Formed by Geoff Downes (ex Buggles, Yes), Carl Palmer (ex- E.L.P.), John Wetton (ex-King Crimson) and guitarist extrodinaire Steve Howe (Yes), Asia was somwhat of a progressive rock supergroup, although their music never reached the greatness of any of the bands that they came from. Their first album was a multi-platinum success with several charting songs. After that however, their pop-rock albums began to get progressively more bland up until the time vocalist/bassist John Wetton was replaced by new vocalist John Payne and the band once again became an excellent progressive AOR band.

Asia Asia (Geffen) 1982

1. Heat of the Moment (3:50)
2. Only Time Will Tell (4:44)
3. Sole Survivor (4:48)
4. One Step Closer (4:16)
5. Time Again (4:45)
6. Wildest Dreams (5:10)
7. Without You (5:04)
8. Cutting it Fine (5:35)
9. Here Comes the Feeling (5:42)

The bands first album that sold like gangbusters. Of course with so many big name progressive rock musicians in this band, everyone was expecting something akin to King Crimson or Yes, but instead what we got was some respectable pop rock with some unforgettable hooks. I read an interesting review on another cd site that I thought was worth reprinting.

"This was the best-selling album of 1982--of course it only sold 2 million copies, since that was during the music industry's massive recession. In those days the few people buying records did so because they enjoyed the music & not because of some brainless fashion trend. What a concept." -KingGodSpace

Could not have said it better myself.

Alpha Asia - Alpha (Geffen) 1983

1.   Don't Cry (3:41)
2.   The Smile Has Left Your Eyes (3:13)
3.   Never In A Million Years (3:46)
4.   My Own Time (I'll Do What I Want) (3:46)
5.   The Heat Goes On (5:00)
6.   Eye To Eye (3:14)
7.   The Last To Know (4:40)
8.   True Colors (3:53)
9.   Midnight Sun (3:48)
10. Open Your Eyes (6:26)

After releasing their brilliant and successful self titled debut, Asia returned with their second platter of 1980's progressive, pop rock. "Alpha" is much more of the same, although not quite on par with the debut. The band were obviously trying to capitalize on the success of their massive single "Heat of the Moment". That's not to say that this isn't a highly enjoyable and listenable CD. Frankly, I think if you like the first album, you will also like this one. "Don't Cry" is without a doubt their most convincing follow-up to "Heat of the Moment" and a great Asia track. However, there were certain things becoming apparent. Asia were on a slippery slop downward. First of all, Steve Howe seems to have taken a back seat on this album, as opposed to the debut. This was most likely due to the fact that bassist/vocalist John Wetton and keyboardist Geoff Downes did most of the writing for "Alpha." Unlike the debut, every song on "Alpha" is a Wetton/Downes composition. Steve Howe's sole songwriting contribution was "Lying To Yourself" and it was left off the record only to be released as a B-side. Also, the progressive tendencies apparent on Asia were all but gone from "Alpha". Still, I can't help but enjoy this album. Growing up in the 1980's, Asia were a symbol of a time and era. As with their debut, "Alpha" also sported a very cool album cover.

Astra Asia - Astra (Geffen) 1985

1.   "Go" (4:06)
2.   "Voice of America" (4:26)
3.   "Hard on Me" (3:35)
4.   "Wishing" (4:15)
5.   "Rock and Roll Dream" (6:51)
6.   "Countdown to Zero" (4:14)
7.   "Love Now Til' Eternity" (4:10)
8.   "Too Late" (4:11)
9.   "Suspicion" (3:46)
10.  "After the War" (5:09)

Uh, this album is brutally hard to listen to! Good thing Steve Howe decided to go back to Yes. Located in a cut-out/bargain bin near you!

Then & Now Asia - Then & Now (Geffen) 1990

1.   "Only Time Will Tell" (4:46)
2.   "Heat of the Moment" (3:52)
3.   "Wildest Dreams" (5:10)
4.   "Don't Cry" (3:40)
5.   "Smile Has Left Your Eyes" (3:14)
6.   "Days Like These" (4:05)
7.   "Prayin' 4 a Miracle" (4:22)
8.   "Am I in Love?" (4:24)
9.   "Summer (Can't Last Too Long)" (4:16)
10.  "Voice of America" (4:18)

Back in 1999 I was re-building my CD collection, after selling off most of it a few years earlier. I had waited forever to find a used copy of Asia's debut. In the meantime, I found this compilation CDfor $3.99 and since it has a few songs off the debut, I picked it up. The new tracks are far superior to anything on "Astra" and even better than most of "Alpha." The disc includes all of their Top 40 hits ("Heat of the Moment, " "Only Time Will Tell, " "Don't Cry, " and "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes"). "Then & Now" preaked my interest in Asia once again.

