Recognition, 2001

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Let's be honest here: at what point can you say that an Asia album isn't really an Asia album? With the revolving door of musicians who have, at one point or another, graced this lineup, you could rightfully argue that Asia ceased to exist when the original quartet of John Wetton, Steve Howe, Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer was amended - first by Wetton's firing/dismissal (depending on who you believe) and return, then by Howe's departure.

So, by the time you get to 2001's Aura, the ninth studio effort, the only original member left was keyboardist Downes, and this lineup was as much Asia as it was The Buggles, if you want to split hairs. If anything, this effort was mostly a collection of songs featuring Downes and, by that time, longtime member John Payne (who later would tour his own lineup of Asia), along with a gaggle of guest musicians - including original guitarist Howe!

The prog-rock backbone that Asia had been built on was, by now, long gone, leaving album-oriented rock in its place - and, while it's not bad, it's also nothing one might go out of their way to search for. (The key word here is "search," seeing that the label this version of Asia recorded this disc for folded about a year after its release.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The opening track "Awake" sets the tone for what the listener is in for over the course of the next hour (or, if you have the Digi-Pak, nearly 80 minutes). Payne is a decent enough vocalist, but one does feel some twinges of melancholy that it's not Wetton still fronting the band at times. (I know... I need to move forward, seeing that Wetton had been gone for about a decade by the time this disc was released.) It's a pleasant enough song, though it feels like a minute or so could have been lopped off without affecting its power.

At this point, you need a scorecard to figure out who is playing on which track. Musicians as diverse as Guthrie Govan, Simon Phillips (Toto, The Who), Vinnie Colaiuta (Frank Zappa), Ian Crichton (Saga), Howe... cripes, they even get Chris Slade (AC/DC) to drum on a few tracks!

You would think that having different musicians on almost every track would make Aura an unlistenable mess... but, somehow, that portion of the equation seems seamless.

As for the remainder of the music, it's pleasant enough, I'll give it that. Tracks like "Free," "Forgive Me" and the title track stand out, and suggest that there could still be gas in the musical tank for this band. If there were more on-fire moments like this, I'd feel even better.

It's not that the remainder of the album is bad; it's just nothing noteworthy. And it's not necessarily that I'm expecting to hear another "Only Time Will Tell" or "Heat Of The Moment" again, 'cause I know bands have to grow and mature. But it just seems that Asia was still struggling to discover where they fit in, in terms of the musical landscape. And, despite the obligatory Roger Dean album cover, it definitely wasn't the world of prog-rock anymore.

Aura, in and of itself, isn't a bad album, but it's not one that makes the listener's hair on the back of their neck stand up in excitement, knowing they're listening to something special. Maybe - just maybe - if this band had been called something other than Asia, it would have been easier to put it in its rightful musical place, and it would have been a little more accessible.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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