Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. 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 or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. 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)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Asia Featuring John Payne ~ Military Man (EP)

(Click on heading to visit official website.)
Style: prog-rock
Label: self-released
Year: 2009
Home: California

Members: John Payne ~ vocals/bass
Eirk Norlander ~ keyboards
Guthrie Govan ~ guitars
Jay Schellen ~ drums



Most would probably consider this three track & two radio edits release a single with the obligatory B-sides, which I don't review on this blog, but given the history of AFJP & the lack of ensuing recordings Military Man has come to be an EP in disguise ... being both the introduction & only studio recording of more than just new music but also a new era to the band, if not on some level a new band. In the early 80's supergroup Asia hit the scene with prog-rock stalwarts Geoff Downes, John Wetton, Steve Howe & Carl Palmer. They hit MTV hard with a somewhat proggish but heavy commercialized sound, but by their third album had lost the media buzz & even some members. Keyboardist Downes kept the music alive into the next decade with a new line-up, including ex-A-Ha drummer Michael Sturgis & ex-Alice Cooper guitarist Al Pitrelli, who'd go on to Megadeth & Trans-Siberian Orchestra, & brief guest appearances by Howe & Palmer. But, the most important change to this mix was bassist/singer & new frontman John Payne, who also picked up the writing partnership gap left by the departure of Wetton. In an ironic repeat of history the band would find some modest success & some criticism, while everyone would end up leaving, with Payne being the last man standing this time around. The original Asia line-up would regroup, having now produced three albums, but for his efforts Payne would be granted the right to continue now billed as AFJP. Sadly, both group would call themselves the true Asia with fans equally divided. Though, really, they're two completely different bands ... actually three as the reunion is far different now thirty years later. After Downes departure Payne would come to find perhaps the strongest musical foil/partner in his career in keyboardist Erik Norlander. In modern prog-piano circles Dream Theater's Jordan Rudess is often seen as the king of the keys, but due to constant experimentalism & creativity, large output & understanding of when to throw out flourishes & when to hold back Norlander is surely next in line for the thrown if not the real heir, for me anyways, ... but Rudess has the commercial break-through that has eluded Norlander. To innagurate the permission to continue as Asia, Payne with Norlander, guitarist Guthrie Govan & drummer Jay Schellen, released Military Man with two re-recorded Asia songs while Norlander contributed a re-recorded track from his solo output. Two radio edits were included of the Asia songs, but are completely unnecessary except to fill in space. Two lives tracks would have been a better inclusion, though honestly new music from the quartet would be most welcome. Being that "Military Man" is one of the later era, or the Payne era as it is often referred, Asia songs that was one of their few later day hits this little release comes off as feeling like a single for it. But, the fact that AFJP has yet to release any further studio recordings, live albums are many, though they've been steadily writing, touring & recording, retrospect turns this into an EP. Plus, given the changes to the band its also hard to want to dismiss this as just an EP, but see it as an important point in their timeline. "Military Man" was first heard on the second Payne era Asia album Aria with Pitrelli, Sturgis & Downes, an album that might really live up to its reputation as the best of the Payne era. The changes in the re-recording are subtle yet influencial. Pitrelli, taking over from Howe, brought to the band a more hard rock sound that has been retained, while the light touch of Downes has been replaced by the heavier & more varied playing of Norlander. Downes had an airey sound that wants to slip into the background while Norlander carves up an array of layers & nuances missing from the original & steps right into his new spotlight without hesitance. Payne's voice has also slightly changed over the years & has actually become more nuanced, or at least he now sings in a far less restrained manner using his voice to mold the words not just sing them. The ballad "Long Way From Home" appeared on the album Silent Nation that was Downes' swan song & also included Guthrie on guitar & AC/DC drummer Chris Slade. The re-recording of this piece finds a similiar outcome with more nuances & inflection than the original, more highs & lows, both in vocals & instrumentation. It's almost as if playing the songs for so long Payne has finally taken them as his own, even if they were both co-written by Downes. The instrumental "Neurosaur" gives all the focus to Norlander & might be the best way of introducing the new guy to the audiences. A re-recording of a track from his debut solo album the new "Neurosaur" is much lighter in feeling. Though technically not an Asia song it fits well into the mix. Asia's comeback Aqua featured some Howe instrumental songs so this is no strange inclusion on that level. "Military Man" might be one of the best songs Payne ever wrote & remains a fan favorite with its patriotic theme & thus its no surprise to be chosen for a new release. Payne & Norlander even reworked acoustically it in 2010 for an online video. So often when a band re-records old songs the result is questionable, if not weaker, & land unceremoniously & immediately on the critic's chopping block. Payne has been no stranger to this after being forced to re-record the early Asia MTV hits for the Anthology release. But, here the result might just be far stronger & less maudlin sounding & without the commercial sheen that the 90's gave to the original release. Further, prog has made a firm comeback so one doesn't have to hide the legacy that Asia stems from & Payne can let his inspiration wander. Many folks will be happy to have the original of these tracks via Aria & Silent Nation, but if for no other reason its worth it to check out this EP just to discover Norlander's genius & hear how much stronger a singer Payne has become. & it's the best that's going to come until AFJP releases its next studio album.



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