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, June 11, 2013

Asia ~ Aqua

(Click on heading to visit official website of Asia Featuring John Payne.)
Style: British, rock, prog rock
Label: InsideOut Music
Year: 1992
Home: n/a

Members: Geoff Downes ~ keyboards/b. vocals
John Payne ~ bass/guitar/vocals
Al Pitrelli ~ guitar

Additional: Michael Sturgis, Simon Phillips, Nigel Glockler ~ drums
Ant Glynne, Scott Gorham ~ guitar
Mats Johanson ~ guitar solo

Guests: Steve Howe ~ guitar/mandolin
Carl Palmer ~ drums


This quasi-comeback album with a retooled line-up is not a bad step in new direction, it was good enough to initiate a new era, but it has some weaknesses. All of the weaknesses, which get heavily debated in Asia fan circles & has led to a division among fans over which line-up they prefer, largely get cleaned-up on the follow-up Aria. The result is this might be the more experimental album when it comes to its musical palette yet also more in line with the old Asia sound, while the follow-up has a stronger set of songs & is closer to what Asia would become. That being said, both albums are important moments on the Asia timeline & necessary purchases for any fan & will rise or fall largely dependent on what sound one wants to hear. While original member Geoff Downes had recruited singer/bassist John Payne to step into the shoes of John Wetton in the new line-up not all the material for this re-tooled line-up was written from scratch. Some songs were new, but others came from Payne's previous band while other came from an earlier reunion attempt & not written for Payne's voice. Payne enters his new gig shining with a strong vocal presence, but there are times the production feels like the band is trying to lesson the wide gap between his & Wetton's singing styles & vocal tones. Personally I find Payne the stronger & more textured singer & thus this cover-up approach on a couple songs ends up weakening the material as it tries to stand too much in the shadow of the past. Partly in response to this Payne's vocals would be up & center with no imitative moments on Aria. It also ends up making this feel like a transitional album versus a clear strong step in new directions, something also repaired on Aria where a majority of the songs were new. Payne's vocals is one of the most noticeable changes on the new album as traditionally Asia had somewhat of a focus around Steve Howe's guitar playing, but here he's only a guest on a couple tracks primarily in some intro/outro instrumentals & not involved with the songwriting. Unable to even begin to emulate Howe's style the remaining guitar playing on the album is in a completely different mode that takes Asia in a new hard rock direction away from the pop prog, all courtesy of famed session player & former Alice Cooper guitarist Al Pitrelli. Successive guitarists would come to find a fusion between Howe's pop prog & Pitrelli's rock for some hard rock & far more interesting prog. Pitrelli does contribute some strong playing by not over-playing, almost to the point of perfect under-playing for the biggest impact, but it leaves the guitar in an accessory position versus an intricate contributor. Though, while it might be some strong playing this is not an album to turn to for his best playing. His soloing skills are under-utilized for instead textured rhythms a la 80's power chords which is indistinguishable from countless sessions he was doing at the time, including Donny Osmond & Taylor Dayne. The fact he didn't write the songs, like Howe, but was called in later in their development, the same as would be done on Aria, would never really give him a chance to shine with Asia while the band would come to move into a more keyboard dominated direction. This lack of contribution & the thin line between member & guest makes Asia less of a band & basically a Downes/Payne outing with some hired hands. This might be the weakest link of both Aqua & Aria as it limits the potential, though in their defense at the time this was the most workable approach to moving Asia into the future. The drumming also deserves mention as this new line-up was touted as only partially new. Promotional material made it look like the new boys were only Payne & Pitrelli, while Downes & Howe had returned along with drummer Carl Palmer. But, this was far from true. Howe's tracks were recorded before Pitrelli was recruited, while Palmer contributed three tracks early on. The rest of the drum tracks would be done by three session drummers imitating Palmer's lines from previous recordings, one of whom was Michael Sturgis who had already been considered for an earlier reunion of Asia & on Aria would be credited as a regular member. So, those who gravitate to this new Asia hoping for Palmer & Howe are going to be greatly disappointed. But, if you put away that need this is a solid album with some good songs & some others you'll probably gloss over, but in the end not be disappointed as the material remains strong underneath its weaknesses & the guys do turn in a solid album even if it needs some tightening. As I started this blog saying, it's not a bad step in a new direction.

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