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3 stars I must admit that I have always had a little spot in my heart for ASIA over the years and will never forget their debut album. ASIA have always toyed with the mix of prog and pop rock with "Arena" being no real exception. "Arena" features original member Geoffrey Downes and John Payne who deliver their pattented ASIA sounds with pompous keyboard runs and excellent vocals. "Arena" is a concept album with some lovely progressive moments and features some great song writing. When the boys get going like on "The Day Before The War" they unleash some of ASIA's most progressive sounds yet. Lead guitarist Elliott Randall adds some lovely lead guitar solos throughout this album and is supported on the drum kit by Michael Sturgis. Every now and then ASIA get it right and everything works for me on "Arena" to perfection. This is one of those albums which will really surprise you in its completeness and degree of energy.
Report this review (#26824)
Posted Thursday, March 18, 2004 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Messrs Howe, Wetton and Palmer have left the arena

A strange album for Asia this one, as it finds the band in something of a transition phase. It's generally heavier and less accessible than previous albums, with no obvious singles. The "big" sound which made the early Asia albums so popular is missing, replaced by a softer less in your face style. Asia appear to be trying to move away from their original pop based music towards a more progressive style, but falling between the two stools.

The problem is, the music here isn't really strong enough to sustain the new direction (things would improve substantially on later albums). The most progressive track on the album is the nine minute "The day before the war", but in truth its still a fairly basic song. "Into the arena" and "Arena" merge together well to form a pleasant if understated opening piece, which sets the scene for the rest of the tracks. "Two sides of the moon" has a light, almost pop feel to it, "jaunty" is probably the best word to describe it.

It's difficult to identify any real highlights with "Arena", not because it's a bad album, it is indeed enjoyable, but the band appear to be in cruise control and lacking in inspiration. (Ironic that the album name is that of one of the best prog bands around!)

Report this review (#26826)
Posted Tuesday, June 8, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars 'Arena' is my introduction to ASIA, I'm more of a harder rock, alternative, metal, fan but I do enjoy well played quality prog. such as this. The vocals are high quality and the melodies are pretty. The music is quite full and complex, it has more of a pop sensibility than a lot of 'Prog" does and yet incorporates some of the best of prog. music. Sometimes I tire of the organ/keyboard sound in a lot of prog. rock, it sounds the same from KANSAS to ELP, but the ASIA style, I like a lot. The time, style and tempo changes are enjoyable in 'Arena'. The lyric content is slighly uneven but mostly thoughtful and rather intelligent. There are a few songs that leave me flat, 'Tell Me Why' is a bit 'forced' to me. But overall it's an album full of beautiful music performed by very talented people.
Report this review (#26827)
Posted Friday, September 17, 2004 | Review Permalink
3 stars First of all be careful with this AOR work, enriched with a few hints only of the progressive rock-genre.well I try to clarify my idea: if you are an "extremist", fond of such a "pure" prog music, you could remain disappointed; otherwise you could be helped by Prog Archives in search of different issues, which are not necessarily "labelled" as "prog" (such as the sub genres and correlated styles of an alternative rock-genre, but also something closer to the AOR music). Secondly, as you can find the pomp rock of bands like Kansas, Asia or Styx, but also the post rock by Sigur Ros (always inside its encyclopaedia), you could be excited if you discovered some other interesting groups that -on the contrary- Prog Archives at the moment of my review has not inserted into yet. I think for example of the remarkable ensemble of "Don Caballero" and other experimental bands in the vein of Djam Karet, always remaining in the borderline . After my necessary digression, now I like to remark the present interesting work entitled "Arena": here you can appreciate the taste for the melodic arrangement by Geoffrey Downes, the powerful and simple guitar lines supported in the vocal parts by the remarkable vocalist, and a certain epic mood !! Of course it's not a masterpiece, but it's always pleasant and sometimes quite intricate too, talking about the arrangement. I don't know whether it's enough or less,however for me it's the ideal album for your spare time, because there isn't any particular song over the average but it's pleasant after all, until you add another half star!!
Report this review (#46093)
Posted Friday, September 9, 2005 | Review Permalink
2 stars This album leaves more or less Asia as a duo Downes/Payne. This time they tried to do a more progressive album compared to the heavy "Aria". Seems that they didn't succeed very well...

