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Review by Gary Hill

Unless you’ve been living in the proverbial cave for the last few years you probably know that the original lineup of Asia (Geoff Downes, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer and John Wetton has reunited). This is their first studio CD of the 21st Century. In some ways this is exactly the disc you would expect from them. Much of the material here feels like it could have come from their 1982 debut. Some of the music here is incredible, but this is not really the masterpiece I had hoped for. It tends to suffer from too much “mellow” balladic material and not enough “rockers” to balance things out. There is only one track here (“Heroine”) that I feel was a total misstep and there are a few that simply shine like bright stars. In other words, this is a very good CD that misses the “great” title by a small margin.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 3 at

Track by Track Review
Never Again
Steve Howe’s guitar opens things with a definitive Asia sound. When the rest of the group join it feels like 1982 all over again. There aren’t any real surprises here. This song feels like it could have come from the group’s debut, but still there are some sections that purely rip. It feels kind of like the first Asia disc on steroids. I can’t think of a better way to lead off the classic lineup of Asia’s return to the world of studio recordings.

Nothing's Forever
Acapella singing leads this off. Then a keyboard element that feels a bit like something from Keith Emerson rises up to take things for a time. Those keys work through for a while and then give way to a stripped down balladic structure for the vocals. This feels a lot like something from UK. When it powers up again it has a bit of a lackluster approach. Of course, part of that can be attributed to the majesty and emotional energy of the verse section. This one is just a bit uneven and doesn’t really work all that well for this reviewer. We do get a tasty guitar solo from Steve Howe, though.
This one comes in with a very mellow approach, Steve Howe’s guitar and Geoff Downes’ keys driving it. They take it out to another balladic motif. This is basically a pretty love song. It’s not bad, but it is a bit sappy and a little over the top. They move it towards more rocking territory later in the track, but it’s still just not a real “grabber.” The lyrics are a bit trite, but I suppose you expect that with this type of love song.
Sleeping Giant / No Way Back / Reprise
Now, this is more like it. A gong starts things and then keys come in. The group work gradually in with a much more “true progressive” rock styling. Instruments form a backdrop and non-lyrical vocals drive this along with flourishes of Steve Howe’s guitar. It shifts out to a mellower motif from there that has elements of modern Yes. Then we get a reprise of the segment with the vocals – this time seeming a bit more powered up. This builds for a while and then around the two and a half mark we get a new keyboard motif, with the rest of the instruments dropping away. The group launch into a more traditional Asia sound, but there are definitely hints of modern Yes here, too. This section is the “No Way Back” portion of the piece. It has some great keyboard segments and guitar leads, too. Wetton’s vocal delivery is spot on. The only complaint here is that the repeated “No Way Back” chorus gets a bit old. This eventually fades down and gives way, as the titling would suggest, to a return of the opening instrumental section. This time Howe’s guitar really controls the event. Mind you, this whole bit isn’t there for long, fading out to end.

Howe’s guitar controls the opening proceedings here, too, but they shortly move it out into a classic Asia styled vocal motif. The vocal arrangement on the chorus of this one is particularly strong. I also like Downes’ keyboard soloing in the track a lot. We get quite a bit of cool Howe guitar soloing on this one, too. They drop it back later to a cool, baroque sounding, harpsichord driven segment that’s a nice change up.  This instrumental section gives way to a return to territory closer to the main song structure to take things out.  All in all, this is one of the more successful pieces on show here. It’s definitely very much in line with the vintage sounds of the band, but it’s also vital and powerful.

I Will Remember You
This ballad is more effective than “Heroine.” Both the lyrics and the music have more oomph. It doesn’t really rise much above the level of a powered up ballad, but it’s just a lot more effective and evocative. This does seem a bit long for the amount of real content in it, though.
Shadow of a Doubt
This one comes in with a  more charged up texture, but drops back to the balladic for the verse. They power this out for the chorus and they turn in some great variations on their musical themes as they continue on in the down-played coupled with more powered up segments pattern. This is classic Asia at its best. This one is another that would have been quite at home on the group’s self-titled disc.
Parallel Worlds/ Vortex / Deya
At eight minutes and twelve seconds this is the longest track on the disc. The motif that leads off this multi-song suite is extremely tasty. It gives way to another classic Asia ballad-like delivery. Wetton’s vocals are especially effective here. They take this “Parallel Worlds” segment into a killer instrumental movement that’s both understated and powerful in terms of Howe’s guitar weaving melody around. This serves as the space between the first vocal sections. Eventually this gives way to a cool prog rock instrumental motif. A swirling pattern creates the backdrop as Downes and Howe take turns driving the melody over the top. I’m guessing, particularly in light of the swirling pattern, that this is the “Vortex” section of the track. This gets quite powerful and the melody is intricate and beautiful. This crescendos and drops away. What is left is an atmospheric and pretty section that feels quite classical in nature. Steve Howe creates a beautiful melody pattern on acoustic guitar as keys hold the structure together. This is built upon in a very organic was as they move forward. It seems likely that this instrumental motif is the “Deya” section of the piece. It’s very pretty and quite dramatic and powerful, while never rising beyond the point of “mellow” in terms of its instrumentation and volume level. This has elements of a more powered up “new age” music.

Wish I'd Known All Along
A retro keyboard sound leads things off here. Howe’s guitar joins after a time and then they shift out into another Asia ballad-based structure. This has a bouncy sort of sound as they move it onward. It’s pretty cool. They do power it out a bit and we get some great Howe guitar soloing, but then it drops away to a classically tinged section that’s mellower yet. Eventually this gives way to a more powerful take on the song’s themes and we get a cool Downes solo. As Wetton’s vocals return the keyboards carry on, soloing right alongside him. Eventually they shift this out to another mode and then return to the chorus. This time it’s Howe who solos alongside Wetton. This reminds me a lot of a modern Yes sound. This one starts a bit lackluster, but by the time it finishes it has more than redeemed itself.
Orchard of Mines
Here we get yet another balladic delivery. We really could use another rocker by now. The ballad after ballad approach is getting a bit old. Par for the course they power this up as they carry on. Wetton’s delivery is top-notch. The man can put emotion into his vocal performance on a level that few approach. This is actually a great song, but it’s just the wrong prescription by now in terms of ballad verses rocker. Honestly, I would rather have had this one in place of “Heroine” and a more rocking number in this slot.

Over and Over
This song is interesting, but not really at the level of rocker that I would have liked to have heard. It’s not quite a ballad, but it’s not far beyond it either. Howe’s guitar work calls to mind country or traditional Hawaiian sounds at points here. This is not really a throw-away piece, but it’s also not a standout and by now the overly mellow feel of the CD is starting to wear a bit thin. We do get some cool Howe soloing on this one, though. We also get some great Downes soloing.
An Extraordinary Life
This comes in feeling like the Beatles a bit. It’s got an intricate ballad approach. Despite the fact that we need more rockers, this still works – that’s how good it is. When they drop back for Wetton’s vocals he simply nails the verse – it’s just powerful as heck. They build on this as they carry forward. They manage a few changes and varying structures. They include a classic Asia chorus and the arrangement on this one is near perfection. For my money this is one of the two or three best tracks on show here. It’s a great way to close things out in fine fashion and goes a long way towards making up some of the CD’s shortcomings.
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