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ASIA
AURA

Recognition Records / Universal
Produced by: Simon Hanhart

Released: OUT / Website
Closest Relative: Cornerstone, Dare
GENRE: Progressive AOR
OVERALL: 62%

  1. Awake
  2. Wherever You Are
  3. Ready To Come Home
  4. The Last Time
  5. Forgive Me
  6. Kings Of The Day
  7. On The Coldest Day In Hell
  8. Free
  9. You're A Stranger
  10. The Longest Night
  11. Aura

I was really looking forward to hearing the new Asia album, after their last one Arena left me a little disappointed and the one before that (Aria) left me wanting more.
It has been a few years since Arena and on Aura the guys have called in all the stops, with an impressive line up of talent involved.
In comes famed progressive producer Simon Hanhart, who does an OK job with the material presented, certainly not as sharp as some of his other production work.
The nucleus of the band - vocalist John Payne and keyboardist Geoff Downes are joined by some familiar names in Tony Levin on bass, Steve Howe, Elliot Randall, Pat Thrall and Ian Crichton on guitars and Vinnie Colaiuta, Simon Phillips and Michael Sturgis on drums.
You would think that with a guitar line up such as this, the album would be more dominated by some classic guitar riff work, but it isn't necessarily so.
The first four tracks are typical of recent era Asia - big, moody with an epic feel, with layers of rich keyboard and vocal textures, surrounded by the necessary accompanying instrumental support.
These tracks all have their necessary allotment of melodic hooks, plus a few chord changes and harmony vocals separating the chorus from the verse by the narrowest of margins.
Wherever You Are and Ready To Come Home offer the best examples of epic AOR balladry at it's best, with sweeping harmonies over a moody backdrop. Whenever You Are also features some tidy guitar work.
If you liked the moody and laid back Cornerstone release, and even the feel of the last Dare album, this compares favorably.
But the whole affair is surprisingly laid back, and after these first 4 tracks pass and with the exception of the good ballad On The Coldest Day In Hell, the rest of the album is a little uninspired and actually a little dull.
It just gets a little slow and repetitious and by the time the instrumental title track Aura passes, you will be well and truly ready for the album to finish.
Taken individually, there is probably little fault to find with each track. But collectively, there is little variation and distinction between them.
It is definitely an album for early morning or late night listening. I wouldn't take this out in the ca with me, for fear of falling asleep at the wheel.
BOTTOM LINE: In reality, if you take the line up of players on this album and add their collective past achievements together, you could not be blamed for expecting more. At least an album - style aside - with more life in it.
It unfortunately sounds flat and uninspired over several songs, with only a handful of tracks warranting repeat listens.
If soft and moody does it for you - this might. Good in parts, but as an overall addition to the excellent Asia legacy, it's a disappointing album.
PRODUCTION: 75% SONGS: 70% VIBE: 50%ATTITUDE: 50%
ESSENTIAL FOR: Long time Asia fans and Geoff Downes die-hards. Some fans of the included guest musicians.



08/09/04: John Clinkscale - jaohnclinkscale@aol.com
Rating: 90
This review is late to the show, but I still wanted to add my cents. The reviewer has made many good points in his review, and as well a fans remarks about re-reviewing the album after the 3 extra songs were added to the album. i believe the album was/is a great album, but definitely had its lower points. However, I do have to say in defense of my favorite band, teh song AWAKE is dead away one of the best AOR songs released during the last few years. Without throwing too much of any one thing in your face but delivering all the essential neccesities of a progressive rock song, this song delivers. As well another reviewer mentioned you forgot one of the albums highlights, "Free". My Guess is you got halfway through your listen, and heard the melodic, and gentle keyboard intro, and hit track forward before the kickass high energy blast of music that that song is hit the speakers. THIS song gives you in your face synth/bass/guitar with a rock and roll back beat and a bunch of amazing guitar work you claim was missing from "all the talent" ensembled. In the 3 bonus songs, you get a great pick up with "come make my day" and the 2nd prog rocker "hands of Time" I do have to agree there are some spots on the album where it does become a bit A.M. radio, but with such a large selection of styles,genres,and high quality musicianship, this album deserves WAY more than your average & below review. At least it needs to be in the very good category.

15/04/03: Peter Savin - psavin@siebel.com
Rating: 88
Andrew,

Your reviews usually influence my next purchase. (I'm currently listening to Harem Scarem's Weight of the World for the 150th time - thanks!). With that said, I would recommend you (re) review Aura, including their expanded release with three other songs - Under the Gun, Come Make My Day, and Hands of Time. These three songs, as well as Free (which you mysteriously never mentioned in your review) give the back half of the album serious backbone and flow. Aura turned me on to 90's Asia, as I quickly purchased Aqua, Aria, and Arena. I think Aura provides their most sophisticated song-writing, keyboard arrangements, and also shows Payne's vocals at their best. With Asia in the studio working on a new album, this is a good time to dust off your copy and give it another go. I think you'll reconsider your surprising low score of 62

25/11/02: Kristian - kwinger74@yahoo.com
Rating: 95
Needless to say, this is the best Asia album in the last 15 years. When you feel something freezing during listening to the CD, you're gifted. Very human and very beautiful music. That's why AOR is ADULT. Thankx for this stuff, guys!

