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)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Asia ~ The Collection (hits comp)

(Click on heading to visit official website of Asia Featuring John Payne)
Style: progressive
Label: Snapper Music
Year: 2000
Home: n/a

Members: John Payne ~ bass/guitar/vocals
Geoff Downes ~ keyboards/drum programming/b. vocals
Steve Howe ~ lead guitar
Al Pitrelli, Elliott Randall, Aziz Ibrahim ~ lead guitar
Carl Palmer, Mike Sturgis ~ drums

Additional: Simon Phillips, Nigel Glockler ~ drums
Andy Nye ~ keyboards
Scott Gorham ~ guitar

Guests: Tomoyasu Hotei ~ lead guitar
Luis Jardim ~ percussion


There are countless compilation albums out there by the pop-prog early 80's supergroup Asia, which is rather strange considering they only had two successful studio albums before line-up changes leading to a fast fall from the charts & only a couple certified AOR hits in the mix. But, of course, it's always the bands that are one hit wonders or quasi-one hit wonders that seem to have enough hits for a full on compilation & countless variations of such via reissue after reissue ... & the world of music PR & royalty payments would want it no other way. The big bands are too expensive to reissue, but let's maximize the potential of the smaller bands with lower royalty rates & make them the Kmart discount bin favorite & in the end make the hits seem bigger than they really were ... though Asia really did hit the top of the charts with all its glory, they just didn't stay there long. Plus the fact Asia is a catchy memorable name that doesn't belay too much of what the music sounds like, while featuring famed alumni of Yes, the Buggles, King Crimson & Emerson, Lake & Palmer makes them a special quasi-one hit wonder even more ripe for countless run of the mill skimpy packaging reissues for unsuspecting buyers looking for a surprise. But, having said all that, this European compilation might be the most interesting & unique sounding collection of Asia that, intentionally or not, shows a different side to the band. Not the most representative, just unique. But, first, like many Asia collections the contents are a bit deceptive to the unknowing new fan. This is not the original hit making line-up of Steve Howe, Geoff Downes, John Wetton & Carl Palmer, nor the Mandy Meyer third album line-up, but the fourth album Asia featuring keyboardist Downes with new bassist/vocalist John Payne & a rotating mix of drummers & guitarists including future Megadeth guitarist Al Pitrelli in an under-utilized almost throwaway role. The John Payne era, as its regularly labeled, is often featured on compilations with the collected songs starting from album four, Payne's debut, & being deceptively labeled as hits though the hits were already a decade past & with a different line-up. The deception is expanded upon by the inclusion of the early hits, "Only Time Will Tell", "Heat Of The Moment" & "Don't Cry", though that last one is mysteriously missing from this particular release, but all of these having been re-recorded note perfect by Payne & Downes. For the release of the first major official greatest hits package Anthology lawsuits prevented the original songs from being used, thus remakes were created & its these remakes that get reissued & reissued hoping no one will realize the difference or maybe will think they are alternative versions or something is just wrong with the vocal track. The fact that the re-makes are stunningly accurate makes the deception that much worse for consumers. Except for the vocal tone it's hard to even criticize the remakes, though to be fair it would have been better to re-invent the songs. Dumping the remakes, between the two eras a nice greatest hits package could be created ... but this is not it & it has yet to happen & probably never will now that two bands tour under the Asia name one with Payne & his current line-up & the other with the original line-up. While poor Mandy Meyer doesn't get a chance. Thus, we are left with piecemeal greatest hits packages like Anthology & The Collection. The lack of "Don't Cry" here while odd is unintentionally perfect. It indirectly verifies that this Payne era collection is not a greatest hits collection, but just a collection as the title says. While it's a collection featuring an unusual choice of songs, that is things that usually don't make the reissues. The selections are dominated by a more ballady AOR side of Asia, versus the rocking prog that mark the hits. At times it doesn't even sound like Asia in any era. The songs are dominated & driven by Downes keyboards, as they would be for much of the Payne era, while the more gutsy Payne songs are excluded. The guitar focused tracks are the Payne era tracks that featured former member Steve Howe in a guest role & are light weight instrumentals that were no more than transitional moments on the original studio releases, including the Santana sounding "Into The Arena", the classical tinged "Bella Nova", plus "Ginger" & "Aria". These are culled from the studio albums Arena, the third Payne release, & Aria, the second Payne release, & Archiva 1 an outtakes collection. It's as if the reissue grabbed every later era Howe song they could, though actually there's a few missing that might be better choices. Alongside these are two of the standout tracks from the Payne era in "Military Man" & "Someday". Again, this is not a greatest hits album & doesn't even come close to collecting the hits of either era. What remains are lesser tracks from the first three Payne albums (i.e. "Lay Down Your Arms", "Back In Town", "Don't Cut The Wire (Brother)", "Arena", "U Bring Me Down") & some tracks from the two part Archiva albums that collected outtakes, demos, songs that never made the cut & tracks from early in the Downes/Payne partnership (i.e. "Boys From Diamond City", "Don't Come To Me", "The Smoke That Thunders", "Armenia"), plus "A.L.O." that comes from Paynes brief time in ELO. The Collection ends up feeling like something akin to a B-Sides collection. As time went on Asia with Payne would become much more gutsy with more focus on his vocals, but in the early days there was a deliberate attempt to have a smooth transition from John Wetton's lighter vocal approach & with the heavy amount of Archiva tracks that transition moment is the feeling here. The transition time also predates any guitarist other than Payne to contribute fancy leads so thus the cause of the keyboard dominance as Asia really was just a duo at this time. Sadly, some folks may buy this & be surprised when they go to check out other albums by the band. This is always the case with compilation albums, no matter how carefully put together, but maybe even more so with this release. While it may be even sadder the fact that the gutsy feeling Payne brought the band that clearly separates him from the original line-up is lost here.

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