Like the mythical bird to which the title relates, Asia’s 2008 album Phoenix found them rising from the ashes to release their first album with the original line-up in 25 years. For some strange reason, Phoenix split the band’s fanbase like no album before, yet it contains all the elements that made the band great and it slots into their discography just fine, and it surely would have made a better follow-up to 1983’s Alpha than the lacklustre Astra. Now benefiting from a (first time on vinyl) reissue, there’s never been a better time to rediscover this oft overlooked gem.
With the crystalline riff of opening track ‘Never Again’ ringing out sure and true, there’s no doubt that the classic Asia were back, and in some style. Reminding me a tad of ‘Sole Survivor’, this was the perfect way for Asia to fly their flag and the catchy chorus ensures that it’s big, bold and dramatic, which is exactly how Asia should sound. Many wondered if the original line-up would be able to put their differences to rest and recreate their old magic, and the following ‘Nothing’s Forever’ provides a resounding affirmative. Those beautiful harmonies that introduce the track tell you all you need to know, and therein lies the answer; this is a harmonious affair with the band chemistry bubbling along nicely as the band hit the magical sweet spot that exists between AOR and prog rock.
While much of Phoenix does evoke much of Asia’s ‘80s heyday, there’s some from that decade that the 2008 reboot that the band would have been wise to avoid. Firstly, there’s the production (split between Asia and Steve Rispin) which has a distinctly tinny, 1980’s feel that characterised much rock from that era. It’s most notable on the bottom end where Carl Palmer’s drums merely pad when they should pack a punch, his thunder reduced to a thud. Secondly, there’s the sugary-sweet ballads, ‘Heroine’ and ‘I Will Remember You’, the former appearing as early as the third cut. I know the power ballad was a big part of Asia’s shtick, but there’s a lot of invention on Phoenix and the ballads only serve to provide a retrogressive feel on an album that largely faces the future.
On more stable ground, the three-song suite ‘Sleeping Giant/No Way Back/Reprise’ recalls Asia at their very best, and the chanted vocals evoke images of cloisters and monks, while Steve Howe’s guitar is equally spellbinding. ‘No Way Back’ is a delightful pop song sandwiched between two progressive workouts, and the layering provided by Geoff Downes’ keys ensures that it’s a multifaceted listen that fractures sound in all directions. Partly due to being performed by older, wiser heads, and partly due to John Wetton’s near-death experience, Phoenix has an emotional depth that was missing from previous Asia albums, and while it may not have a ‘Heat Of The Moment’ in its ranks, this is one of the band’s most satisfying records.
Asia still continue to this day (with a radically different line-up) but if you want to experience the band at their very best, Phoenix is just the ticket.
- Phoenix is reissued by BMG Records and is available now.
- Never Again
- Nothing’s Forever
- Sleeping Giant/No Way back/Reprise
- I Will Remember You
- Shadow Of A Doubt
- Parallel Worlds/Vortex/Déyà
- Wish I’d Known All Along
- Orchard Of Mines
- Over And Over
- An Extraordinary Life