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Asia - Aqua CD (album) cover




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2.86 | 203 ratings

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2 stars Asia's fourth studio album, Aqua, began the Payne era for the group. After unsuccessful sales of Astra in 1985 and later their Then & Now compilation (which had four new tracks recorded in 1990), John Wetton apparently became disgusted and left Asia to pursue a solo career (which also was unsuccessful). In 1992, vocalist/bassist John Payne filled Wetton's shoes. Prior to Asia, Payne was in a band called CCCP in Scandinavia, performed backing vocals on two of Roger Daltrey's solo albums, and was considered as a replacement for Jeff Lynne in what would eventually turn out to be ELO Part II. He left the ELO project due to lengthy negotiations with Lynne over the band's name.

Aqua would feature a new guitarist in Al Pitrelli (formerly from Alice Cooper's band, later on Savatage and Megadeath), but Steve Howe would later show up after having just left Yes. Howe's most noteworthy contributions are chiefly acoustical, especially the instrumental intro. While Howe came in, drummer Carl Palmer left during the sessions due to committing to an ELP reunion. He only performed on three songs with session drummers completing the album.

Amongst the personnel chaos, Asia finished the album and had a somewhat successful tour. The group had some success with the single Who Will Stop the Rain?, which got some needed radio time on AOR stations. Strangely enough, Asia released seven singles from this album, though most of them were promotional. These included Who Will Stop the Rain?, Lay Down Your Arms, Heaven on Earth, Little Rich Boy, Crime of the Heart, Love Under Fire, and Back in Town.

This new version of Asia had some resemblances to the Asia of old, but for the most part, they sounded really different. So different that it didn't seem like Asia at all. Partly this is due to a new vocalist that sounds nothing like John Wetton in delivery or performance and partly this is because the songwriting took a different approach. Asia resembled Styx from the 1990s more than the Wetton-era of Asia. It had its combinations of ballads and rockier tunes bordering on hard rock. The overall sound is still an endless group of stadium-anthem AOR songs, even though by this time stadiums were in the distant past for Asia. Payne has a nice voice, so I've always considered that an improvement. Pitrelli does some exceptional guitar work for this style of music and for most of the album, I'm not even sure where Steve Howe is. Howe would later depart in 1993 to do some solo stuff and later rejoin Yes again.

Not a bad effort. Definitely better than Astra and Alpha, but not in the same league as their debut album. Still, it's just a collection of nicely done AOR with barely a hint of progressive rock. Recommended for Asia fans and AOR enthusiasts, but not really for anyone else. Two stars.

progaardvark | 2/5 |


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