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Asia

Astra

Review by Gary Hill

This album has all of the original lineup of Asia except Steve Howe. The music, however, is much different than what we heard on their debut disc. This third release shows a sound more tied directly to the pop of the 1980’s. For that reason it doesn’t hold up as well. There is some good music here, but those moments don’t rise as high. There is nothing really terrible, but rather a lot of fairly average music. There seem to be a couple places where John Wetton’s voice is compressed, too. All in all, this is a good disc, but far from great. It really doesn’t fit in progressive rock (although there might be a couple moments), but rather is included here in that category due to the prog musicians (Wetton, Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer) present.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Go
This starts off with some retro sounding keyboard tones. It feels a lot like The Buggles in that section. It fires out from there into a rocking jam that’s classic Asia. This gets a bit metallic on the chorus, though. Still, this is the kind of thing that feels by the numbers for this band, but yet is extremely effective. There is some screaming guitar on this, but also a Buggles like break mid-track.
Voice Of America
The first verse on this is based very much on the keyboards and they feel both classical in nature and yet like The Buggles. John Wetton’s voice here really feels like it’s been compressed. They power out to the rather predictable, but still tasty chorus. When they come back out the verse it’s a more powered up version of the first incarnation, but Wetton’s voice seems less messed with here. They take this is a pretty classic Asia direction from there. There aren’t a lot of surprises, but it’s pretty good none-the-less. The guitar solo is decidedly metallic, though.
Hard On Me
Here we have a fairly generic rocker. The keyboard sound that seems to emulate a horn section is very dated. Wetton’s vocals are really the one redeeming factor on this cut. Sure it’s energized, but it’s also generic and not all that special at all. 
Wishing
This is still quite a pop-oriented track, but in many ways the sound is less dated and it’s a stronger piece. It’s got a rather prog-like element in a lot of ways and it also has a great mood and spirit. Wetton’s vocals are again the strongest thing here. I actually like this one a lot and consider it one of the highlights of the set. The “na-na-na” section is a little generic and silly. 
Rock and Roll Dream
Starting with an echoed, acapella vocal line, Downes’ keys start from there. Accompanied just by bass and percussion at first, Wetton’s voice returns and this builds gradually as one of the most proggy tunes on show here. It has some intriguing sections and changes and is one of the highlights of the set. They power it out to more pure rock as they carry on. When it moves out later to the real chorus section this becomes more generic and more ‘80’s in texture and bears more than a passing resemblance to the music of Meat Loaf. 
Countdown To Zero
Although somewhat generic, this is more akin to some of the earlier Asia music. It’s one of the stronger pieces on show here and more of a rocker than some of the other stuff, too. There’s a spoken word segment here that reminds me of some of the electronica bands that were popular in those days. 
Love Now Till Eternity
This more balladic – although it does power up. It’s a good song and perhaps the most like the first couple Asia albums of anything here. It’s also one of the proggier pieces on show. 
Too Late
The opening on this reminds me a lot of Survivor. It’s a good song, but perhaps a bit generic – it does turn more Asia-like as it carries on, but it’s another track where I think there are places that have some compression on Wetton’s vocals. 
Suspicion
Essentially a ballad, this is a rather dated sounding piece. It’s not terrible, but not exceptional either.
After The War
This might be the strongest cut on show here. It’s one of the proggier ones. It has some varying sections and does a nice job of alternating between rocking modes and mellower ones. I like this track quite a bit.
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