Proof of how AOR dominated the early eighties came in the way it was embraced by musicians from a different background. So, when Steve Howe left YES, along with former Buggle Geoff Downes, and joined forces with Carl Palmer of ELP and John Wetton, who had seemingly played with every British band in the seventies, this supergroup put old-school progressive rock behind them. Instead they crafted a commercial, radio friendly and more direct sound.
It was a spectacular success with album opener ‘Heat of the Moment’ a worldwide smash (I first heard on holiday in Germany that year). Even with its catchiness and Wetton’s trademark rich and deep vocals full of character, it is no ordinary song with a quirkily unconventional solo from Howe over Palmer’s drum fills.
Indeed the opening trio are glorious with a trademark ‘parping’ keyboard from Downes introducing ‘Only Time Will Tell’ and ‘Sole Survivor’ featuring some great guitar runs from Howe. The album is immaculately produced by Mike Stone, while rather than the fantastical themes of old-school prog, love was the primary lyrical theme, with a few exceptions such as the anti-war ‘Wildest Dreams’, with some military-style drumming. Yet what sets Asia apart from other AOR albums is that it is more musically intricate. The members’ background still shines through with ‘Time Again’, probably the hardest rocking song, a good example with unexpected changes of tempo and time signature.
‘Without You’ has some spectacular instrumental passages and Downes runs riot with his synths both on this and ‘Here Comes The Feeling’, while there is some great guitar/keyboard interplay on ‘Cutting It Fine’ which has an almost orchestral outro. The overall effect is to create almost mini symphonies wrapped up within concise, melodically oriented songs.
It was the top selling album in the USA of 1982 but still stands tall today as a masterpiece of AOR with a progressive and pomp feel.