The opener "Into The Arena" is a fine instrumental, but considering that it replaces at the last minute the gorgeous "Ginger" (an acoustic piece with Steve Howe on guitar removed due to his departure from the band) it's really a pity. "Arena" and "Two Sides Of The Moon" are two nice pop/rock tracks. "The Day Before The War" is maybe the most progressive work you can find from Asia. And the closing track "Bella Nova" is another fine instrumental. But except those few songs, nothing much really of interest: "Heaven", "Never", "Falling" and "Words" are insipid cheesy songs, and the other songs on the album are just average.

Rating: 66/100

Report this review (#71097)
Posted Saturday, March 4, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Overall, this is an outstanding effort from the wettonless ASIA, although not exactly for everyone.It starts and ends with a beautiful instrumental, respectively, "Into the Arena" and "Bella Nova". The title track is probably my favourite one from the album, and is a really majestic one, I find it impossible not to sing alone during the chorus. There are more majestic songs with a singalong quality - namely "Tell me why", "Words" and "Heaven". "U bring me down" and "The day before the war" are probably one of the most progressive songs ASIA has done, and they live up to it. At the end of the day, this is an outstanding album, and anyone who does not necessarily associate ASIA with their 80s commercial prog should give this one a listen.
Report this review (#87023)
Posted Sunday, August 13, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars I can only comment on the music this ASIA Arena delivers. Actually, I like this band especially the first three albums. After that, I did not follow closely with their development unless I purchased the live albums because there were many old tracks being performed.

The opening track "Into The Arena" is an instrumental track with excellent guitar work while the rhythm section is percussion-based, it reminds me to the music of Santana. "Arena" starts with an ambient keyboard work which reminds me to first album of Asia. The music moves into upbeat style with a pop-rock music where the rhythm section is dominated by percussion. The music flows like Toto band. It's not a bad song at all, in fact it can be enjoyed by most people because it's simple and easy to digest. The melody is also good. "Heaven" intro lends the style of Pink Floyd "Another Break In The Wall" especially the guitar rhythm and the keyboard. But the following music is something like Toto music - a pure pop rock song.

"Two Sides of The Moon" combines the pop rock music like Steely Dan with reggae at the end part of the song. "The Day of The War" is another light rock music with interesting part at the end of the song where keyboard performs its solo in a bit symphonic style. This is probably the most progressive track of this album. "Never" starts with keyboard work that reminds me to the style of debut album. But when the music and vocal enter it's basically another light rock song in the vein of Toto. "Falling" is a good track with keyboard style similar to Supertramp music. "Words" has powerful opening which brings the nuance into symphonic style followed with acoustic guitar rhythm section.

Looking at the duration, "You Bring Me Down" should be something with prog touch and I am very close with this because it's I think the best track from this album. The opening part reminds me to the dynamic composition of legendary music using organ / keyboard as main instrument. The vocal enters the music beautifully and the music flows nicely from one segment to another maintaining organ work represents the main rhythm section. The guitar solo that starts at approx 4:55 is stunning and it makes the song is very interesting and enjoyable.

"Tell Me Why", "Turn It Around", "Bella Nova", and "That Season" are all good tracks that conclude this album. Well, when I say "good" it does not mean a prog music because almost all music featured here are basically easy listening pop rock with little complexities or, in fact, no complexities at all.

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#157228)
Posted Monday, December 31, 2007 | Review Permalink
Crossover Team
3 stars Asia's sixth studio album (third with Payne behind the helm), Arena, was the most progressive effort the band had made up through 1996. It's sort of strange that a band that consisted primarily of former progressive rock artists would take nearly 14 years to actually make a single progressive rock track. Admittedly, most of the album is in the AOR arena, but this time Asia let themselves get a bit more creative on The Day Before the War and U Bring Me Down, the former timing in at over nine minutes, the latter at seven. They're not tracks you'd rave about, but upon hearing them the first time, you definitely take notice in a big way because this style of music was so uncustomary of Asia. True, they showed signs or tendencies towards prog rock, but this was a first for them at making actual, real progressive rock music.