Live in Moscow Asia - Live in Moscow (Rhino) 1991

1.   "Time Again" (5:36)
2.   "Sole Survivor" (6:26)
3.   "Don't Cry" (5:16)
4.   "Geoff Downs-Keyboard Solo (Ing Video Killed the Radio)" (5:15)
5.   "Only Time Will Tell" (4:58)
6.   "Rock And Roll Dream" (5:46)
7.   "Starless" (3:48)
8.   "Book of Saturday" (2:48)
9.   "Smile Has Left Your Eyes, Pt. 1-2" (4:49)
10. "Wildest Dreams" (5:09)
11. "Heat Goes On/Carl Palmer-Drum Solo" (7:21)
12. "Go" (4:50)
13. "Heat of the Moment" (5:19)
14. "Open Your Eyes" (7:28)

If I am in just the right mood, this album is excellent. For the most part, with the rest of my Asia collection, this is not a frequent player. Still, a solid live set with all the hits and more. The end of an era for this band, but I think the one coming up is actually better. "Starless" and "Book of Saturday" are King Crimson songs.

Aqua Asia - Aqua (Great Pyramid) 1993

1.   Aqua I (2:25)
2.   Who Will Stop The Rain (4:35)
3.   Lay Down Your Arms (4:10)
4.   Heaven On Earth (4:52)
5.   Someday (5:47)
6.   Crime Of The Heart (5:55)
7.   A Far Cry (5:28)
8.   Back In Town (4:07)
9.   Don't Call Me (4:53)
10. Love Under Fire (5:13)
11. The Voice Of Reason (5:34)
12. Aqua II (2:00)

Cool cover done by Rodney Matthews who has also done work for Veni Domine and Seventh Angel. I found this one used real cheap and decided to pick it up for three reasons: 1. the cover art, 2. Steve Howe is back and, 3. Savatage/Widowmaker guitar shredder Al Pitrelli plays lead and rhythm guitars. This is actually a pretty decent melodic AOR album. Noticeably missing is vocalist/bassist John Wetton, but to be honest, new vocalist John Payne gives this band new life. I might have to invest in 'Aria,' as John and Al play on that album as well.

Aria Asia - Aria (Mayhem) 1994

1.   Anytime (4:57)
2.   Are You Big Enough? (4:07)
3.   Desire (5:20)
4.   Summer (4:06)
5.   Sad Situation (3:59)
6.   Don't Cut The Wire (Brother) (5:19)
7.   Feels Like Love (4:49)
8.   Remembrance Day (4:18)
9.   Enough's Enough (4:37)
10. Military Man (4:10)
11. Aria (2:26)
12. Reality (4:26)

'Aria' was the band's second CD with vocalist John Payne. Back again is Al Pitelli (ex-Widowmaker) and drummer Michael Stugis (ex-21 Guns.) This disc is the second excellent progessive AOR disc in a row from Geoff Downes and his revolving door of musicians. I actually like 'Aria' and 'Aqua' better than anything the band did with John Wetton. Certainly these two platters are both less pop oriented. I guess without the big label pressure for a 'hit' song, the band is able to express themselves better.

Arena Asia - Arena (Resurgence) 1996

1.   Into The Arena (2:59)
2.   Arena (5:16)
3.   Heaven (5:17)
4.   Two Sides Of The Moon (5:22)
5.   The Day Before The War (9:08)
6.   Never (5:32)
7.   Falling (4:57)
8.   Words (5:18)
9.   U Bring Me Down (7:07)
10. Tell Me Why (5:14)
11. Turn it Around (4:28)
12. Bella Nova (3:10)

