Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy, aka the Joyful Gadfly! Musician, podcaster, writer, historian ... here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album is unique in some way. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Asia ~ Axioms (hits comp)

(Click on heading to visit official website of Asia Featuring John Payne.)
Style: prog-rock, greatest hits
Label: Snapper Music
Year: 1999
Home: California

Members: John Payne ~ vocals/bass/guitar
Geoff Downes ~ keyboards
Steve Howe, Al Pitrelli, Aziz Ibrahim, Elliott Randall ~ guitar
Carl Palmer, Michael Sturgis ~ drums

Additional: Anthony Glynne ~ guitar
Simon Phillips, Nigel Clockler ~ drums

Guests: Hotei Tomayasu ~ lead guitar
Luis Jardim ~ percussion

In the early 80's a joining of prog-rock illuminaries guitarist Steve Howe of Yes, keyboardist Geoff Downes of Yes/Buggles, drummer Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake & Palmer & bassist/singer John Wetton of King Crimson/Roxy Music created a band that honed in some of the indulgent wanderings of prog-rock for a more radio friendly sound that was better suited to changing national music scenes. They had a few MTV hits with "Heat Of The Moment", "Don't Go" & "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes" before falling apart while touring the second album with Wetton. Downes & Wetton kept the band going as a side touring project before Downes created a new line-up in 1992. This new line-up featured Downes with new bassist/singer/songwriter John Wetton, Alice Cooper guitarist Al Pitrelli & A-Ha drummer Michael Sturgis. Howe & Palmer would guest on the first of the two releases of this new Asia, often called the beginning of the Payne era. Aqua & Aria would rekindle the Asia flame while bringing a new sound to the band that was both proggish but with a harder edge thanks to guitarist Pitrelli. But, Wetton & Payne are two different songwriters & quite different singers & the fanbase was divided. Pitrelli would soon leave replaced by a series of guitarists, while Downes would take his due, replaced by keyboardist extradinaire Erik Norlander, leaving handing the torch officially to Payne. Eventually the original line-up of Howe, Downes, Palmer & Wetton would reunite to record & tour spurring two groups to officially hold the Asia name known as Asia, with the original 80's line-up, & Asia Featuring John Payne. Asia FJP continues to be plagued with fans that want to hear the early 80's hits, seeing this as the direct descendent, while the reunited Asia focuses only on its own compositions. Ironically neither groups sounds like the Asia of the 80's, so theoretically one might even say there's three bands: the original, the John Payne led version & the reunited band. This makes for an interesting history but also poses a problem as there's been no Asia greatest hits compilation that's been able to bridge all three groups. Payne has tried to bridge the gap. The Anthology compilation included both the 80's hits & Payne era favorites, the reunited line-up not yet in existance, but contractual problems required Payne & his then bandmates to re-record the early hits. For those accustomed to Wetton's tenor on "Don't Cry" Payne's baritone is a bit of a shock, while nobody can truly replicate Howe's weaving guitar though the effort is commendable & far from disappointing. There will probably never be a good Asia compilation released & a box set seems unlikely. This is ashame as the Payne era might not be the selling point for the casual Asia listener but it's got a far more friendly sound with more interesting & personalized lyrics & deserves due attention which it may not get without being lumped with the early familiar hits. For those who have the first couple Asia albums but want an introduction to the bigger picture Axioms is one's best bet as it focuses entirely on Payne era. The only thing missing is the current Norlander line-up to make this complete. Axioms might be a bit lengthy with 2 CDs for the casual listener, while longtime fans will already have all the tracks, but it includes both fan favorites (i.e. "Who Will Stop The Rain," "Military Man," "Desire," "Sad Situation," "Feels Like Love") & lesser known tunes plus highlighting some of the line-ups of the Payne era including the cuts with Steve Howe & Carl Palmer including a few instrumentals. The majority of fan & critical favorites come from Aqua & Aria with the Pitrelli/Sturgis/Downes/Payne line-up but Axioms offers more the later Arena & even Payne's take on the Downes song "The Hunter" from the pre-Asia Downes produced GTR, that featured Howe, guitarist Steve Hackett of Genesis & drummer Jonathan Mover who would ironically go on to join Alice Cooper with Pitrelli. For those that like the pop-prog & commercial sheen of early Asia but want some more personal lyrics & more experimental musical forays Asia FJP via Axioms shouldn't be ignored. In terms of greatest hits collections the songs are pulled solely from Arena, Aqua, Aria & the earlier compilation Anthology which isn't necessarily enough albums or certified hits to form a traditional hits collection & on two CDs a majority of the albums, particularly Arena, are duplicated. There's also nothing new on the collection for older fans. But, it's definetly cheaper to buy one album than all four while this is no cheap product but care was put into choosing the best of Asia WJP. An interesting experiment of how musicians change when in the company of different musicians is to compare the songwriting on Axioms, all Downes/Payne songs, with the songwriting on the Wetton Downes Icon releases. Downes shines through as always with his classically tinged keyboard playing but the difference between Wetton & Payne becomes quite obvious. Further, it shows why many fans once upon a time encouraged Payne to step away from the Asia franchise to do his own thing as Asia FJP truly is, in everything but name, his own thing that deserves much more attention with the 80's hits sometimes a heavy & sometimes a light albatross around his neck.








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