Although the rest of the album is AOR, Asia clearly shows a trend at experimenting in that form too. The down side to this is that the album seems less cohesive than Aria, or even Aqua. The upside of course is that Asia got a new breath of fresh air.

And in other ways, Asia got this breath of fresh air in new personnel. Guitarist Al Pitrelli left Asia to join Savatage (and later Megadeath). He was replaced by two guitarists: Aziz Ibrahim (formerly of Simply Red and a member of Steve Hogarth's H Band) and Elliott Randall (session guitarist and formerly of Steely Dan). Also, Arena featured guest percussionist Louis Jardim. The percussion is an interesting addition to this more experimental Asia sound.

After having said all this about Arena, the two prog tracks were an eye-opener and I only wish Asia had considered more of them. The two tracks are enough for me to actually rate this with three stars. Even so, I still think Aria is a better album, but I only gave that two stars primarily because it had no progressive rock on it. Aria is better but it gets less stars? Yes and I realize that might sound like a contradiction, but my opinion on ratings is that the album should show some progressiveness to merit a higher rating, and thus Arena gets the extra star. A nice album, but like other Asia albums, not essential in anyway.

Report this review (#162868)
Posted Thursday, February 28, 2008 | Review Permalink
TGM: Orb
2 stars Review 43, Arena, Asia, 1996, PR (but with some progressive material)


After really enjoying the plain high-quality rock of Asia's debut and subsequently being extremely disappointed with the banal Alpha, I decided to take a look at some of their later and more progressive output. The material and sound has completely changed from the 80s supergroup, and only Geoff Downes remains from the original line-up. It is, however, still quite satisfying, especially on the longer songs, Day Before The War and U Bring Me Down. The playing is good throughout, even if John Payne's voice goes very weird during the harmonies, and occasionally the AOR block-choruses don't really work. Essentially, a good album, and worth getting for the high points. It's a bit of a shame that we have to put up with some of the dross among these.

Some wallowing drums from guest open Into The Arena, which is a soft instrumental with a rather Latin feel. Geoff Downes gives us some standard background keys while the two guitarists play around, one providing acoustic edges, the other electric soloing. After a few minutes, a percussion solo calmly leads us out.

The following Arena is a very good, in my opinion, rock song, with a combination of swelling organ (and occasional keys), a relaxed percussion-bass combination and tolerable vocals and lyrical material. Short twists on the guitar feature throughout. A fairly good piano near-solo from Geoff Downes features (separately we get an equally decent guitar solo), and the song ends on a subdued and distinctly good note. Good song.

Heaven is a more awkward song, with the AOR vocals in full position on the chorus. A fairly dancy combination of the guitars and keyboards open the piece. Payne's vocals sound entirely right for the verses, but the repeats of the chorus (complete with jumpy keys) at the end do make it a little less fun to digest. We get a tolerable, even if it's not Carl Palmer, drum part from Michael Sturgis, and also another good guitar solo. A rather weird glockenspiel-like use of the keys features throughout the song. Not especially good, but not terrible.

Two Sides Of The Moon is a progressive-leaning track, with the guitars especially seeming quite odd to me, occasionally appearing quite dissonantly. Geoff Downes again provides his pretty standard keyboards, and we get another tolerable drum part. The vocals aren't particularly strong, but they're fine for the song's purposes, as are the lyrics. A rather more grainy section (bass-driven) with a guitar solo and weird percussion choices, features around the three minute mark. After the vocals are finished, we get another bizarre section with more of the odd percussion and a weird guitar solo, as well as a sung 'Two sides of the moon'. A good song, and the first of the album's real art rock/crossover prog offerings.

