Thursday, April 10, 2008

Review: Asia - Phoenix

Label: EMI America

Released: April 15, 2008

I was never quite sure if Asia was actually all that good. They were one of the first bands that I got really into once I got over Kiss. On one hand, they seem an awful lot like an AOR band. On the other hand, it's three prog giants along with the a guy who brought us the quirky "Video Killed the Radio Star" (and played on Yes' Drama album). Their pedigree is good, but I still wonder if "Heat of the Moment" and "Only Time Will Tell" appeal to me because they're actually good or simply because they caught me at a young age when everything was new and exciting. Over the years, I've wavered on this subject. Asia, AOR or not, is a solid, albeit safe, rock album. Of course, Alpha just had a catchy pop song and a lot of filler. After that point, only Geoff Downes was a constant with Palmer, Wetton and Howe in and out of the band over the course of several forgotten albums. For whatever reason, I can neither dismiss Asia nor shake the nagging suspicion that they aren't all that good.

Phoenix is the first effort from the original lineup since 1983. With their first new material in 25 years, perhaps Asia could answer my question now that I could hear the music without all the nostalgia that surrounds the old songs. The album opens up promisingly enough. "Never Again" isn't quite on par with the material onAsia, but it's in the same vein. Unfortunately, that's the last decent track on the album. "Nothing's Forever" starts off with some of the same grandiose prog-pop, but quickly devolves into a synthy lite-soul ballad that reeks of everything bad about the 80s. After "Heroine," I'm pretty much done with Phoenix. It's supposed to be emotional and heartfelt, but the lyrics are laughable and the music flat. From that point on, it's just a chore to continue. There are a few so-so prog parts in "Sleeping Giant/No Way Back/Reprise," but they more than offset those few moments of listenability with the New Age-y "Wish I'd Known All Along," a Howe-penned song so bad that it probably makes his career a wash. The rest of the album just makes me wonder why at least someone among these four seasoned musicians didn't stop and ask, "Why are we doing this?"

So, was Asia a guilty pleasure? If they were ever as good as they seemed to me 26 years ago, I'd think they'd have something left even today. Because Phoenix has practically no redeeming quality, it seems Asia's debut is to be sadly relegated to something I like despite itself. Phoenix doesn't even fare that well, because there is simply no pleasure, guilty or otherwise. I guess everything that rises from the ashes isn't good.

Satriani: 9/10
Zappa: 4/10
Dylan: 2/10
Aretha: 1/10
Overall: 2/10

If you're curious about my rating categories, read the description.

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Blogger Metal Mark said...

You say "AOR" like most people say "raw sewage", it's really not a dirty word. Okay, it's kind of fluffy, but like any genre there's good and bad AOR. I don't think that it matters so much if Asia were really good or a guilty pleasure. It should only matter whether you like them or not. No one's going to make you justify every musical opinion you have. Now I have only made it through about half of Phoenix, but I agree with you so far.

10:56 AM  
Blogger bob_vinyl said...

"AOR" is such a dirty word that I probably shouldn't have used it on my site where I consciously avoid swearing.

I completely disagree with you about what matters. It is largely irrelevant whether I like the album or not. That doesn't tell anyone a thing about it. I can like anything I want, but as a reviewer, I have to determine if it is actually good.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Metal Mark said...

I think you may worry a bit too much that you are going to overrate a band.

11:44 AM  
Blogger bob_vinyl said...

I do my best to avoid overrating a band just because I like them. Actually, I try not to over or underrate for any reason, but I almost certainly fail in that. It's a noble goal that is probably impossible to attain (at least by me).

12:08 PM  
Blogger Metal Mark said...

I think most people over and underestimate at times. Particularly when this is just a hobby because it's often heard to give the proper amount of time to every review.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

I actually will be getting a copy of this to review despite saying that I would probably pass on it. Hopefully I enjoy it a bit more.

1:44 PM  
Blogger The Mad Hatter said...

"Heat Of The Moment" is as far as I got with these fellows. Can you blame me?

1:12 PM  
Blogger Rhodeislandrock said...

What a reviewer should do is review an album with no bias. I have a hard time doing that at my site because some bands I review are favorites and some aren't.....some styles of music I like, some I don't.

As far as Asia goes, they made it big on 3 hit singles & videos ('Heat Of The Moment', 'Only Time Will Tell' & 'Don't Cry') and the rest of those first two albums was basically filler. For '82-'83, this was big time commercial Rock along the lines of Journey & Foreigner, radio-friendly and appealing to the mainstream. The question remains: Is that such a bad thing? To many, and I'll include Bob, there is a major dislike of AOR because it's safe, mainstream, and lite. It's usually only about the hits and caters to the "casual" fan. I like AOR, not all but some.

Back to Asia.....I own the first two albums, and have since they were released, but I hadn't picked a new Asia record until 2001's AURA. Like Mark said, there is good AOR and bad my ears it was bad AOR. If I had to review it, I'd kill it.

I'm on the list for PHOENIX but I'm not sure when it's coming. The reviews are hit or miss but I'd like to hear it for myself and review it after many spins. Maybe it's a grower?

Heavy Metal Addiction

1:45 PM  
Blogger The Mad Hatter said...

Perhaps it's because I operate outside-the-box and my worldview is veritably skewed, but I purposely try not to be objective. What is objectivity anyway? As much as one can clearly attempt to filter all notions of subjectivity from a review, let's say, it's just not possible. So make like a wave and with a whoosh and you're on your way. Opinions are like assholes, but my blog is the biggest asshole of them all; and that's why I write it.

10:00 PM  
Blogger David Amulet said...

I love your line: "Phoenix doesn't even fare that well, because there is simply no pleasure, guilty or otherwise." Hilarious!

3:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hhhummm... I was just afraid that it was happening what happened!! Ggggrrr another catchy (and so unuseful) album. The most of these songs are too similar to the first albums or in another cases they are clarely taken from material developed by Downes with the previous ASIA lineups. We are lucky just that there are a couple of tracks made by Steve Howe! Tracks #8 and #9 are the only ones with some quality inside.
Other songs are negligiable. If they dont give room to Steve Howe this group sounds like thousands others!

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


9:21 AM  
Blogger bob_vinyl said...

I used a free online translation site to translate the comment above:


I think the prostitute part is being translated literally, but actually should be translated as the act in which prostitutes engage. I guess the gist of the comment is that: 1) The Asia album is really good, 2) I have no idea what I'm talking about and 3) I should do something else, because I'm not very good at reviewing records.


9:34 AM  
Anonymous Forrest Gump said...

bob_vinyl said: "a Howe-penned song so bad that it probably makes his career a wash."

Are you stupid or something?????

5:50 PM  

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