Asia (Geffen '82) Rating: B+

A "supergroup" comprised of former Yes guitarist Steve Howe, former Yes and Buggles' keyboardist Geoff Downes, former King Crimson (among other outlets) singer-bassist John Wetton, and former Emerson, Lake & Palmer drummer Carl Palmer, Asia's self-titled first album was a smashing commercial success that was much more AOR than prog-rock. Not that the playing isn't very good and flashy at times, because it is, but this is a song-based album whose first three tracks all received significant airplay at the time. "Heat Of The Moment" is the band's signature song and it still sounds great, and on a personal note it will always bring me back to my first real kiss because this song was playing in the background! Regardless, it's a damn good song, with strong riffs and vocals from Wetton (the band's primary songwriter along with Downes who also supplies backing vocals which are a band strength as well), a memorably singable pop chorus, and suitably dramatic power ballad-y verses. With famous keyboards a la Europe's "The Final Countdown" and airy harmonies, "Only Time Will Tell" is another winner, and "Soul Survivor is another easily singable, dramatic, and musician-ly tune. Aside from "Here Comes The Feeling," which was also released as a single but was less successful (though to my ears this catchy tune could've easily been another big hit), the rest of the songs aren't quite as memorable, but the majority of them are also good, even if the album on the whole suffers from a dated '80s sound (particularly Downes' keyboards which also have their moments and which help provide the album with its symphonic sense of grandeur) and a cheese factor that can be rather high. So call this overly slick album a "guilty pleasure" if you must, I won't deny that I enjoy listening to it even if it immediately puts me smack back in 1982, and I wish that the original group had stayed together longer, as this first album would be as good as it would get for Asia, both from a commercial and an artistic standpoint. Check out Howe's soaring guitar solos on "One Step Closer" and Palmer's booming drums on "Wildest Dreams," to mention but two standout performances. But they all shine at various times on most of these tracks, and though perhaps the album might be a bit off putting to those expecting something more prog-rock, a perception that's only reinforced by the colorful Roger Dean album cover, this direction wasn't all that different than what other progsters such as Genesis, King Crimson, and Yes (who the next year would have their biggest hit ever with the equally commercial 90125) were doing at the time. Bottom line is, though this album has its faults, for what it is, which is AOR pop rock with a dash of prog, it's quite good.

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