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Asia - Alpha CD (album) cover




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2.79 | 294 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Review 52, Alpha, Asia

After a fiery, brilliant debut, this supergroup appears to have somewhat burned out. While there is a more progressive edge, and it is less of a target for PA AOR-hunter squads, it is simply not as solid an album. I have to admit that I'm probably not the fairest judge, since my first listen was during a time of moderate personal stress. Nonetheless, it's grown on me, and the weak points are relatively few. Recommended to the majority of people who are interested in really listening to an album rather than giving it a spin and characterising it.

Don't Cry is a pretty typical 'AOR'-with-musicianship single. Neat drumming from Palmer, and some good playing from Howe. The real issue is the lyrics, which are terrible, and preferably ignored or mocked. The slightly whiny block-choral Don't Cry is also a bit erk. However, the piece as a whole isn't actually that poor.

The Smile Has Left Your Eyes is a more balladic piece, with Wetton's bass standing out a bit more, and an odd keyboard riff thing. The lyrics, again, are very forgettable (thankfully), and again they're compensated for by the musicianship and nice additions within the AOR context. A very odd couple of escalations at an almost appropriate time.

Never In A Million Years starts off very well in the Sole Survivor tradition with typical percussion bass and disgustingly addictive guitar. The chorus is a bit of a let down, with a couple of negligible keyboard touches making for most of the potential interest. The following verses again are well-backed by Howe and Downes.

My Own Time (I'll Do What I Want To) is pretty good. Relaxed vocals from Wetton, as well as his typical shouty mass-chorus-vocal with a superb Howe guitar. The keys work very nicely and carefully, adding a level of subtlety I wouldn't really expect from an Asia song. It's unfortunate that the piece drags on too long at the end, despite the solid Howe soloing.

The Heat Goes On begins with a type-cast melodramatic piano. A catchy bass-drums backs it, while key and guitar edges fire off everywhere. Wetton and Palmer also escape their mould enough to keep a definite interest. Solid vocals and more digestible lyrics than the previous few. At about 2.30 Wetton provides a surprising (if brief) bass solo and Howe bursts into a fiery burst of soloing. Geoff Downes, though often derided, also provides a killer solo (on an organ and with a killer tone). Great piece.

Eye To Eye is a potent rock piece, using Steve Howe's backing vocals to good effects, and with a surprisingly well-ranged vocal from Wetton. His lyrics are now basically up to scratch. A more quirky piano/keys riff even suggests Gentle Giant. Howe and Palmer, as always, are great, and Geoff Downes provides a very progressive edge to the piece. The ending is a little weak, with a fade, but that's forgivable.

The Last To Know is probably my last choice for the album. The keyboard-based sound of the opening doesn't really pay off to well, feeling a little lacking in energy. Wetton's vocals don't really suit the stripped back sound that well, either. The chorus is pretty good, with everyone showing solid musicianship. The instrumental bridge makes a much better use of the keys, when assisted by Palmer's wonderful drumming. Again, a lyrical mess, but I don't really care.

True Colors is the standard tens-opening-moves-onto-rocking-chorus song. Again, blistering performances from Howe and Palmer. It does move into slightly odder song structures, even if I don't think it really payed off, and despite the rather simple additions of Downes, the piece as a whole works quite well.

Midnight Sun is a more upbeat piece, feeling more like something you'd expect from later ELP than the Wetton pedigree. I'm not entirely sure of my opinion on this one, as the experience can differ on various listens. The guitar work and drumming is always superb, but occasionally I don't think they really hit the positive atmosphere in the right way.

Open Your Eyes is probably the album's high, with solid performances from all involved, some very nice vocal effects in classic 80s style, as well as a bit of pseudo-Beach Boys fun. The keyboards are highly atmospheric, the lyrics decent. The high point is, however, the transition from the vocal refrain 'Open Your Eyes' to a full-blown extended instrumental section with simply stunning playing from everyone, especially Palmer and Howe. One of my all-time favourite songs, and certainly into my revised top 100 later in the year.

If you thought the first album was disgusting AOR and should be turned into firewood, you're a lost cause. Otherwise, get this one. Carl Palmer is still in absolutely top form on the album, and Howe is no slouch either, so a must-have for fans of those two (though I suppose only if you like the more fiery and aggressive Howe playing). Naturally, all music like this tends to sound better when louder, so, if you don't at first get it, try again at a higher volume. If you're not familiar with Asia, I'd start with the debut, as if you don't like that, I wouldn't recommend Alpha. Though it wasn't love on first listen (probably due to the sheer ill timing of 'never in a million years...'), it has massively grown on me, and is a great album in its own right. Four stars, not a masterpiece, but at times simply blow-away rock with solid musicians.

Rating: Four Stars Favourite Track: Open Your Eyes

Edit: Thought a three was maybe a better acknowledgement that there are a couple of very mediocre tracks and it's not quite as amazing in the good bits or on the vocal front as the debut was.

TGM: Orb | 3/5 |


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