. It's based around acoustic guitar, after all, and the sound is pretty clear. But Payne's voice is starting to annoy me. "Sad Situation" is just nice and catchy and sad and stuff. "Don't Cut the Wire (Brother)" may also be dumb, but it's got this great buildup and a nice chorus, even if it's just "don't-cut-the-WIIIIIIRE!". "Feels Like Love" is so unnecessary. Go away. "Rememberance Day" may has a really nice heavy riff and an okay "And will you remember..." chorus. "Enough's Enough" is Asia doing gospel, and Payne is all over the place on it, feminine ("the wait was so deCEI-viiiiing...") and EXTREMELY masculine ("LA-LA LA LA LA LAAAAA!" Just like Dave Byron, right). Okay, I guess, but the chorus just seems WEAK. "Military Man" could actually have gone on Astra and starts with the exact same notes as "Never Again", and has a great chorus. "Reality", a bonus track, is not good AT ALL. It DESERVED to go on Archiva, whereas "Obsession" didn't. And "Aria"? It's the best track on the whole thing! It's like a compressed piano version of "The Voice of Reason", ya know, and in two minutes, it goes from bombastic piano ballad to classical symphonia to a reprise of "Desire" and back. Wow.
    You know, I actually have no good reason to make these comments. I'm just bored. This comment was boring to make. Gosh, it's just a boring day. Good day, now!

  4. It looks like they at least tried to assemble a permanent lineup here. Not that it did any good. I'm not familiar with all of Asia's latter day albums, but this one HAS to be the worst ever. Let's start with the photos of the band, with them looking all dower and with absurdly long hair. Looking like a dumb 80's hair band? In 1994? Ever hear the word "Nirvana", guys? They just look so ridiculous and embarrassing.

    And the music matches. How can you say this improves over the last one? Granted, they were walking a VERY fine line on "Aqua", but at least Downes was in charge. However, even though this is the first full Downes/Payne collaboration, the former barely makes his presence known. This sounds like a Payne solo album, as opposed to an Asia project.
    "Desire" even started out as a demo for Payne and Andy Nye's AOR band, The Passion (which, no surprise, never got a recording contract). Payne provides fewer power ballads, but even more overblown ("Feels Like Love", "Sad Situation"), overblown Big Statements ("Military Man", "Don't Cut the Wire", "Remembrance Day.) Which would be fine, if the production wasn't an attempt to hide the lack of playing, singing and songwriting talent involved. Payne does a lot of yelling, Pitrelli provides nothing but generic hard rock leads, and Downes, again, is almost inaudible.

    There are a few nice moments from Downes -- the rolling organ in "Anytime"(my favorite song here); the moving string thing in "Aria"; the return of Buggleish staccato synths in "Are You Big Enough?", which provides an interesting contrast to the drama of the rest of the song.

    But they are too few and far between. Asia's management, evidently, had so little confidence in the album that they didn't bother to try and get it released in the U.S. Not that there was market for this sort of crap here in 1994. This one deserves to languish in obscurity.