01/09/02: Daniel Ames - nightrangerfan2002@yahoo.com
Rating: 94
This is absolutely the finest Asia record yet. I am simply shocked by some of the negative postings here. To be sure, it is a sophisticated, dynamic, and thoughtful album, lacking the "power-rock" standards epitomized on the band's debut album. This is the best album by ANYONE in this decade, bar none, and my tastes range from jazz to classical to hard rock. BUY THIS ALBUM!

31/08/02: Alex Lee Ericsson - alex_lee_ericsson@yahoo.com
Rating: 9
This is very good AOR (very melodic) Album...but very soft.
Vinnie Colaiuta is AWESOME again....if you love westcoast-style AOR BUY this One...By the Way a song Called READY TO GO HOME was on MITCH MALLOY record "sailings & Walls...NICE

07/08/02: Miitra Uskali - miitra.uskali@automaster.fi
Rating: 95
Great album. Absolutely the most enjoyable album they've made so far. Anyway, did you know that the song 'Ready To Go Home' have already been released by Morten Harket (A-ha lead singer) in his solo album 'Wild Seed' 1995. So this song is a cover song....

22/06/02: Mike - mikeybear68@hotmail.com
Rating: 60
After waiting several years for a new Asia release, I was disappointed with Aura. I guess I'm a fan of the Wetton-era Asia because I prefer the band to be more of the progressive rock band they have been in the past. That's not to say that I have anything against John Payne. I liked both Aqua and Aria and had hoped that the band would continue in that vein. With the release of Arena, I became concerned that the band had strayed too far from their rock roots & those concerns have been realized here. Aside from "Wherever You Are" and "Free," the album is too much progressive pop for my taste. I got the digi-pack with the three extra tracks hoping they would be closer to what I was expected. Again, I was disappointed when those tracks sounded more like a Geoff Downs solo project. The album as a whole is not a bad album. The production is very good and the songs themselves aren't bad. They are just not what I was expecting (or hoping) from a new Asia release.

01/05/02: Nick Samaniego - ncsamaniego@compuserve.com
Rating: 80
One thing that has been missed from previous reviews is Mr Guthrie Govan, who despite all the "special guests", plays the majority of the guitar on this album. He is FANTASTIC!!! He can sweep, tap, shred, has a touch of the blues as well, and he's one of the best guitarists I've ever seen live (saw Asia last month in Nottingham, UK). He plays several solos on Aura, and was clearly allowed to show off as he liked.

Yes, there is an excess of slow/mid-tempo numbers (only 3 "rockers", and one's an instrumental) but overall the quality of song is high, as long as you can get used to John Payne's voice, which is nothing like John Wetton (more Rick Astley with a rock edge, dare I say?), and it makes a good listen.

And if you like fast, tasteful guitar and fancy a slightly different context for it, you're in for a treat.

13/08/01: Mike Stockdale - little_mikey1975@yahoo.com
Rating: 25
What can I say, but this album is just awful. Yes, the production is perfect, but the songs just run right together. They are all uninspired, slow lullabyes. Given the talent that appears on this album, there should be some rockers with memorable melodies (ala "Aqua" and the much overlooked "Astra"). Not on Aura. There is just no varitety here, might as well be one 80 minute ballad. Nothing at all jumps out to me from this record. Bad uninspired music with excellent production still amounts to an album full of bad songs. You can purchase my copy on ebay now if you don't believe me! I'be been a fan of the band since day one, was a little disspointed with Arena, and hoping for a turnaround more toward the nearly flawless Aqua album, but not quite. Aura is a well produced album of elevator music.

19/06/01: Tigran Hasic - tigran@home.se
Rating: 80
In today's overflow of cheap mass produced music, latin over influenced vibes, teen and half adult girls and boys bands, and other plastic easily consumed music, there are but a few names that still stand out like a beacon on a stormy night. "The Supergroup of the 80's" Asia is such an example. Born out of the Progressive Rock giants of the 70's (ELP, King Crimson and Yes) into a musical entity never seen before, it gave the musical world a novelty approach, sound, vibe and quality which no one dreamed of possible before. The super quartet Wetton/Downes/Howe/Palmer clearly showed what means to be, as the music magazines of the time depicted it as "the best musicians around..." Taking the both sides of the Atlantic by storm in the early 1980's and selling millions of records of refined, quintessential, slick FM but still progressive, powerful, soaring and melancholic rock Asia became a symbol of quality music. Studio albums "Asia", "Alpha" and "Astra" roared through the radio waves around the world. Grammy awards were almost in the bag.

