Asia – Asia (1982)

Asia album cover
Asia album cover

I have to admit, I was a big Asia fan. When the 2005 film The 40 Year Old Virgin came out, the Andy Stitzer character played by Steve Carell had a big Asia poster in his house. That had become a kind of running joke, as Asia’s debut came out at about the time many people now in their 40s (like me) were teenagers.

In high school I remember writing an overly positive review of the then new self-titled debut. Looking back at it, the things that made Asia’s music appealing are still there – at least with this album.

I’m still a fan, but my interest dropped off after the second album Alpha in 1986. Cool album covers aside, the band seemed to stray from the original formula that made Asia such a success. That formula being nice melodies against a big rock guitar sound and John Wetton’s sometimes thin voice.

A hit might not have been the first thing to come to mind when a bunch of old prog rockers got together and formed a  supergroup, but that’s what happened. Composed of former members of The Buggles, Yes, King Crimson and Emerson Lake and Palmer, Asia had the virtue of sounding vaguely familiar, like an old record cleaned up for the modern pop charts.

That success was due to each of the members not succumbing to the excesses impulses of their old bands. Prog rock had the reputation of wondering to the point of being radio unfriendly.  But still, the name, the cover art it was all intriguing. Even before ever hearing the music, I was drawn in by the Rodger Dean cover art. This was still a time when album cover art really mattered.

Dean’s cover art adorned nearly all the classic Yes albums of the ’70s and his updated style ranked among the decades best – right up there with covers for Super Tramp, The Cars or Duran Duran.

While Asia’s members all came from bands with a certain edge, it was the ex-Buggles keyboard player Geoff Downs who wrapped Asia’s sound with a pop sensibility their old bands lacked.

The first single ‘Heat of the Moment’  however sounded more like straight up rock. It’s big rock guitar sound and crafty video had helped it slowly move up the charts during the summer of 1982 to become a huge hit.

It was reminiscent of Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer, but with all the quirky edges polished away. Never mind that John Wetton’s voice could be shrill when pressed, Asia had all the classic elements in place to produce arena style rock that was still relevant in the MTV era.

Aside from a few subdued rockers like ‘Soul Survivor’ and ‘Time Again’, the album seemed dominated my mid-tempo songs like the hit ‘Only Time Will Tell’. While not as good as the best of any of the formally associated bands that made up Asia, it did offer a glimpse into a early ’80s version of the all but dead prog rock genre.

The next release lost the hard edge that made Asia appealing. Shortly after that the band remained productive well into the small years of the new millenium. Although I moved on from their music, I still look out for their cool album covers.

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