Tag Archives: Arena Rock

My Vinyl Solution #0003: Asia – Alpha

My Vinyl Solution is simple: I’m listening to my records. As my collection has grown, I’ve realized that I’ve been spending too much time amassing lps, to the point that I have no idea of what I even own. Hence, this column.

Asia - Alpha

When we last left off, I was saying that the Asia album you want is the one with “Heat of the Moment” on it. Well, this is not that album. But from about the first 15 seconds of Alpha, I’m thinking this one might just be a keeper.

The opening track is a fast-tempo, synth-driven rocker, “Don’t Cry,” that sounds so familiar I must have heard it a million times on the radio when I was a kid. Or maybe it just sounds enough like REO Speedwagon that I think I’ve heard it. John Wetton could win a Kevin Cronin sound-alike contest in a heartbeat, I think. This is not a good song, really, but it hints at being something I might want to listen to again.

The next track, “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” opens with a synth piano riff that’s similarly cut from the Top 40-friendly, REO ballad playbook. This is not good music in any way, shape or form, and it’s so thin and weak sounding from a production standpoint that I wonder what the hell the guys recording this album were thinking. There’s just no depth to the sound and very little bass.

Thankfully, this album seems to move pretty quickly. Indeed, for a group of guys hailing from prog rock bands, it’s pretty amazing that six of the 10 cuts on this lp clock in under the magic four-minute mark. Clearly they were trying to make pop music here.

The third track on the “alpha” side of Alpha, “Never In A Million Years” at least has some nice guitar playing on it, and it’s this – Steve Howe’s contribution – that makes me like this record better than Astra.

The next track still hasn’t solved my problems with the production any, but “My Own Time (I’ll Do What I Want)” does have a nice chorus and for some reason, it’s getting me to thinking about the similarities between Asia and Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Both were “supergroups” composed of guys who were really successful in other bands. Neither ever lived up to their promise. But the big difference between CSN and Asia is that by the time Asia showed up on the scene, the whole supergroup thing had already been played out. CSN had lost their way and other assemblages of star power had fizzled, like Blind Faith and Bad Company. I don’t know much about the history of Asia, nor do I really care, because it just seems like this was a bad idea from the start. I suppose as far as bad ideas of the early 1980’s go, there were far worse ones, like Reaganomics and the Cadillac Cimarron, but I digress.

“The Heat Goes On” is the rocking-est song on the first side of the album, and again, it’s Steve Howe who really shines amidst this lot of really mediocre songs. But I can’t really tell if it’s the songs or the recording, because I can’t really hear anything other than a blast of synthesized noise, even while I sit and intently listen. Picking out the instruments is damn near impossible, and there’s absolutely no sound stage to this record. I may as well be listening to it on a clock radio, rather than my stereo.

The “Beta” side opens with “Eye to Eye,” which is probably the best track on the album. It’s a legitimate hard rock song, and Wetton actually sounds kind of angry here. There’s a proggy sort of keyboard part with a change in tempo that’s backed up against a cheesy Beach Boys-style chorus, but it all kind of works. I really like this song, and it’s the first track that I’m really wishing was actually recorded well.

But that’s the thing, all of this album just sounds like crap. Checking out the liner notes while listening to the slow ballad, “The Last to Know,” I see that the album was recorded at Le Studio in Quebec, on two 24-track tape machines (Two? Really? Who in the hell needs 48 tracks?), and then mixed digitally. The result is like trying to stuff 10 pounds of shit in a five-pound bag. And a really bad bag, at that.

Digital gets a bad rap among audiophile types (yes, I’m sort of one), but the more I delve into this subject, I realize that it’s not digital itself that sucks but how digital recording and playback are poorly used and implemented that’s the problem. Clearly this is an example of an album that, because of being digitally mixed, sounds bad, even on an analog playback system. I’m not listening to a CD, which would probably just compound the problems with the compressed and brittle sound, but a good old-fashioned record. And it still sucks.

“The Last to Know,” turns out to be a great epic track, which grows into something that I wish I would have slow danced to in middle school. The next song, “True Colors,” however, just tries too hard and winds up sounding like a bad soundtrack cut from movie about an amateur sports team. “Midnight Sun” might as well be album filler, a slowish song about who the hell knows what, but at least Howe gets a solo on it.

I’m really tired of listening by the time the album closes with “Open Your Eyes,” the only truly long song on the album, at 6:26. But it’s not the big delicious prog rock mess it should be. It’s just a bad pop song with an electric piano and guitar “interlude” that doesn’t belong – but does waste a good minute of your life.

Runout Groove: There’s a pair of 24-track master tapes out there begging to be remixed in analog with more Steve Howe. I’ll keep this around for comparison, just in case that ever happens.

Geffen GHS 4008, 1983

Asia: official reunion websiteallmusic.comWikipediaAmazon
Original photos copyright 2012 Jeff Sabatini

My Vinyl Solution #0002: Asia – Astra

My Vinyl Solution is simple: I’m listening to my records. As my collection has grown, I’ve realized that I’ve been spending too much time amassing lps, to the point that I have no idea of what I even own. Hence, this column.

