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Asia - Silent Nation CD (album) cover




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3.11 | 159 ratings

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2 stars On the cover of Asia's Silent Nation is a striking image of two men. In many ways they're ordinary and anonymous. Each is a white man dressed in a suit and tie, walking down the middle of the street in a sepia photo in what looks like late-depression-era New York City. One of the men is wearing sunglasses, further emphasizing his anonymity. What's immediately eye-catching is the fact that neither man has a mouth.

This music on Silent Nation is similarly anonymous and ordinary, and to carry the metaphor one step further, it doesn't have much to say - - or, to be fair, it doesn't have much to say beyond the ordinary.

The best lyrics on the album are those which seem to have been given the least thought. Unfortunately, the songwriters (singer John Payne, keyboardist Geoff Downes, and on two songs, future bassist-singer Billy Sherwood) attempt the occasional clever turn of phrase. For instance, the title song seems to vaguely address government surveillance ("the eagle is listening today") by conflating it with other inevitabilities of big government (e.g., "no longer have a name / a number will do"). Confusingly, singer John Payne argues that "it's not up to me to change what has been done," and then says "we must change what has been done" before reverting to his claim that "it's not up to me to change what has been done." My issue is not that the lyrics don't make sense; I'm all for alligator lizards in the air. The problem here is that the lyricists seem to have unwittingly set the bar too high for themselves.

Some have referred to Silent Nation as a concept album, but I don't see it. There's a concept underlying the title track, and the album artwork fits the concept. And the concept is so broad that you might find hints of it in the lyrics of one or more other songs. But that's as far as it goes.

There are a few exceptions to the ordinariness of Silent Nation; "Blue Moon Monday" has some odd synthesizer moments and a nice false fade-out. But "Long Way from Home" sounds like 2000s adult contemporary (not that genre's golden age, by the way). The verses of the similar "Midnight" sound like Mike and the Mechanics. And so on.

Silent Nation is a far cry from Asia's 1982 debut album, recorded by bassist-vocalist John Wetton, drummer Carl Palmer, guitarist Steve Howe, and keyboardist Geoff Downes. By 2004, the band had consisted for more than a decade of Downes and bassist-vocalist John Payne, with a revolving cast of drummers and lead guitarists. I was underwhelmed by the first Payne-Downes album, Aqua (1992), but decided to give Silent Nation a chance, partly because Sherwood and drummer Jay Schellen made some contributions. Unfortunately, Silent Nation pales in comparison even to the lackluster Aqua.

Two stars for an uninspired album that I'd recommend only to Asia collectors, or perhaps Billy Sherwood completists.

patrickq | 2/5 |


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