Asia - Aura

Year of Release: 2001
Label: Windstorm Records
Catalog Number: 670211-3003-22001
Format: CD
Total Time: 77:00:00

So you find yourself in "oughty two"; MOR is little more than you can do...

Well, I couldn't quite parody all the lyrics of that verse from "Heat Of The Moment", and truthfully, Aura was released in 2000 not 2002, but as I was thinking of classic Asia, this came to mind. I guess you might say it was written in the heat of the moment.

Nearly every reviewer here has had a crack at reviewing Asia's Aura. Well, yes, I'm havin' at it, too. If our mentioning of black and gore metal bands in the news page was exceeding the limits of what is considered progressive music, then including Asia -- this Asia -- exceeds those boundaries at the other end. This is even beyond AOR. But here's an interesting thought -- looking at the lyrics for "Ready To Go Home" (which does have a proggish ending that doesn't last nearly long enough), we find someone who is seemingly ready to die. Hey, isn't that a theme in dark metal? Here it's put into soft focus, and yet one still gets the feeling of someone who is weary of some pain. I do love Howe's tootling guitar phrases on "The Last Time." See, and that's the thing. This is all so well played and produced, and so very smooth and solid and shiny that it's hard to not like it, except from the perspective of wanting something with a little more teeth. And maybe we're trying to make Asia something they're not, nor ever going to be. Howe, for example, who contributes guitar to two tracks, has his own solo outlet as well as Yes, so guesting on someone else's release gives him the opportunity to paint with different colours, even if they don't stretch him any.

Soft-focus. That is a very apt term in which to describe this entire album. I kept thinking of Mike And The Mechanics and the dying days of Genesis. I find myself wanting some sharp edges, as I said. They get close with "Kings Of The Day" which strongly echoes "The Living Years" (from The Living Years [1988]) -- you could even sing the lyrics of the Mechanics tune to it. Here we get some nice jazzy guitar from Guthrie Govan (who we get to hear on the jazzy, dance-like piece "The Longest Night"). One would expect some bite to "Forgive Me" which targets the often targeted televised religion, but alas, no. Every song has that romantic, love-song feel about it, even if the lyrics don't. The impression is an album full of ballads, though the only true ballad is "On The Coldest Day In Hell"...and then again, maybe not. The songs are unspecific enough that the love and dedication in them could be romantic love or it could be agape, or love of god. Given the strongly...well, spiritual...nature of all the pieces here, I'm going to say it's more of the latter than the former, but, as I said, written in such a away that a secular interpretation is equally valid.

It's funny - and true coincidence - that I finally get around to reviewing and examining this album on a lyrical level while a discussion regarding reviewer bias against religiously themed prog is being discussed on E-Prog. I think it a good thing that the lyrics here, mostly written by Payne and Downes, leave room for the listeners own interpretation -- it doesn't limit their audience to one particular segment. One of the other co-writers is Andrew Gold, who many probably know from his two hits "Lonely Boy" and "Thank You For Being A Friend." Know that he doesn't throw us any surprises here.

The song that gives us that edge we've been waiting for is "Free" -- over parping keys (Downes), we get booming bass from Payne and crisp, taught from the always impressive Simon Phillips as well as some terrific guitar work from Howe, Ian Crichton (Saga) and Pat Thrall. There's quite a bit of meat here to hold onto. In contrast, I could easily hear *Nsync or Backstreet Boys or the like sing/dance their way through "You're The Stranger" Egads! I wasn't kidding about the "easily hear" part, as now I've got this very image firmly planted in my head. However, and to my relief, it also makes me think of The Alan Parson's Project. The instrumental title track, which closes the album proper, is a very cool piece of music, with interesting drumming from Michael Sturgis, percussion from Luis Jardim, and guitar playing from Elliot Randall. Maybe the best overall track here. It's energetic jazz-rock, but not quite fusion. It's nothing like classic Asia, but this is a direction I'd like to seem them go in, if they aren't going in the prog direction. It ends abruptly, however, which seems like a production error.

I'm reviewing the import digipack version, so there are three additional tracks not on, I'm assuming, the standard version. Latter day Billy Joel (when he was writing pop-rock music) comes to mind with "Under The Gun" (as if performed by M TM). Keys take on an almost brass, sax like sound, and a real brass section would have been a great addition, not that the synthesized sounds are bad. Why this would have been left off the standard release, I'm not sure. It's a nice, jazzy piece.

So, once past the first few very pop tracks, the album improves. It isn't really all that bad, even saying that. Really. I mean, I'd certainly rather listen to Asia's brand of rock-pop. It's slick and smooth, and may not be to everyone's taste, but if your love of music includes AOR/MOR*, then you really can't find anyone better than Asia -- with all their guest, truly a supergroup.

*MOR: if you have never come across this term, it means Middle Of The Road. AOR: Album Oriented Rock. Both are (US?) radio terms describing a particular format, but just as often nowadays used derogatorily.

Awake (6:08) / Wherever You Are (5:14) / Ready To Go Home (4:50) / The Last Time (4:56) / Forgive Me (5:26) / Kings Of The Day (6:51) / On The Coldest Day In Hell (6:25) / Free (8:51) / You're The Stranger (6:05) / The Longest Night (5:28) / Aura (4:14) / Under The Gun (4:48) / Come Make My Day (5:01) / Hands Of Time (5:23)

Geoff Downes - keyboards
John Payne - lead vocals, bass, guitar
Steve Howe - guitar
Elliott Randall - guitar
Pat Thrall - guitar
Ian Crichton - guitar
Guthrie Govan - guitar
Tony Levin - bass
Vinnie Colaiuta - drums
Simon Phillips - drums
Chris Slade - drums
Michael Sturgis - drums
Luis Jardim - percussion
Neil Lockwood - additional backing vocals
Gary Liederman - bass
David Grant's Gospel Choir

Alpha (1983)
Astra (1985)
Then & Now (1990)
Live in Moscow (1991)
Aqua (1992)
Aria (1994)
Arena (1996)
Archiva I (1996)
Archiva II (1996)
Live In Nottingham (1997)
Live In Osaka (1997)
Live in Köln (1997)
Asia Live In Philadelphia (1997)
Live At The Town & Country Club (1999)
Live Acoustic (1999)
Rare (1999)
Anthology (1999)
Axioms (1999)
Archives - The Best Of Asia 1988-1997 (2000)
Heat Of The Moment: The Very Best Of Asia 1982-1990 (2000)
The Collection (2000)
Aura (2000/2001)
Enso Kai (Live In Tokyo 1983) (2001)
Alive In Hallowed Halls (2001)
America - Live In The USA (2002)
Anthologia: 20th Anniversary Geffen Years Collection 1982-1990 (2002)
Dragon Attack (2003)
Live In Buffalo (2003)
Live In Hyogo (2003)
Live In Massachusetts '83 (2004)
Silent Nation (2004)
Gold (2005)
Definitive Collection (2006)
Live In Nottingham (2007)
Fantasia - Live In Tokyo (2007)
Extended Versions (2007)
Phoenix (2008)
Omega (2010)
Live Around The World (2010)
Resonance (The Omega Tour 2010) (2012)
XXX (2012)

Asia In Asia (VHS) (1984)
Classic Rock Legends (DVD) (2001)
Live In Moscow 1990 (DVD) (2003)
America: Live In The USA (DVD) (2003)
Fantasia - Live In Tokyo (2007)
Spirit Of The Night - The Phoenix Tour - Live In Cambridge 2009 (DVD) (2009)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: April 21st 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 831
Language: english


[ Back to Reviews Index | Post Comment ]