Sunday, June 06, 2010

It Takes A Continent

Sometimes planned activities for the elderly pay off :)


and a half

When the first supergroup of the 80s, Asia, reformed a few years ago it seemed as unlikely an event as, well, the first time it happened. Sure the four members were of similar prog rock pedigree, but with that came all the baggage of ego and excess that marked their prior careers. Plus two key members, bassist/singer/main songwriter John Wetton and guitarist Steve Howe really seemed to not like each other. So much so that I can't point to any musical moment between the two spanning from 1983's Alpha to 2008's Phoenix album. That's a lot of hate there when you consider the other former members of Asia have all interacted with each other in the intervening decades. So, believe it or not, we are now on the second album of the reconstituted Asia with the original lineup - John Wetton, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer (drums) and Geoff Downes (keys).

When last seen, our erstwhile heroes had rebanded with the Phoenix album. That disc, following the health scare of John Wetton, was a solid restablishing of the group as a creative entity. The songs tended to be a little laid back (not unusual for artists who have just faced death or given birth) yet the instrumental prowess was back. Asia's new disc, Omega, is the type of album that often happens following a relaunch of this type. They come back soft, tour a bit, and return more rockin.

Omega ('cause we've already had Alpha, so we either had to have a Beta or Omega coming) catches latter day Asia in full flight. The Wetton driven power anthems still make sweeping heroic statements like Superman facing General Zod in the Fortress of Solitude. Whether he's pledging his undying love ("Ever Yours"), teaching the children well ("Listen Children") or fighting for truth, justice and the, er, Asian way ("I Believe") John Wetton bellows out with assertive thunder. The arrangements are a little more restrained than the previous Phoenix disc, still no one could call Asia's music sparse. Steve Howe can still pick out a flurry of various textures with guitars sliding, careening and accenting all over the place. Geoff Downes seems focused on more organ work than normal (for that special "classic" sound!) but remains tasteful. And Carl Palmer, every other second is a drum solo for this guy.

In a lot of ways, Omega is reminiscent of Asia's third album Astra. The groups playing focuses more on the songs than solos and some of the songs aim at military goings on ("Finger On The Trigger", "Holy War") though with admittedly less silly bombast than the Astra classic "Countdown To Zero". Interestingly, the song that stands out the most musically is the bonus track "Emily" which has a sort of (intentional?) comic pleading happening over a pensive beat. Sort of Beatleish.

Asia Omega will do nothing to change the minds of anyone who knows the band. But it's a real good album. The Heat Is On! Oh wait, that's Glenn Frey. The Heat Goes On!

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