A new direction for Asia once again, and a welcome one at that. "Arena" is a softer, more melodic and more diverse album than anything that has come before. Downes' keyboards skim along the surface, rather than dominating the sound of the band and the upbeat, pop leanings of hits like "Only Time Will Tell" are also left behind for a more progressive rock sound. John Payne's voice is smoother and more relaxed, and really fit the direction the band took on this CD. "Arena" is also their most versatile album, expanding on musical styles not explored by the band before including rock, latin, fusion, symphonic, and pop. While I really liked the Asia of old, to be quite honest, I actually prefer this version of Asia. I must also make mention of the stellar cover art by Rodney Matthews. Quite the stunning cover, which stretches to the back cover as well. (thanks James)

Asia - Archiva 1 (Pavement) 1996

1. "Heart of Gold" (4:47)
2. "Tears" (4:59)
3. "Fight Against the Tide" (5:31)
4. "We Fall Apart" (4:58)
5. "The Mariner's Dream" [instrumental] (1:27)
6. "Boys from Diamond City" (5:43)
7. "A.L.O." (3:40)
8. "Reality" (4:29)
9. "I Can't Wait a Lifetime" (3:25)
10. "Dusty Road" (4:30)
11. "I Believe" (3:43)
12. "Ginger" [instrumental] (2:04)

A cool 'archives' collection of unreleased b-side material including a cool Steve Howe instrumental called 'Ginger.' As with most of the John Payne era material, the sound is a nice mix of pop rock and progressive rock. John's vocals are perfect for this stuff and he is obviously a decent guitarist too, since he played guitar on much of this disc. There are several other guitarists who make an appearance on this compilation as well, including Thin Lizzy's Scott Gorham (track 6), ex-Widowmaker / Savatage guitarist Al Pitrelli (tracks 1 & 8) and as mentioned Steve Howe on track 12. The material was recorded and spans a time frame from 1988 to 1996, but amazingly does not sound slapped together. Apparently the entire disc was mixed at the same time in 1996. The cover art is once again by Rodney Matthews, who also did the exceptional Aqua cover.

When my friend James contacted me regarding this album, I wasn't sure exactly what it was, so I got online and checked out AMG's reviews. It's odd that they have two reviews, one for the Resurgent Records release which received four out five stars. The other is for the Pavement release which was only given two and a half stars. What's odd about it is that they are the same releases but on different record companies. Just goes to show you, you have to listen for yourself, never trust a review. One man's garbage is another man's treasure. Certainly this disc contains a nice collection of treasures, especially the epic "Boys from Diamond City" and Steve Howe's "Ginger

Aura Asia - Aura (Windstorm) 2001

1. Awake (6:08)
2. Wherever You Are (5:14)
3. Ready To Go Home (4:50)
4. The Last Time (4:56)
5. Forgive Me (5:26)
6. Kings Of The Day (6:51)
7. On The Coldest Day In Hell (6:25)
8. Free (8:51)
9. You're The Stranger (6:05)
10. The Longest Night (5:28)
11. Aura [instrumental] (4:14)
Bonus Tracks:
12. Under The Gun (4:48)
13. Come Make My Day (5:01)
14. Hands Of Time (5:23)

In 2001 Asia return as a duo with the sole original member Geoff Downes on keys and longtime vocalist/guitarist John Payne on the vocals along with a lot of session musicians like Ian Crichton from Saga, Elliott Randal, Tony Levin and original guitarist Steve Howe amongst many others. As might be expected artist Roger Dean created another masterpiece for the cover that brings to mind the classic days of Yes, or that first Asia album. Musically, the band is more melodic than ever. Their sound is not really progressive rock but a sort of soft pop with slight progressive leanings. Oddly enough, this album contains two covers, "Whenever you Are" and Ready to Go Home", both of which were originally performed by 10CC. The two songs, which I was completely unfamiliar with before this album, sound like they could have been Asia originals. Of the two, I prefer the slightly more catch "Wherever You Are", though the moody "Ready to Go Home" fits into the album quite nicely as well. "Forgive Me" has a slightly funky rhythm section. The epic length "Free" is the closest thing to progressive rock here. It also has the distinction of being the album most upbeat song. The instrumental title track is also a standout cut on the album. As usual, Payne's vocals are outstanding. His smooth vocals fit the band like a glove. While I know it's blasphemy, I tend to prefer Payne's+ vocals to John Wetton's. Overall, "Aura" is a mellow album. Those searching for the radio-friendly pop of the band's debut will find little to enjoy here. The pop hooks are much more subtle. This is not an album to listen to while pulling an all-nighter of while driving cross the county. However, when the mood strikes for something more mellow, melodic and moody, "Aura" is a fantastic listen.

