(30 July 2005) Asia Gold (Geffen (USA) 000452102, 2005) is a newly released two CD set. It is by no means the usual type of compilation since the set includes the band's entire output from 1982-1990 on the Geffen label. It has been digitally remastered and includes new liner notes with rare photos. The material is presented in chronological order for maximum listening pleasure. Asia was formed in 1981 and was the first super group of its kind. Steve Howe (Yes) handled guitar and background Vocals. John Wetton (King Crimson, Roxy Music) assumed the role of lead vocalist and bass. Geoff Downes (Yes, Buggles) handled Keyboards and background vocals and Carl Palmer (ELP) took the role of drummer.
Asia's self-titled LP released in 1982 exploded on to the music scene with two top forty hits. "Heat of The Moment" and "Only Time Will Tell" drew single attention while the LP spent nine weeks at number one on the American album charts. "Heat of The Moment," with Steve Howe's unforgettable power chord intro, infectious melody and John Wetton's throaty voice, was a smash. "Only Time Will Tell" with Downes' opening synth line, Howe's guitar interplay and again its infectious chorus was a perfectly crafted pop gem. Credit must also go to Mike Stone who produced the album. Stone's previous credits include Journey, Queen and Foreigner. His production was nothing short of spectacular multitracking Wetton's voice which produced perfect layered harmonies and helped shaped the Asia sound which was instantly recognizable. Other highlights include "Soul Survivor," a fan favorite with some Yes like qualities prominently featuring Steve Howe's guitar virtuosity.
While Asia's sound was more pop than progressive several tracks from the album had a strong progressive sound to them. "Time Again," with its a unique time signature and with Downes' distinct use of piano coupled with a blistering guitar solo during the middle break, made the track one of the strongest cuts on the album. "Wildest Dreams" showcases Palmer's superlative drumming and Howe's guitar chops which leaned the track towards the progressive side and showed that Asia could handle pop and progressive rock flawlessly. Other highlights include "Without You" and the closing track "Here Comes the Feeling," another catchy song showcasing some of Howe's best guitar work. The entire debut album from start to finish is a masterpiece.
The b side, "Ride Easy," follows the album and is an excellent track on par with everything from the debut album. Downes' opening harpsichord line flows into a powerful melodic track with excellent guitar flourishes from Howe and a haunting middle section once again featuring Downes stellar use of the harpsichord.
Asia's second album titled Alpha (1983), while still a very strong album, was a slight departure from the debut album. Steve Howe had no writing contributions and his guitar parts, while still excellent, are not as prominently featured as they were on the debut album. The lead off single "Don’t Cry" is a very catchy upbeat melodic piece and hit number ten while spending thirteen weeks on the charts. "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes," a beautifully executed and teary eyed power ballad, combined Geoff's melodic synth lines with John's emotional vocals and made for a fan favorite.
"The Heat Goes On," probably the best track from the album, is a soaring piece from the quiet piano intro to the slow buildup that leads to Howe's meticulous guitar riff. A full out rocker with a strong verse and a very catchy chorus, leading up to one of the best Hammond organ solos on record and then back to the quiet piano intro, building up again to the exploding ending. "Eye To Eye" features Howe's superlative guitar work alongside a very catchy and unique melody. Parts of the song sound like they would fit in perfectly as background music to a James Bond film. "True Colors" and "Midnight Sun," both stellar tracks featuring strong melodies, include excellent synth/guitar interplay from Downes and Howe respectively and some of Wetton's finest vocal work.
"Open Your Eyes" closes out the album and is nothing short of spectacular. The song opens quietly using a vocoder to set the mood and then builds from there into a full blown rocker and then back to the soft opening again for the middle section this time building layer upon layer until the song explodes into a full blown jam. The b side, "Daylight," follows with Downes' use of a solo church organ sound to open this very catchy upbeat song which features excellent keyboard work from Downes and strong guitar interplay from Howe. Wetton's voice is in excellent form and the overdubbing technique during the chorus is heavenly. "Lyin' To Yourself," another b side, is a strong melodic track which really show cases Wetton's vocals and again the overdubbing effects are out standing.
The third album Astra (1985) saw the departure of Steve Howe. Mandy Meyer (Krokus) was recruited to play guitar on the album and provided more of a hard rock guitar sound. The first song on the album "Go" set the stage for what was to follow. Downes' opening church organ sound followed by layer upon layer of synths and Meyer's guitar parts along with Wetton's full on vocals made this track a fan favorite and probably the strongest track on the album. Another highlight of the album "Hard on Me" features some of Downes' best synth playing to date as well as wonderful drumming from Carl Palmer who co-wrote the track. This track may be the catchiest track on the album.
"Rock And Roll Dream" starts of slow and builds to a climax at the end with excellent use of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra providing a soaring end to this outstanding song. "Too Late" is another gem that features more great keyboard work from Downes. In the middle break the song gets very quiet. With Wetton's vocal atop, the solo keyboard part that builds to Meyer's guitar solo is truly outstanding and a highlight of the album. "After The War" closes out the album and is one of the finest Asia tracks. Gorgeous acoustic piano with superb vocals from Wetton building to a frenzy of layer upon layer on synths and then back to just piano and vocals then ending the track with a full out explosion, a perfect ending to a great album.
Then and Now from 1990 is a collection of six tracks from the previous three albums and four new songs which are also included in this set. "Am I In Love?" with its soft melodic sound was more AOR then the previous albums. However the song suited Wetton's voice perfectly and is one of the best songs from the collection. "Days Like These" is straight rock and roll and to this day is a fan favorite with its catchy chorus making great use of multitracking Wetton's voice and closes out the set perfectly.
Newly remastered sound by Eric Labson at Universal Mastering adds clarity, depth and excellent separation that was missing from the mid 80s individual CD releases. Vocals are clear and crisp. Guitar, bass and drums shimmer with sonic perfection and keyboards sparkle. Informative liner notes and great photos round out this excellent collection.
This set is not only a good value, but is a must have for both hardcore fans and casual buyers and will therefore be a welcome addition to any fan of great music.--Scott Bassin in New York