Day Before The War (clocking in at around 9 minutes) begins with a tense combination of instruments, very atmospheric and quite cautious in its development. After a minute or so of this, the organ-guitar riff kicks in, along with a thunderous piece of double-bass drumming. In another minute, the battle is concluded, and a more relaxed piece of music appears, with acoustics and keys featuring most prominently. An appropriate vocal from John Payne continues for a couple of minutes, before another more rock-based instrumental section kicks off with a bass-throb behind it, good drumming. A more martial continuation of the song, following another couple of verses, is very well-handled, with another set of crashing drums and dissonant guitar-work. A good piece of art rock, I think.

Never is the first example of banally-bad material on this album, with a completely uninteresting upbeat feel, tapping, repeated drumming, boring jumpy keyboards, and only slightly redeeming guitar-work. The vocal is generally mediocre, and degenerates into a rather bored chorus with a generic guitar behind it. Terribly boring, and an abberation, given that we've so far had a set of good, or at least, not-bad songs.

Falling does again pick up the album a little, though it's not particularly impressive. A rather awkward performance on the vocals and a needlessly repeated keyboard part does limit the piece. There are a couple of better moments when the song is a bit quieter, and the guitar-work is given the opportunity to be heard, but I'm no particular fan of this song, either.

Words again features a needlessly optimistic and jumpy feel. Not particularly interesting, even if it opens and continues a lot better than the previous two. Repeated riffs and ideas simply don't do that much for me, and the AOR vocal-demon again features, which isn't too desirable.

U Bring Me Down (7 minutes or so in length) is a complete 100% overhaul of the banality of the previous three pieces, with a masterfully-developed opening, some 'Pakistani-influenced' parts from guitarist Aziz Ibrahim, and a superb keyboard-riff from Downes. The vocals are brilliantly handled, and the counter-rap (it's not as bad as it looks on paper, believe me) is very intelligently used. The lyrics are good, the music is superb, with great guitar-parts, especially, fairly interesting drumming and some keyboards which are slightly more eclectic and catchy than most Downes choices. Absolutely great art rock/crossover prog, and the album is worth getting for this reason alone.

Tell Me Why begins with a fairly random keyboard effect and continues as a weirder AOR piece, with a repeated guitar part and some keyboards which feel rather vestigial. The piece just feels rather unnecessary, with far too many annoying vocal repeats to be pleasant to listen to. Not as bad as, say, Never, but not particularly great, either.

Turn It Around is a slightly more sophisticated vocal-driven piece, with some good keyboards and a decent rhythm section. The guitar part is quite enjoyable, and it does provide a good, conclusive feel.

Bella Nova is an uplifting instrumental conclusion to the album, with an unfortunate amount of repetition of individual sounds, even if you do have some more added every now and then. I'm not really the best person to judge this sort of layering, but I don't think it really adds anything to the album.

That Season is a tolerable piece, with a fairly good guitar solo. It's nothing to shout about, but its inclusion doesn't really hurt the album as a whole. The acoustic version of Two Sides Of The Moon is a nice inclusion, though, with a decent feel and a twist on the album version.

So, all-in-all, there is some very good material on here, as well as a few pathetically bad songs. Not a bad album, and I think most progressively-minded people here will find something to like in the three or four more sophisticated pieces.

Rating: Three stars. Favourite Track: U Bring Me Down

Edit: Dropped to two stars, in retrospect. It's a difficult one to rate, as there's far too much dross, but equally some really stellar material. If you want some good progressive rock, there is some on here, and I'd recommend it to someone looking for a different kind of progression, using vocal arrangements and some world influences neatly.

Report this review (#172098)
Posted Saturday, May 24, 2008 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
3 stars Not quite arena rock

By the time of the release of Arena the 'new' Asia, led by Geoff Downes and John Payne, was well established. The time when Asia could be regarded as a supergroup was long since passed. This situation probably created a creative freedom for Downes and Payne, allowing them to take Asia in a slightly different direction. Arena is distinctively more lightweight and less hard edged compared to the previous Aria. Ironically, Arena also features possibly the most progressive song the band has ever done in the excellent, nine plus minutes The Day Before The War. Sadly, this great song feels rather out of place on this otherwise mostly rather lightweight Pop album.