Silent Nation Asia - Silent Nation (InsideOut) 2004

1. What About Love? (5:25)
2. Long Way From Home (5:58)
3. Midnight (6:23)
4. Blue Moon Monday (7:16)
5. Silent Nation (6:03)
6. Ghost In The Mirror (4:35)
7. Gone Too Far (6:47)
8. I Will Be There For You (4:09)
9. Darkness Day (6:17)
10. The Prophet (5:15)

I've long been of the opinion that the albums that Asia made with John Payne are better than the more popular albums they recorded as a supergroup. Whilst Steve Howe and Carl Palmer occasionally contributed to those early albums, the band was seemingly generally led by Geoffrey Downes. I think that 'Aura' and 'Aria' in particular were fantastic albums. With Payne the band has explored new and creative territories while at the same time maintaining their identity as a melodic, slightly progressive rock band. With the long awaited "Silent Nation", the band have continued their fine tradition. This album is a nice mixture of melodic hard rock with only the slightest progressive tendencies. Opening track "What About Love?" is a fine example of what to expect on this CD. Superb musicianship, straight forward song writing and big pop hooks. Had this song or "Long Way From Home" been released as the follow-up to the band's first two classic albums, I can only imagine they would have been huge hits.

Phoenix Asia - Phoenix (EMI) 2008

1. Never Again (4:55)
2. Nothing's Forever (5:46)
3. Heroine (4:53)
4. Sleeping Giant - No Way Back - Reprise (8:10)
5. Alibis (5:40)
6. I Will Remember You (5:11)
7. Shadow Of A Doubt (4:18)
8. Parallel Worlds - Vortex - Deya (8:12)
9. Wish I'd Known All Along (4:07)
10. Orchard Of Mines (5.11)
11. Over And Over (3:33)
12. An Extraordinary Life (4:56)

After more than twenty years apart, the original Asia line-up of Wetton/Howe/Palmer/Downes reforms and releases this new album. That's not to say that Asia have been MIA in all that time. In fact, some of Asia's finest albums have been released over the years with the John Payne version of Asia. Technically, "Phoenix" is the follow-up to the 2004 album "Silent Nation". "Phoenix", which is obviously titled for the rising of the "classic" line-up. The reunited band once again breaks the Asia tradition of naming an album with a word starting and ending with the letter "A". However, within moments of spinning this CD, that classic 80's Asia sound is brought to life. "Phoenix" sounds very similar to the Asia and Alpha albums, which is surprising considering the time span between those albums and this one. Asia are oft though of as a prog rock band, but in fact, the Wetton/Howe/Palmer/Downes line-up was mostly an AOR/pop rock band and that is exactly what they deliver here. The band delivers their trademark sound with strong melodies, lush keyboards, bursts of guitar prowess and John Wetton's melodic vocals. Album opener "Never Again" could easily have been on the debut album and probably would have been a hit. 

There are some nods to progressive rock, at least in the epic length and feel of a couple songs that run over eight minutes each. The first of these, "Sleeping Giant/No Way Back" has an adventurous introductory section ("Sleeping Giant"), featuring Howe in full Yes mode alongside choral ah-ah vocals. The "No way back" section is a far more orthodox piece of Asia pop rock. The other epic tune is "Parallel Worlds/ Vortex/ Deya". This is without doubt Asia's most progressive number with this classic line-up, building from a melancholy Wetton penned song, through a wonderful instrumental, to a sublime Steve Howe guitar concerto. It's actually Howe's guitar playing that gives the band their slight progressive edge. His playing adds a depth to the album. 

I was a bit shocked after listening to this CD for the first time and doing a bit of research on-line to read so many negative reviews. Perhaps the expectation from the original line-up reforming was greater than what people perceived the album to be. For me, I was halfway expecting a train wreck. Being one of the few who seems to prefer much of the John Payne-era albums to lackluster albums like "Alpha" and "Astra", I wasn't expecting to like this album as much as I did. In fact, I I tend to like "Phoenix" better than either of those two albums, though nothing the band could record would be able to top their classic debut. Still, "Phoenix" is a solid and thoroughly enjoyable album from Wetton/Howe/Palmer/Downes. 

Related Collections:
Yes | King Crimson | Steve Howe | E.L.P.

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