(17 July 2005) John Wetton and Geoff Downes were indeed half of Asia, a supergroup whose melodic progressive rock has drawn significant attention and critical acclaim for decades. The announcement of their collaboration on Icon (Frontiers Records (Italy) FR CD 242, 2005) has been well publicised and the album has been eagerly awaited by the enthusiasts for many months. Two brief cameo vocal appearances by the legendary Annie Haslam (Renaissance) expanded interest in the album. That John Wetton played briefly with Renaissance is a fact known to die-hard enthusiasts.
Every one of the ten tracks on Icon are excellent melodic rockers with vocal harmonies and rich rock arrangements working together superbly. Although critics have suggested the album departs from the stadium rock quality of earlier Asia quality, every bit of Icon is enjoyable regardless. Instrumental production is rich and without fault. Vocals are perfectly mixed; Wetton's lead right is up where it belongs leading each song to complete glory. One criticism is the relatively short running time of the overall album.
Guitars and keyboards work together harmoniously with crisp percussion and melodic bass. Downes contribution to the orchestration and performance of the keyboard parts is evident and while this isn't an Asia album, most enthusiasts will be equally delighted with the material and the recorded performance. Keyboard and guitar solos are individually stunning. Memorable melodies emerge from almost every track, even the slower numbers such as "Meet Me At Midnight." Wetton hasn't lost his signature vocal talent and is certain to woo fans back on Icon.
Signature tracks span the album; pay particular attention to the opening number "Let Me Go," the melodic ballads "Far Away" and "Sleep Angel," and the stadium style rockers "I Stand Alone," "Hey Josephine" and "Please Change Your Mind." The string arrangements within the melodic ballads are stunning. An album standout is clearly that harmonious "Spread Your Wings." The choir and bass arrangements in this number are especially awe-inspiring.
Instrumental solos and guitar excursions have been well written and are well played. Annie Haslam's contribution is most notable on the album's concluding track, "In The End." Sadly, the recording quality of her voice certainly doesn't do the track any favors and one must wonder if sufficient bandwidth was allocated to the recording before it was taken into the mixing stage.
The Japanese release on Avalon Records includes a recording of "Heat Of The Moment," a longstanding Asia favourite, as a bonus. Continued work with Annie Haslam would
certainly be appreciated by Renaissance and Asia fans. Wetton and Downes have done an incredible job with Icon. We want to hear more.