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My Issue with Asia

Jerry Lucky Commentary June 2009

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2009 All Rights Reserved

 

Regular readers will know how I’ve on a number of occasions pointed fingers at the band Asia. In The Progressive Rock Files

I talked about how they were billed as a progressive rock band with all the ‘fat’ cut off…to which I responded that anytime you go

cutting fat off the meat you run the risk of trimming a little meat as well…and in the case of Asia it seemed they trimmed more than a little meat.

 

Now most of you know I go to great pains to see the world as a glass half full…I don’t believe that being critical has ever produced a better piece of art, poem or music. Still, in the case of Asia I can’t help but express my disappointment. And really this is more about my personal disappointment than it is with the band itself. Truth be told I have quite a bit of Asia in my collection but you know what, I’m more fond of the music created by those other than the original four. I think Aura is quite an enjoyable release. But here’s the deal, I recently picked up (with much trepidation I might add) the new release Phoenix and once again I was left feeling let down. There is a difference between creating and performing music that represents a band’s musical style and playing a style of music that is designed to appeal to the masses. i.e. ‘simplified progressive rock.’

 

Here you have four overly talented musical masters who to my ears simply choose to write and perform in such a restrained manner that it’s infuriating. While listening I get a sense they’re working very hard not to make anything too complicated. But the end result is that it sounds like they’re sleep-walking through the disc. I’m not sure who they’re trying to reach and please with this music. Many in the prog community have moved on to the plethora of other bands and the huge fan base Asia had when they first started I think has forgotten about them and again moved on to the next big thing.  

 

Now I just finished reading a book about Yes so perhaps it’s a little unfair to make any comparisons however where a band like Yes would work a piece up from parts or include any number of solo performances to flesh out the compositions texture, Asia dispenses with all this in an attempt to get at the “heart of the tune” but again to my ears falls short of making something ear catching. The tunes are quite pedestrian at best, and it must be said relies a lot on trying to recapture the very sound they pioneered in the early eighties. Dare I say it sounds like I’ve heard it before?

 

OK, so Asia in it’s original form was intended to approach music in a certain stripped down fashion…I get that…and when you have the original four back together it’s fair to expect that’s what you get…and to that point there is no faulting the execution. The musicianship that is on display is first rate, and Wetton’s vocals are as strong as ever. There are even a couple of multi-part tracks that are over eight minutes in length. It’s not that they’re playing badly, to me it’s just that they’re holding themselves back to fulfill some artificial musical mandate. A mandate that no longer makes sense.

 

In the end, I have to ask…is that all there is? Is that really what you wanted to do? I have to believe, yes. This is what they wanted to do, or I expect it wouldn’t have been released…which then leads me to ask…who were trying to appeal to? I’ve heard each of these individuals create to a higher standard in other musical outfits. Yet together there is something missing…I don’t get it.

 

The problem as I see it is that Asia was a band created to appeal to a certain group of people, and originally it worked. There were many who were looking for a sound like that in the early eighties. They were in the right place at the right time and were hugely successful. But that was then and this is now. And when you deal in the fickle world of mass popularity you not only have to deal with your own creative development but you constantly battle the fortunes of who’s getting the airplay and the headlines. That’s more an issue today than it was the first time around.

 

So I was not surprised that the release of Asia’s new CD Phoenix went virtually unnoticed. Not only was this a band who the general public had forgotten about, they were still playing the same music they played the first time around. So for me, and I’m fully prepared to admit it’s just me, but I have to file the disc under ‘disappointing’. At least that’s the way I see it.

 

Jerry Lucky

(6/1/09)