The biggest problem I have with this album is that it leaves behind the strong band feeling of Aria. Arena, and even more so the next one Aura, sounds more like a Downes/Payne project with session musicians adden than a real band. In this respect too, The Day Before The War stands out having more the harder edged sound of Aria, but more progressive in structure. The strangest thing about this album is that even the production and mixing sounds different on different songs! The opening Into The Arena somehow sounds like it was tagged on at the beginning of the album after it was finished!

Having this said, Arena is filled with nice, rather accessible songs and is by no means a poor album. If you loved the previous two albums by the group, you will undoubtedly find something to enjoy here too. After all, all the three Payne-era albums were not that dissimilar up to this point, neither in quality nor in musical approach. The very consistent song writing talents of the Downes/Payne leaves no room for any serious criticisms other than perhaps a lack of surprises. In terms Prog content, these albums are rather meagre. Other than the very progressive, The Day Before The War and possibly the Far Eastern influenced U Bring Me Down, the next longest track here, this music will hardly blow the Prog fan away. This music is certainly not very original or inventive, but the band's fans will not be disappointed.

The Roger Dean disciple Rodney Mattews once again provides a very nice cover art. And once again the album's title begins and ends with the letter A. These guys are rather dependable.

Overall, a more than decent album with some excellent moments! For me it is worth having for the superb The Day Before The War alone.

Report this review (#178330)
Posted Monday, July 28, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is Asia turely at a high mark for progressive lovers. Geoff Downes and John Payne stray away from mainstream prog pop long enough to release this great album. The music is a mix of mainstream pop, progressive rock, progressive metal, and symphonic touches that make the album truely stand out in the Asia catolouge as their most defined work, besides their debut and Phoenix (the latter being the all-time best Asia album, in opinion).

1.Into the Arena - A short but slightly ethnic fusion track. The mellow keyboards with the bongos go well with the jazzy guitar playing. The nylon string guitar played along side the electric guitar makes for an interesting sound and one that should not be forgotten. (9/10)

2.Arena - Lush keyboards really define the song. Though not as jazzy and different as the opening track, it's a fast paced rocker that is much different than other Asia tracks. The lyrics aren't as bad as previous songs from other albums, but they do not interest. The track is excellent and a great way to enter the concept of Arena. (9.5/10)

3.Heaven - A more notable rocker, with a delayed guitar riff entering the song, headfirst, then synth sounds stard to unravel. The track is stronger than the first two, but the quality is much different, as it has a different type of sound. Vocals are fine, and the lyrics are fairly good. The chorus sounds like traditional Asia, but more symphonic. (7.5/10)

4.Two Sides of The Moon - One of the few subpar tracks from the album. It's a more or so standard affair of pop rock that dosent really catch anyones ears, but it is still fairly well played for being pop. The lyrics aren't as good as previous songs, and the vocal melody really dosent keepany interest in this already boring, albeit lush, track. (6.5/10)

5.The Day Before the War - Easily the best track of the album, it's actually a mini-epic type of track, clocking in at nine minutes, is some symphonic beauty to be heard. The opening keyboards are fairly dark, along with some isolated guitars make this a bleak introduction, in a good way. The track soon lightens up as the rest of the band joins, but still has a fairly intense and progressive type of sound throughout the song. The song goes through many hanges and is truely awesome with it's near perfect lyrics, as well. A near masterpiece, one of the best tracks from a prog related band I have heard. (10/10)

6.Never - A more poppy track that is very uninteresting, to say the least. The guitar playing is nice, but after a masterpiece of track five, it's fairly hard to followup with a mellow, upbeat pop rock track to a symphonic masterpiece. (7/10)

7.Falling - A more reflective piece of music, as the intro glides with a fairly intense and shimmering view. The track soon turns into a dark rocker, with very intense synth sounds. Standard beat is played with some jazz guitar, a nice song indeed. (8/10)