The early 90's brought change and those same winds swept over Asia. Unfortunately the group dissolved with members departing and at the end leaving the band with the sole survivor at the helm: Geoffrey Downes. Asia's musical/writing spirit was the combination of two extraordinary talents of Wetton/Downes. It was almost an impossible task to taken upon oneself to continue with this project. Loosing Wetton as one of the most distinctive vocals and bass players in the business, the master drumming of Carl Palmer and virtuoso Howe guitars, Asia was left in the writing hands of the keyboard wizard Geoffrey Downes. Bringing aboard John Payne (formerly of ELO) on vocals and bass and having an almost stable row of musicians on the subsequent 3 studio albums of 1990's took Asia into a completely new and uncharted territory. Or was it uncharted?
If the first studio album of the 1990's "Aqua" was a transitional escape (Howe and Palmer were still there in fragments), Aria (the 2nd one) was trying to position itself as a more streamline strong foundation. It produced a strong sound reminiscent of the past Asia glory but still missing the spear carrying songs that "Asia" and "Alpha" had. Al Pitrelli (guitars) and Michael Sturgis (drums) were getting rooted in the group. John Payne's flamboyant, passionate and opera like voice was giving more and more a new emblem to the group. "Aria" brought a strong statement with balance of voice/bass/guitars/keys/drums. Unfortunately the times have changed and so has the preferences. It was difficult to get the huge record labels and producers on board as well as the new audiences and even the ones faithful to the old bands lineup. And once you are out of the game and you come back but not looking as people expect you to look, there is a tough one in front of you. Aqua and Aria were far from commercial successes. It was music done for the sake and love of music and for the loyal fan base. Downes never faltered. The third album attempt "Arena" brought the search for even newer vibes, vistas and musical escapades. It also brought internal changes. Fortunately John Payne asserted himself as the new and "to stay" partner for Geoffrey Downes. "Arena" was a bold attempt but it became sort of a cul de sac in one sense and an opening in other. Contradictory? Maybe, maybe not. The album was over-dominated by keyboard sections, whereas the guitar and drum sections lost their thread totally. John Payne's voice got lost in a wave of new musical searches which almost literally differed from song to song. The production seemed hastily done and uncomplete. Asia as we new it was a thing of the past. "Arena" was progressive but also regressive in many aspects. This proved a blessing in disguise. The turn of the century almost brought the reunion of 3 original members of Asia: Wetton/Downes/Palmer. This meant more or less "putting on ice" the new creative work of Downes/Payne duo. Fortunately or unfortunately (depends how you look at it) the reunion didn't happen. There was also a whole bunch of Asia's live, half live and more dead or live albums thrown out on the market. The search and the pressure was mounting for something new. It was to be or not to be...This brought a shot on the 4th album - "Aura".

Amongst the floods of mass produced music of mediocre or very low quality the genre of AOR/Sympho/Art/Melodic/Progressive (or whatever you want to call it) Rock became almost drowned by it. Fortunately brilliant attempts by new artists and bands like The Storm, Two Fires, Transatlantic, 101 South, Alliance, Arena, Ten, Metropolis, etc and solo acts like Kip Winger, Bob Catley, Hugo and others saved the day. Giants like Journey, Yes, Saga and others made and are making new stuff and survive rather well in the process. Asia was then but it also became 'now'.
And 'now' happened with the appearance of the 4th studio album in the new Asia era -
the brilliant and sophisticated product called "AURA". The long awaited album proved that the phrase "Worth waiting for..." is definitely true. The limited version of the album contains 14 songs, including 3 special tracks. With a splendid producer, array of high class guest musicians, a rejuvenated and 'almost' stable lineup, and not least with Roger Dean back on the cover, Aura is a magnificent and highly progressive attempt by Supergroup Giants of the 80's!
Why progressive. People of often forget the meaning of the word in semantic terms. Progressive is about going forward or onward it is also about favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement or reform. "Aura" is all about that. It is also an amalgam of the previous three albums a reminiscent breeze of the old past, a continuation of the indication from Anthology (new track "Different Worlds") and a totally new Asia, Asia
of New Age and a taste of what we could expect in the future. Because this is just the beginning, and that is probably the most important thing about this album - it gives you a taste of things to come and incredible possibilities that this group is capable of. If it is a progressive pop or rock album does not make much difference. Asia is such a group that brings this together into a pop/rock amalgam.

