Book review: On track…ASIA (Every album, every song) by Peter Braidis

On track...ASIA (Every Album, Every Song) by Peter Braidis

Sonicbond Publishing [Release date 14.05.21]

Asia were formed in 1981, one of the enduring melodic rock “supergroups” of that decade and one of the most successful.  Many readers will only remember the “classic” original line-up (and debut album) but this book reiterates the band’s continuity through the 1990s when the mainstay remained keyboard player Geoff Downes.  It also acknowledges the contribution of John Payne who continues to this day with his own version of the band focusing on his own era (1992-2004).

Of course, the Payne-era often divides fans just as the Trevor Rabin period does for Yes.

The original line-up got back together for an excellent retread ‘Phoenix’ in 2008 but sadly John Wetton passed in 2017 and the band has been on hiatus ever since.

As with all books in this series, the reader can dip in and out and reinforce their own theories about the best albums and maybe discover some that need re-evaluation.

Personally, I’ve never been convinced of Steve Howe’s contribution over the years, he’s a consummate guitarist but his approach is not always empathic to what is essentially a melodic/pomp rock band.  In this respect, he also struggles when playing the Rabin-period stuff in Yes.

For me, it is the John Payne years that are worthy of investigation and reflects the strength of albums like ‘Aqua’ (1992) and ‘Arena’ (1994).  During this period, of course, commercially the band fought the changing musical climate and more particularly the onset of Grunge which diverted record label attention from melodic/progressive rock.

My favourite, ‘Aura’ from 2001, featured Guthrie Govan on guitar with Chris Slade on drums.  Braidis describes the album as “arguably the band’s best album of the John Payne era.”  It wasn’t helped by the label folding but the band did manage a UK tour to promote it.

It was A&R supremo John Kalodner who brought the band together and he would later re-purpose Whitesnake’s career.  In the 1970s John Wetton had been working with various bands releasing a solo album in 1980.  Kalodner recognised Wetton’s writing and performing talent and fashioned a new vehicle bringing him together with Steve Howe who had recently left Yes.

There was also the enduring pairing of Wetton and keyboard player Geoff Downes (Yes)  who both had a church music background.  Wetton explained to me in 2009 that this helped fashion their use of melody and counterpoint.

The band’s formation is relayed via quotes from the standard work by David Gallant and then we are straight in to the track by track analysis peppered with more quotes from this source and a sprinkling of original interview material.

There’s a section on live recordings, which helpfully discusses their relative merits, compilations, videos and “spin-offs”, including Wetton and Downes’ iCon configuration.  This makes the book a genuinely useful guide to the Hydra-like behemoth that was Asia.  ****

Review by David Randall

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