Asia - 'Asia' (landmark album review) Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     April 20, 2017    
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Tastes change, people die, great music never does and will live with us forever.

This is a Rocktopia™ landmark review (album review no. 4990, pls. click HERE for more information)

I can't remember why I bought this album instead of another. It wasn't like the choice a year later of either Marillion's 'Script For A Jester's Tear' or Pink Floyd's 'Final Cut'; there was only one choice possible, two were not. Perhaps I read about it in 'Kerrang!', perhaps I heard it about it at school... or perhaps my friend Duncan suggested it. It was probably the third one. I bought the cassette and it started...

Favourite albums are not just about the album and its music, they are the life you live with them. I remember being on holiday in Wales with Duncan (inevitably), our families wincing as we walked the streets singing 'Sole Survivor' at the top of our voices; this album stayed with me and unlike now, it was lived with and listened to, now music comes and goes, hangs around for a bit and is replaced by more music.

'Asia' was special. Why? It was both the whole and the elements; a rare thing. This was indeed a super-group but at no time did the members hold back, John Wetton's wistful vocal, Steve Howe's spidery solos mixed with powerfully pompous riffs, Geoff Downes washing us with Classically-inclined synths and Carl Palmer, his fills enormous, rolling around his kit and pushing that envelope until it almost broke. Yes, ELP, King Crimson and, erm, The Buggles represented among many others.

The music might have taken us by surprise; this is commercial Rock with a Pop side, but real power too. Opener 'Heat Of The Moment' such a good example, an imperious riff shunted up against a lovely hummable chorus, followed by 'Only Time Will Tell' and its fluffily fantastic fare, massive future sales assured. Elsewhere, we have the faultless delivery of 'Wildest Dreams', a US arena Rocker in all other respects, but for the drum solo in the middle, used like a guitar solo, simple, focused, in an out before the breath has settled; I had never heard one like this before. They were always meandering, live affairs and this still makes me grin with delight.

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'One Step Closer' a New Wave tune wrangled into Prog time changes along with a gorgeous, fun piano trill, 'Time Again' a hammering, rollicking radio riot with a slap in the face of a Howe solo, but then the overblown ballad 'Without You' which could be mawkish if it wasn't for Wetton's impassioned, lonely vocal. And they keep coming, Prog Pop on the brash, bossy 'Cutting It Fine', Palmer using every inch of his kit to drive this forward. And then the track that had to be the closer, 'Here Comes The Feeling', an aching verse about separation building to the pure excitement of reunion in the chorus, a long teasing lead out and then sudden finish; astonishing.

Aimed like a missile at the charts, this nevertheless had enough to make Proggers and Rockers alike love it; it may be the best debut ever! The success led to an even more chart bound follow-up in 'Alpha', an album I remember moaning to school-mates had a mix which nixed the drums, Howe then left and 'Astra', which had moments like the single 'Go', was finished with Mandy Meyer. Then a long period of Downes keeping the fire burning with Jon Payne on an increasingly soft sounding canon of releases before the "Big 4" reunited for 'Phoenix' in 2008 and produced some standout moments in their three releases. Howe has recently gone again, replaced with youngster Sam Coulson for 'Gravitas', and will we ever see their like again, especially in the light of the recent loss of Wetton and his deeply saddening passing?

Times pass, life twists and turns, this debut remains a brilliant beacon of consummate playing and stunning song-writing. And a lack of commercial fear too, a rare thing. Tastes change, people die, great music never does and will live with us forever.

Steve Swift

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