Number 658 - Asia
"Only Time Will Tell"
Their eponymous debut was released in 1978. By 1980, after UK's demise and Wetton's departure from UK, a new supergroup project was suggested involving Wetton, Wakeman, drummer Carl Palmer and (then little known) guitarist Trevor Rabin, but Wakeman walked out of the project shortly before they were due to sign to Geffen and before they had ever played together. In 1981, Wetton and guitarist Steve Howe were brought together by A&R man John Kalodner and Geffen Records to start working and writing, Howe having come out of the break-up of Yes in early 1981.
Howe and Wetton were soon joined by Buggles/Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes. Carl Palmer joined the band later in the process. Trevor Rabin was considered for the group and some demos were recorded with him, but he dropped out to accept an offer to join Chris Squire and Alan White in what became a new Yes and the other Asia members decided to stay as a quartet. Trevor Rabin, in a filmed interview from 1984 and included in the recently released and updated DVD 9012Live, said that his involvement with Asia never went anywhere because "there was no chemistry" among the participants.
The band's early offerings, under the auspices of the record empire of David Geffen and Kalodner, were considered disappointing by music critics and fans of traditional progressive rock, who found the music closer to radio-friendly AOR pop. However, Asia clicked with fans of arena acts such as Journey, Boston, and Electric Light Orchestra. Rolling Stone gave Asia an indifferent review, while still acknowledging the band's musicianship had been a cut above the usual AOR expectations.
The tracks from the Asia debut have stood the test of time and are played on classic rock stations throughout the world today. The Asia debut has become legendary in the genre of classic rock. "Sole Survivor" also received heavy air play on rock stations across the US. The US tour also did extremely well, selling out every date on the '82 and '83 tours, while the MTV channel played their videos on heavy rotation. Billboard named the Asia debut as album of the year.
Asia became known as pioneers of phase two of the progressive rock era by avoiding long winded forays that included, to at least a greater extent than phase-one, enough commercial polish to attract radio airplay outside of album-rock circles. Yes' 90125 and Big Generator, ELPowell's Emerson, Lake & Powell in 1986, and the GTR album would all follow in the Asia debut album's footsteps.
However, neither the second nor any following Asia album repeated the chart success of the first. The power ballad "Don't Cry" entered the Top Ten in 1983, while "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes," a fan favourite for John Wetton vocal performance, charted inside of Billboard's top 40. But Rolling Stone panned Alpha as an over-produced commercial album, while others lamented that Howe and Palmer were effectively reduced to session musicians. However, many Asia fans favour Alpha over the debut. The tracks "Eye To Eye" and "My Own Time" became huge fan favourites. "Open Your Eyes" and "The Heat Goes On" became concert staples. Alpha received indifferent reviews from various critics, while still attaining platinum status. Alpha reached #6 on the USA Billboard album chart.
In 1983, Wetton was forced out of the group on the heels of the comparatively disappointing sales of Alpha, while ELP frontman
Greg Lake replaced him for the highly publicised "Asia in Asia" concert in Japan, which was the first concert broadcast over satellite to MTV in the US, and later made into a home video. Asia reformed with Wetton in 1985 to start work on their next album, but Steve Howe soon left to be replaced by Krokus guitarist Mandy Meyer. However, Howe would enjoy brief and very minor success with GTR, another supergroup formed with Steve Hackett of Genesis, produced by Downes.
For Buggles see Number 699
For ELO see Number 790
For Genesis see Number 684
What does Rolling Stone think about Asia?
Boasting a Seventies supergroup pedigree – Yes guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Carl Palmer (of Emerson, Lake and ...), King Crimson and U.K. singer-bassist John Wetton, and Buggles and late-model Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes–Asia actually has little to do with the cosmic debris and art-rock noodling of yesteryear. Instead, the group's debut album is molded in the AOR radio image of Boston, Journey and Styx: heavy melodies with grandstand pop hooks, Mormon Tabernacle Choir harmonies and guitar-synthesizer blasts.
In all fairness, Asia has an edge over the rest of the pack because of Wetton's throaty vocal resonance and Howe's ability to turn out ingenious guitar phrases, twisting Chuck Berry riffs and classical scales into creative knots in the middle of "Sole Survivor" and in the brief showoff section of "Wildest Dreams." It's also hard to argue with the insistent singalong charm of Top Forty muscle like "Heat of the Moment." The disturbing thing about Asia is the sound of talented players rolling over and playing dead for the sake of airplay. Their exotic name is really just a flimsy disguise for one more American-radio dream. (RS 369)DAVID FRICKE
For Styx see Number 704
For Chuck Berry see Number 783