Getting the music right, after all of these years, is in many ways the easy part. What changes, inevitably, for bands of Asia’s vintage are the vocals.
Time, rock-star indulgences, years of screaming to the back of packed stadiums, all of it works in tandem to deepen, darken, crack and fade the voices of even the most robust frontmen.
It’s something many bands can’t overcome, sending more than a few to younger replacement vocalists – even as the other sidemen grow ever grayer.
Asia, now in the sixth year of an original-lineup reunion that followed some two decades apart, finds itself in much the same position: Musically, the group has lost nothing: Keyboardist Geoff Downes (the Buggles, Yes), guitarist Steve Howe (Yes), drummer Carl Palmer (Emerson Lake and Palmer) and bassist John Wetton (King Crimson, UK, Wishbone Ash) are in top form on Resonance: The Omega Tour, recreating — and, in some cases, brilliantly extending — the lithe prog-pop that sent their first pair of early-1980s albums to the top of the charts.
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Geoff Downes discusses the reunion of the original Asia lineup, his initial spark with John Wetton, and working with Steve Howe both in Asia and in Yes.]
As a vocalist, however, Wetton’s instrument has been utterly changed. The difference is, he has gotten better with age. Everything he does here is amazing — those newly twilit corners in his voice, the emotional burr at his quietest moments, the wild sexual abandon of his broadest calls.
As a result, the songs on Resonance, recorded on May 4, 2010 at Basel, Switzerland and due as a new live 2 CD/DVD set on November 23, 2012 via Frontiers, are different, better, more interesting.
Listen to the way Wetton sighs at the end of the line “with me all starry eyed,” in “Only Time Will Tell”; the achingly honest intro (not to mention the growling way he sings “take a look around you”) on “Don’t Cry,” now smartly presented as a duet with Downes; and the singer’s plaintive croon — where once there was only a burning fury — on “Heat of the Moment.”
Of course, these subtle graduations are most noticeable during songs from Asia’s meteoric initial hit-making period between 1982-83. In fact, six of the 18 songs on this 2-CD set could be originally found on their self-titled debut and 1983’s follow up Alpha.
But Wetton also adds new colors to more recent fare, including several cuts from the then-new Omega, as well as songs from 2008’s Phoenix (the first Asia project to feature Downes, Howe, Palmer and Wetton since ’83) — most notably on Wetton’s stirringly autobiographical “An Extraordinary Life.”
Asia avoids the John Payne years, while Wetton was gone, and includes just one track – the minor hit “Go” – from the Howe-less 1985 album Astra. Howe, in turn, gets his moment with a presentation of “All’s A Chord,” from his 1979 solo project The Steve Howe Album, and the familiar acoustic number “The Valley of Rocks.”
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