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GPS - Window to the Soul CD (album) cover





3.58 | 53 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Every Proghead should venture outside his musical comfort zone once in a while, and for me that would mean embracing anything related to the ersatz Progressive Rock of bands like ASIA, including this short-lived offshoot group organized by John Payne.

The backstory is confusing, but worth a quick summary. Payne was of course the replacement for John Wetton when the bassist left Asia in 1991, and for a decade-and-a-half was the most consistent steward of an insecure lineup (a timeline of the revolving door personnel roster looks like a modern art collage). But when founder Geoff Downes reassembled the original supergroup in 2006, Payne was left out on the curb, and together with Asia's other orphans formed this sibling band, the name of which was a fortuitous acronym of the first letter in each player's surname, minus Ryo Okumoto: a late addition on sabbatical from Spock's Beard.

A lot of the music on the group's only studio album was in fact leftover material intended for the next Asia session: muscular Neo-Prog fueled by near-toxic levels of undiluted testosterone, only occasionally softened by Okumoto's sensitive keyboard work. For a middle-aged guy, listening to the album is like going through puberty all over again.

There's nothing complicated here, or even remotely challenging. But Payne and company enjoyed one advantage over their superstar forefathers in the first Asia: they lacked the classic Prog credentials of John Wetton, Steve Howe and Carl Palmer, and couldn't be tarred with the same knee-jerk accusations of commercial sell-out.

That fact by itself gives the GPS project more legitimacy, despite their music being cut from essentially the same broad cloth. The gruff melodic range of Payne's singing was better suited than Wetton's to the bombastic power chords on display here, although I wonder how Payne was able to maintain that studied rasp over his long career without damaging his voice: check out the opening verses of "I Believe In Yesterday", before the song ascends to a rousing instrumental climax.

Elsewhere the music moves from an incredibly punchy title track to the macho romanticism of "Written on the Wind", with lots of catchy and aggressive riffing in between ("The Objector"). Too bad about all the boilerplate Pop-Metal digressions ("New Jerusalem"; "Since You've Been Gone"; "Taken Dreams"), which hold the album down like a six-string ball and chain.

After this single effort, and a belated two-volume, four-CD "Live in Japan" package (so far, not yet updated to the band's page here at ProgArchives), GPS was absorbed back into an alternate 'Asia Featuring John Payne', a compromise possibly brokered by the same legal eagles advising the new Anderson-Wakeman-Rabin doppelgänger Yes.

In the end I have to admire the band's considerable instrumental bluster, their formidable chops, and the perseverance of an underdog like Payne in such a cutthroat business. The GPS album is well worth a spin for Asia fans in particular, but also from musical vegans like me willing to expand their aesthetic tastes with an occasional bite of red meat.

Neu!mann | 3/5 |


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