The first question I had when considering the new Asia album 'Phoenix' was simply, who was in the band? Since 'Alpha' the only consistent member was Geoffrey Downes. Later, only two years ago, Asia nearly became two bands until the alliance with Downes and John Payne dissolved. In that same year, the four original members Downes, John Wetton, Steve Howe and Carl Palmer agreed to reunite in light of their 25th anniversary. They also agreed to return to the studio. So the answer is now simple: this is the original Asia releasing their first studio album since 1983. Twenty-five years is a long time to wait for a sequel from this significant progressive rock band. Therefore, this leads to another question: was it worth the wait?
Honestly, I'm ambivalent. 'Phoenix' is not nearly the epic and groundbreaking recording that the first produced. Yes, it's full of masterful Asia musicianship and skillful rock. Yet, it has to be the most subdued music I've heard from the band no matter who was at the helm or who filled out the band. It's more like album-oriented rock than inventive progressive rock. Essentially, no real new ground is broken here. Maybe my expectations were too high. Having said this, this is still a very good work. Though moderate in style, it is consistent and satisfying.
With the aforementioned caveats, the most exceptional songs are 'An Extraordinary Life,' where the whole band shines. It's still mellow, yet has a glorious rhythm that strikes the heart. Consider also 'Nothing's Forever,' Alibis' and the opener 'Never Again.' Although I enjoyed this album by the reunited Asia, this is not as moving as their first piece. Frankly, that work is hard to beat. Maybe age and maturity has caused Asia to evolve into a more mellow and less bombastic sound. That's okay with this 50 something listener. Yet, I still like my progressive rock to stun and surprise me. 'Phoenix' did not. However, I can still recommend this album as accomplished and enjoyable.
The original Asia returns with their first studio album in 25 years. Do not expect the days of yore. This is not Asia circa 1982; this Asia is older and more mature working towards a more softer sound, less progressive and more AOR. Yet it is still a consistent work.
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