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PHOENIX

Asia

 

Prog Related

3.17 | 137 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars No Payne, no gain?

While technically the follow up to the 2004 album "Silent nation", this is actually the first album by the original Asia since "Alpha" is 1983. As soon as the opening "Never again" bursts forth from the speakers it is clear that this is indeed the Wetton/ Downes/ Palmer/ Howe line up and not one of the many who carried the name forward in the intervening quarter of a century.

An abortive attempt was made a few years ago to get the four back together, but fell through. Downes continued to work with John Payne under the Asia name, and toured mainly as a support band. While is it great to see the fab four back together, it is a shame that room could not be found for Payne here.

The classic line up had in fact been back together for about a year prior to recording this album, which was also delayed by the major heart surgery required by John Wetton. Initially, they became a sort of tribute band to themselves, touring their first album in its entirety together with songs by their various bands. The chemistry was clearly still there, and the decision was taken to record new material for what has become "Phoenix".

While the familiar trademarks of early Asia are very much in evidence here, with strong melodies, lush keyboards, and fine bursts of guitar, this is very much a Wetton led project. "Heroine" for example could be lifted from one of his solo albums; it bears a pleasing resemblance to "The smile has left your eyes". "I will remember you" is very much from the same block.

There are some nods to prog, at least in a couple of the track lengths, with a couple running to over 8 minutes. The first of these, "Sleeping giant/No way back" has an adventurous introductory section ("Sleeping giant"), featuring Howe in full Yes mode alongside choral ah-ah vocals. The "No way back" section is a far more orthodox piece of Asia pop rock. The other extended piece is "Parallel Worlds/ Vortex/ Deya". This is without doubt Asia's most progressive number ever, building from a melancholy Wetton song through a wonderful instrumental to a sublime Steve Howe guitar concerto. I think it was our fine member Salmacis who compared the guitar section here to that on Uriah Heep's classic "The spell"; how right he was.

"Wish I'd known" actually sounds more like the recent Asia, the song would not have sounded out of place on "Aura". The other tracks here are all fine songs in the early Asia tradition. Here and there we have little extras such as the delightful extended play-out on "Alibis" but generally speaking the songs are tight and instantly accessible. Virtually any of the tracks would have fitted in perfectly on the band's first two albums. Unfortunately, time moves on, and despite its pedigree "Phoenix" will not enjoy the mass commercial success of those albums. For those of us who derive great pleasure from those albums though, "Phoenix" is a superb bonus, running to half as long again due to the CD age.

Having had 25 years to come up with a title, the rising from the ashes connotation is a little disappointing, as is the lack of the traditional "A___A".

Easy Livin | 4/5 |

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