CD Review – Asia – The Reunion Albums 2007 – 2012

Prog-pop supergroup Asia has released this clam shell five CD boxset The Reunion Albums 2007 – 2012, featuring the releases that constituted the output of the reformed original band.

The group was always something of a convoluted soap opera, so the reformation was a little bit of a surprise. It had had its fair share of tantrums even in its 1980s heyday, then when the original band decided to reconvene, they had to come to some arrangement with John Payne, who had been working with Geoff Downes in continuing the band for a number of years. The dust seemed to settle quite quickly from this, and so the band could set about restating itself. This period produced a live album and three studio albums that have been released in this boxset to mark the fortieth anniversary of the group’s formation in London, producing the 1981 eponymous album that went ballistic around the world. But the reunion appeared to be a relatively settled one for the band and they worked well together. John Wetton, sadly missed since his passing in 2017, said at the time; “Each one of us is comfortable as a human being, and the sound reflects the collective maturity of these four people who are not only eager to explore but also relaxed enough to luxuriate in the strength of the material”. This is something that drummer Carl Palmer agreed with, stating; “The chemistry and energy that comes out when the four of us are working together, is reflected in the new material.”

The featured albums are the 2CD live recording Fantasia, Live In Tokyo together with the three reunion studio albums Phoenix, Omega and XXX. Fantasia was recorded live in Tokyo on the tour that was re-introducing the band to its public. It is probably the best of the Asia live albums. It centres on the first Asia album for the most part, with some pieces from Alpha along with tracks from the musicians’ former groups. So, there’s Roundabout, Fanfare For The Common Man, Video Killed The Radio Star, and, perhaps surprisingly, In The Court Of The Crimson King which was a King Crimson song some years before John Wetton joined that band. There’s a lot of energy about the live performances, with the band playing with a sort of refined gusto. It was good to hear the interaction of Steve Howe on guitars and Geoff Downes on keyboards again, and Steve’s guitar work on Fanfare For The Common Man, which doesn’t feature on the original, brings a psychedelic flavour to bear. The playing of the songs is a little mannered and refined at times, but it remains a colourful and enjoyable listen. Sole Survivor and Heat Of The Moment could still rock too.

Content with how things had panned out, Asia decided to venture into the recording studio and created Phoenix in 2008. It was quite a strong album, enriched by the co-writing qualities of Messrs Wetton and Downes who had been working together in the Icon project. Steve Howe wrote material too. The result was a good strong album, more in the commercial AOR field than the prog one, although there were hints that they hadn’t totally lost their prog sensibilities. Omega in 2010 was a repeat process, though the resulting music is slightly weaker than that on its predecessor. The rocking element doesn’t quite take off and there’s a tendency to plodding arena rock. XXX, so named to mark the band’s thirtieth anniversary, continues this drift and often becomes slick pop-rock tunes. There are some moments with a bit of edge, but maybe not enough. A little while after this album, Steve Howe decided he could no longer juggle the demands of being in Yes, having a solo career, and continuing with Asia and so left the band, commenting that; “something had to give”.

This is a pretty comprehensive release though. These albums are presented together in an excellent collector’s edition boxset designed by Roger Dean, who produced all of the original albums’ artwork. The boxset cover image was previously unused and the Fantasia sleeve design has been updated by Roger. The albums are presented in card sleeves within a clam shell box. As you might expect, the music is excellently played and produced. John Wetton’s voice remained the centre of affairs, with the instrumentation having to make do with fills, flourishes and providing an embroided tapestry backdrop. This in many ways sums Asia up for many fans. Given the talent available, many expected much more of a prog element than actually arrived. But that was never the aim of the band. It was always going to be a progressive pop band, very commercial and song focused. At its worst it became predictably cliched with twiddly keyboard opening, verse-chorus-verse, with guitar riffs and succinct solos before ending in yet more brief keyboard work. At its best, the songs could be soaring and powerful, emotional and fulfilling though and there is much to admire here.

In some ways, this reformed Asia came at just the wrong time. Musical tastes had shifted many times since their prime. AOR and commercial rock had slipped back, grunge, alternative rock and hip-hop had come in. Foo Fighters were filling stadiums. There was even a revival in the fortunes of the progressive rock genre that Asia seemed to tease rather than encompass.

In spite of any gripes and disappointments though, this is an engaging and attractive release. There’s some good rock music here, regardless as to whether it is progressive or not. The quality of the song writing and participants musical contributions are obvious, with the production crisp and balanced. For fans of the band this is a very attractive package, while more casual listeners will still find much of interest.

CD 1: Fantasia, Live In Tokyo 2007 – Disc 1

1. Time Again

2. Wildest Dreams

3. One Step Closer

4. Roundabout

5. Without You

6. Cutting It Fine

7. Intersection Blues

8. Fanfare For The Common Man /

9. The Smile Has Left Your Eyes

CD 2: Fantasia, Live In Tokyo 2007 – Disc 2

1. Don’t Cry

2. In The Court Of The Crimson King

3. Here Comes The Feeling

4. Video Killed The Radio Star

5. The Heat Goes On

6. Only Time Will Tell

7. Sole Survivor

8. Ride Easy

9. Heat Of The Moment

CD 3: Phoenix

1. Never Again

2. Nothing’s Forever

3. Heroine

4. Sleeping Giant / No Way Back / Reprise

5. Alibis

6. I Will Remember You

7. Shadow Of A Doubt

8. Parallel Worlds-Vortex-Déyà

9. Wish I’d Known All Along

10. Orchard Of Mines

11. Over And Over

12. An Extraordinary Life

CD: 4 – Omega

1. Finger On The Trigger

2. Through My Veins

3. Holy War

4. Ever Yours

5. Listen, Children

6. End Of The World

7. Light The Way

8. Emily

9. I’m Still The Same

10. There Was A Time

11. I Believe

12. Don’t Wanna Lose You Now

CD: 5 – XXX

1. Tomorrow The World

2. Bury Me In Willow

3. No Religion

4. Faithful

5. I Know How You Feel

6. Face On The Bridge

7. Al Gatto Nero

8. Judas

9. Reno (Silver And Gold)

10. Ghost Of A Chance

John Wetton: vocals, bass

Geoff Downes: keyboards

Steve Howe: guitars

Carl Palmer: drums and percussion

Release date: 11th June 2021

Label: BMG

Buy the box set here: https://asiaband.lnk.to/reunionalbumsPR

Website: https://originalasia.com/

Facebook – Original Asia

Twitter – @OriginalAsia

Instagram – asiatheband

Posted In

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.