Asia - Astra
Asia, Astra

So the first thing you may notice if you read my last column post, is that regardless of what kind of writer I am, I clearly don’t have a grasp of the alphabet. Or more to the point, I’ve done a really crappy job of organizing my records. Now I could waste a bunch of time going through and making sure that my records are indeed, alphabetized. Or I could spend the time actually listening. Clearly there is only one choice here, and that’s to forge ahead and pull the lp’s off the shelf in whatever order they are in and call it good.

Thinking about the last time I did go through the arduous task of alphabetizing all these records, I seem to recall at least getting them close enough such that all the A’s are together, all the B’s follow, and so on and so forth. That will just have to suffice here. But it also brings up another point, which is that all my jazz albums (and I think blues, as well) are separated out from the rest. Which means this is going to be a very rock-centered endeavor, unless, of course, I mix the jazz in as I go along, which I think I should do.

In fact, since I’ve established that things are only going to progress along in a poor facsimile of order, I’m going to give myself free reign to toss in whatever albums I feel like to mix things up. Besides the jazz and blues, I also have a substantial stack of records that are unfiled simply because I lack the shelf space. Hopefully as I free some up by discovering crap that I have no reason to keep and then getting rid of it, I can integrate these many records that are still living in milk crates.

And that brings us to Asia’s Astra, fittingly enough. Side one kicks off with “Go,” which has an interesting chorus. Yeah right. “Get up and go” is, however, an ominous beginning, because despite my love of arena rock, it’s exactly what I want to do. This album really sounds terrible from the first note.

“Voice of America” may be a tribute to the military radio station, it may not. I really don’t care, because despite liking the chorus quite a bit, this song sounds like it’s about twice as long as it needs to be.

“Hard On Me” is, indeed, hard on me. The synths are just embarrassing. I mean, I could listen to something like Yes’ Big Generator all day long and not get tired of it, and Tony Kaye is using gear from the same era, recording in the same sorts of studios, and the sound is somewhat similar. Except that it doesn’t suck.

Which brings up the big question I am asking myself as I try and ignore this mid-tempo ballad, “Wishing,” while resisting the temptation to write another bad pun based on the name of the song. Who the hell are these guys in Asia? Now I’ve never listened to this record before, but I’ve kept it around for a few years since acquiring it, thinking that Asia was one of those bands that I’d be instantly familiar with from years of listening to classic rock radio.

But as this first side ends with the insipid “Rock and Roll Dream” (which rhymes “reality” with “never see”), I’m realizing I’ve never heard any of these awful songs before. And thank goodness.

Despite not wanting to flip the album and debating just cutting it short, side two starts with a song called “Countdown to Zero,” which is actually kind of good. It begins with something that sounds almost exactly like the THX “Deep Note,” and for the first time I am motivated to actually pull out the sleeve and look at the liner notes, which are as uninteresting as most of the music. “Zero” at least turns into a perfect ’80s Cold War paranoia song, worthy of being included on a mix tape right next to Sting’s “Russians.

It’s here though that I’ve had it. Clearly this record is going to Encore in the hopes of generating some trade credit. The remaining songs, “Love Now Till Eternity,” “Too Late,” “Suspicion,” and “After The War” aren’t as bad as the truly atrocious first side, or maybe I’m just growing comfortably numb. At least this album was not released during the CD era in the ’90s, as then I could have had an extra 25 minutes to slog through.

Runout Groove: This is not the Asia record with “Heat of the Moment” on it. That’s the one you want.

Asia - Astra
Geffen GHS 24072, 1985

Asia: official reunion websiteallmusic.comWikipediaAmazon
Original photos copyright 2012 Jeff Sabatini

Pilot To Gunner – Get Saved

Pilot To GunnerGet Saved (Arena Rock)

What we have here is a record that made me feel not the normal highs and lows of experiencing an album for the first time, but almost as though I’ve been robbed. All of the elements of a good record are there—hooky melodies, a solid, music-can-save-you-and-your-future-children opening/title track, a cheeky sense of irony. The problem is that so does everything else these days. When all the aforementioned elements are put together in a way-too-slick production and sound like they’re performed by Appealing Rock Singer Prototype One™, we got a problem here. I found myself wanting to scream at them, “TRY HARDER!”

Yes, I’m very sorry that you’ve spent a great deal of your musical careers opening for bigger bands and being underappreciated, but did you have to write a song about it (“Hey Carrier”)? Yes, I, too, feel that the music scene is full of posers and it must be much more intolerable in New York (“Metropolitan,” “Dry Ice & Strobe Lights”). This is not a revelation, and there would have to be actual feeling behind the lyrics or an innovative way of telling this fact to make me accept that there are two songs on the subject. There’s basically nothing about this record that makes me care. It’s rock by numbers, and I could see them fitting in between Blink 182 and Hoobastank on your local alterna-lite station. Smart listeners, I think, need much, much more than that.

You can download Barrio Superstarrio via Arena Rock.