The British group Asia released their first album in 1982. It was a major success right from the start. Mainly because of the hit single Heat Of The Moment. The band consisted at the time of members who all had been in various well know (progressive) rock acts. Such as Geoff Downes (Yes, Buggles) on keyboards, Steve Howe (Yes, GTR) on guitar, Carl Palmer (Atomic Rooster, Emerson, Lake & Palmer) on drums and John Wetton (King Crimson, Roxy Music, Uriah Heep, UK, Wishbone Ash) on bass. The group then went through ups and downs and after two albums with the original line up the band continued with a different guitar player. After a while even Wetton left and was replaced by bassist and vocalist John Payne. A series of albums with him in the band followed until Asia decided in 2007 to reform in the original line-up. This resulted in the album Phoenix released in 2008. From that moment on the group Asia would come in two versions: Asia, the original line-up and Asia featuring John Payne.
As mentioned, Phoenix marks the comeback of the founding members of the group that had not composed together since the album Alpha in 1983. The fans were thrilled and the album managed to rank in the American and British charts. It must be said that the group has worked hard since then to adapt its arrangements and to produce a special version of the album for the American market. It took until 2016 for the two versions of the album to be finally united in the double album that we present today.
The lavish artwork is once again like the early albums designed by Roger Dean. This was of course done to get back to the origins of the band in the eighties! If the group have successfully reproduced the sound of their debut, there are some who criticize this album for being too "copy-paste" of their first two albums. The phoenix symbolizes the resurrection of the group in its original form, with the same methods of writing and interpretation. Some fans of the first hour will appreciate it, others find "déjà vu" and the lack of originality of this album to blame.
As for myself I had high expectations because I loved the band's first two outputs very much. And to be honest the musicians never reached the high level of compositions which they wrote for their debut and successor. Therefore I regard the return of the original cast as a slightly disappointing comeback. Sure the songs are OK if you don't want your progressive rock too complex, and I do also know that the band never moved towards a style which could be labelled as very complex progressive rock. Nevertheless, they entertained me all the way when they started as a fresh new band, something which is partly the case on both CDs in this great looking package, but even though they added two extra acoustic bonus tracks to the European Edition, they never brought me back to the days when they were most inspired. I guess the veterans of prog delivered their best work many years ago.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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