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Asia - Astra CD (album) cover




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2.59 | 280 ratings

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3 stars At the time this album was released I was a fan. Even though Howe had been sacked during the preparations I thought they delivered an excellent follow-up to the Alpha album. Nowadays I listen to the album with older ears and even turning up the sound level doesn't help. Till today I still find Asia a commercial but enjoyable update of prog in the eighties with the debut album being the most progressive one, Alpha provided a bunch of highly accessible AOR songs but the impressive symphonic sound was still intact. By the time of Astra the band was desperately trying to regain the success of their first albums...

The band kicks ass with the powerful opener "Go" which stayed a concert classic till now. The orchestral keyboards on the background of the chorus did it for me. Although I noticed the guitar licks of Mandy Meyer were a lot more powerful than Howe's, it doesn't do any harm to this track. Other tracks on the first side are less memorable. A track like "Voice of America" has a solid chorus melody and could be related to American gospel but on the instrumental side, nothing really interesting is happening. Maybe a tad better than the horrible blazer section in the keyboards on "Hard on me". "Wishing" may sound like a cliché ballad with a pathetic vocal melody but the classical arrangements saves it from being horrible. Side one ends with the stadium rock anthem "rock and roll dream" . Despite the big sound and the nice orchestral arrangements on the background, it lacks coherence and excitable playing. Side two is better. The massive keyboards on "Countdown to zero" are awesome and is related to a science fiction landscape but in fact the lyrical theme is about the atom bomb. Even after 20 years I still find that synthetic sound extremely progressive and spacey but for Asia the melody line is rather monotone. "Love now till eternity" sounds like a leftover from Alpha. This is a classic pop prog track with a good melody, great keyboards and some unexpected musical interruptions. "Too late" is 4 minutes of uncomplicated streamlined rock with an enjoyable melody. "After the war" relates to the debut album. This track is sounding very pompous, constructed by sound effects from outbursts, many layers of keyboards and guitar riffs. For me this is the highlight of the album because of the symphonic sound and a couple of nice melodies but it lacks coherence.

Just like the first two albums, the production work is splendid though the cd mastering can't top the sound of the vinyl which is quite remarkable. If you find Alpha too slick for you liking you probably won't like this one either although the voice of Wetton is sounding much cooler. His voice and the keyboards may be the strongest elements of this album but what happened to the rest? I miss the delicate guitar melodies of Steve Howe which were lifting up Alpha to a higher musical level. Meyer is fitting in perfectly by adding powerful chords to the massive sound. So is Carl Palmer but any decent metal drummer could replace him without anyone would notice. Like the Roger Dean cover art suggests, the overall atmosphere is darker and colder than on the two previous albums but also more commercial. You can almost smell the marketing strategy behind this album but after it was released no-one bought it and soon the writing was on the wall for Asia but the band would reform several times as the decade progressed. As always in the first carnation of Asia, the melodies aren't bad but the construction of the tracks is simple and predictable, prog fans seem to like the arrangements more than the songs.

Conclusion : I don't think any listener of prog who hasn't nostalgic feelings could really enjoy this album. This album should be rated somewhere between 2,5 and 3 stars.

Fishy | 3/5 |


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