8.Words - The track is nice, symphonic, and a great shorter track. Though it does not contain some of the jazzier elements of before tracks, the acoustic guitar and excellent vocals more than make up for it. Some may call is pop, but the subtle changes in the track make it worthwhile. (8.5/10)

9.You Bring Me Down - Another fine track, almost of epic proportions of track five, but more subdued and darker. The guitar riff is definatly one of the best I have heard, and the keyboards are truely intense and have some type of techonology base, almost futuristic sounding. Fine lyrics, vocals, and instrumentation follow the musical journey, and almost sounds a bit like Uriah Heep. Another masterpiece of emotions and darkness. (10/10)

10.Tell Me Why - A ballad type of song, and again, does not live up to the track that was before it. Lyrics are the most uninteresting in this track. This has some decent instrumentation, but lacks any fire that makes the track listenable. (6.5/10)

11.Turn it Around - Asia returns to a slightly jazzier type of sound for this track, and it really does show up well as the track is sophisticated with excellent keyboards and guitar playing. Great vocals and lyrics too. (8.5/10)

12.Bella Nova - A fairly dramatic closer to an excellent album, with a more complex type of track, Asia pull out some fine chops and happyness that was only found on some tracks that were near unlistenable. Keyboards and bass playing are well played over the intense, though soft, drum playing. (8.5/10)

Though this album has a few flaws, it has Asia prog classics and is the most lush and symphonic of their releases in the 1990s. A great way to end their 90s discovery, with a slightly jazzy feel, and great instrumentation. I was thinking about giving the album 5 stars, but there are just a few too many flaws to give it that rating, so 4 stars it is. The album is a must have in your collection.

Report this review (#308636)
Posted Saturday, November 6, 2010 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
3 stars I had written a long and detalies review on this one, but somehow it was erased when I tried to submit it. Oh, d******! So I´ll make it short.

The third ´John Payne-era Asia` CD is probably their most unsual and different. Michael Sturgis is still on drums, but guitarrist Al Pitrelli was gone, replaced by famous session musician Eliott Randall and Aziz Ibrahim. This is a much more experimental (for Asia´s style) efford and there is not much of their famous trademark AOR/prog/pop stuff. the only song that reminds of their former works is Words. The remainder tracks are melodic, ok, but now with several different elements like jazz, bossa nova, eastern rhythms, raggae and even some longer tracks that could be labeled as slightly more progressive. However, the results are not as satisfying as their previous two albums.

Certainly in terms fo sales it did not live up to the expectations. and rightly so, since the tracks here are way less accessible. So you see the band stuck between a rock and a hard place: the new songs were not progressive enough for that market and not as radio friendly as their audience might expected. Artisticly I guess they proved to be far better songwriters and musicians than most people would like to believe. John Payne is a surprisingly versatile singer, while Geoff Downes keys are more subtle than before, but as elegant as ever. Production is also top notch.

Conclusion: different, but good album. While it takes more time to sink in, I found Arena quite pleasant. You better get their earlier material before tackling this one. But if you like Asia, this is a worth addition anyway. 3 stars.

Report this review (#349832)
Posted Saturday, December 11, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is definetely one of the best albums Asia ever recorded. It is a mix of rock, pop, latin and a little bit of progressive and the result is awesome. At first I was not impressed with the album, but with time I realised that "Arena" has a stronger tracklist compared to previous albuns with john payne ("Aqua" and "Arena"). The production and song writing are top notch, The selection of musicians is business as usual for Asia, with high level names such as Eliott randall (from Steely dan), aziz ibrahim (from simply red) and Michael sturgis (from Phenomena). Luis jardim in percussion did a very good job too, specially in the opening track, "Into the arena".

It is sad that a very good album like this is so underrrated, especially with quality songs such as "arena" and "turn it around". Anyway, I highly recomend it to anybody who likes rock/pop.


1. Into The Arena (9/10) - has a latin approach, reminds a lot of Santana. Very nice guitar work by Hotei tomoyasu 2. Arena (9,5/10) - follows with the latin style plus rock. Has a catchy chorus and inspired keyboard solo by geoff downes. 3. Heaven (8/10) 4. Two Sides Of The Moon (8/10) 5. The Day Before The War (9/10) - this can be considered a progressive rock song, definetely a highlight in the album. 6. Never (8/10) 7. Falling (8/10) 8. Words (8/10) 9. U Bring Me Down (9/10) - time to Aziz Ibrahim shine. Very good rocker with arabic influences. 10. Tell Me Why (8,5/10) 11. Turn it Around (9,5/10) probably the best song in the album. Could be a hit if Asia were a mainstream band at the time. 12. Bella Nova (8/10) 13. That Season (7/10)

Report this review (#1690896)
Posted Thursday, February 9, 2017 | Review Permalink
4 stars Originally a highly-successful supergroup consisting of Yes' Steve Howe, The Buggles' Geoffrey Downes, Carl Palmer of ELP and the redoubtable ex-King Crimson, Roxy Music and Family vocalist/bassist John Wetton, Asia initially enjoyed enormous success following the release of their 1982 self-titled debut, shifting in excess of ten million copies globally and selling out stadiums across North America, Europe and Japan during subsequent promotional tours. It was a golden start for the quartet, the stuff of dreams, yet it wouldn't last. Follow-up album 'Alpha' sold around a quarter of the debut albums total, a huge drop-off, and various tensions between the members quickly surfaced, so much so, that by the time they were ready to tour Japan in support of 'Alpha' circa 1983, Wetton had been hastily replaced by former King Crimson frontman Greg Lake, the first of many changes that would render Asia a very different beast by the end of decade. Asia's success, such as it was, was originally based on a canny mixture of star persona, FM-friendly AOR tunes and clever marketing, and while at first it worked wonderfully well, the formula was soon exposed for what is reallly was - a corporate promotion, the music industry equivalent of a multi-million dollar blockbuster with little actual artistic merit. Therefore, it is no surprise that the group's popularity nose-dived quite spectacularly from around 1984 onwards, and even many a change in personel failed to arrest the slide. By 1996 the only remaining original member was keyboardist Geoffrey Downes, and the group was now led by vocalist-and-bassist John Payne, who, legend has it, gave up a spot working with Jeff Lynne's ELO to take the job with Asia. As a result, the history of Asia can be split into two distinct sections: the early corporately-charged prog-lite supergroup, and, whisper it, the far superior John Payne-led version who, unlike their predecessors, actually produced progressive-style music, which brings us to the 1996 album 'Arena'. Arguably the finest Asia album yet, 'Arena' featured a line-up comprised of Payne, Downes, guitarists Aziz Ibrahim and Elliott Randall, and drummer Michael Sturgis, hardly an all-star line-up and, on paper at least, a far less exciting proposition that the original quartet. But looks can be deceiving. Whilst the early albums sold well, musically they were the wrong side of appalling. Most music ages, yet the early albums of Asia now sound positively awful, making the lesser albums of Journey, Boston and even Survivor look like polished gems. Of course, Asia was never meant to be another Yes or King Crimson, it was a much more commercial project, yet the waste of talent was truly epic. The real irony is that, almost sixteen years later, Asia, with an almost completely-different line-up, were now making much better, much more complex and interesting music, which far less people were taking notice of. From it's catchy, percussion-led title-track intro, 'Arena' bristles with technically prowess. This is how it should have been from the very beginning. Highlights include the chest-thumping 'Into The Arena', with its huge chorus, the carefully-constructed and musically- eclectic 'Two Sides of The Moon', and the nine-minute 'The Day Before The War', which takes Asia beyond their AOR- based soundscapes and into to full prog-rock mode. At the core of Asia's improvement? John Payne. If you buy just one Asia album, then make sure it is 'Arena'.

Report this review (#1978376)
Posted Friday, August 17, 2018 | Review Permalink

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