This is a new Asia. One shouldn't expect a powerful and striking entré and momentous thread throughout, as the first 3 albums of the old Asia had. It is not so much about dynamics, power, anthemic velocity and over perfection. It is much more about subtle sensory stimulation (as the name of album indicates - AURA), melancholy, mellowness, warmness, appeal and thematic soundness. There is a theme, a place, a moment in time, a special feeling, a story to be told, very intimate and personal music to be listened to.
Aura requires your full attention. It is not a simple album and that is what it gives its greatest quality. From the opening mellow anthemic chorus like "Awake", throughout the
beautiful and heart striking "Ready to go Home" (with a finish reminiscent of Police) and up to the fantastically consistent thread songs as "The Last Time", "Forgive me", "Kings of the Day" the album just vibrates with such an incredible aura which none of the previous Asia albums had, except maybe for "Alpha", which had a thundering out of this world momentum that even the more successful "Asia" album did not have. song "Free" with Saga's Ian Chrichton and ex-Asia's Pat Thrall on guitars validates the statement that this is a progressive album, at least for those that want to prove it by some cliche standards. This song is a gem. The album moves all the time in a union of incredible music, superb writing, constrained but ever presented, fundamental and dominating Downes keyboard magic. Payne's theater operatic voice leads the whole thing into a perfect whole. His mastery comes up clearly in "On the coldest day in hell". This comes out as the most passionate and mellow song Asia ever produced. The threads continue in the last tracks of the album, "You are the Stranger" and the "Longest Night" (this one has some good guitar work). The standard version closes with a Santana vibe instrumental track "Aura", featuring Elliot Randall. This wonderful tune could fit just about everywhere, and here it closes the whole package nicely. This tune fits much better than the opening instrumental track of the "Arena" album did. ("Into the Arena").

The biggest surprise comes in the limited edition of the album (one which should have been the standard one). Here the listener is awarded with 3 more tunes. And what tunes they are!
When you think this magnificent album is over 3 breath taking tunes arrive at the scene. "Under the gun" brings the 'old' Asia keyboard feeling and drive that "Aria" had. "Come make my day" gives yet another turn, while "Hands of time" is maybe 'the most progressive' track on the album. An exciting song, a mixture of todays quality prog. bands with touches of ELO and Queen and the positive vibes from "Arena". Like a nice 70's tune washed in 80's clothes and reborn in 90's touches proudly ready to enter the 00's. These three songs were done in the beginning of the creation of new Asia that was to arrive on Aura. Ian Chrichton (Saga) really shines here as well as the new drummer Chrsi Slade (ex AC/DC). Maybe the whole album would have benefited if Ian remained throughout all the tracks, though Guthrie Govan does a very nice job. Steve Howe's flash appearances are worth a million. Geoff Downes keys provide a foundation for every Asia album now. This time one can feel that his playing has matured immensely form the old Asia days. It just shows that an incredible talent can never stop in advancement. For Geoff Downes it seems that there is no end. There are breezes of his solo work here from the "Light Program" and even some touches from the "World Service". The keys are not dominating as they were on "Arena". They come here in a much more subtle way and have backing in other ways, something which was lacking on "Arena". But what is even more important is that Downes's creative part in writing songs is just getting better and better.

Up till now you might think that this is a flawless album. It is not. Asia is also human. There are some things that are missing here. One of them is a similar thing which was criticized heavily in Journey's last studio album "Trial by Fire" (w/Steve Perry). It just plainly lacked power rock tunes. It cooled down instead of heating up. There were too many rock ballads, which could have been accounted to Steve Perry's dominating presence. Nontheless the album was a near perfect product. Similiar can be said of "Aura". It is just too mellow at times. The old power of Asia just faded away. The power of the two old Asia albums, their distinct hallmark, was just gone. Other links were left but this one suffered the most. It is something to think for future releases. Journey has already (partly at least) changed that for the upcoming, long awaited "Arrival" album. Other thing is something which has troubled "Arena" and it is still present here: the drum work and for subtle and insubstantial guitar support and solos. Speed and power are missing. Drums and guitars are slow and at times non-existent. At times they are there in full glow, not just from Howe, Thrall and Chrichton ("Free") but also from Govan (especially on "The Longest Night"). Drums are a problem again. Michael Sturgis is again repeating the "Arena" environment. Vinie Colaiuta (Sting) is not much better either. Carl Palmer is really missing here. Chris Slade is on three extra tracks and on the "Wherever you are". And those 3 tunes have the best drumming apart from Simon Philips guest appearance. One could expect much more on these 2 fronts (guitars & drums). It's a pity that Steve Lukather (Toto) could not participate either in this project. Another thing which could prove an important factor for future or might not on the other hand is the question of a stable lineup. Asia is reaching this point. Ian Chrichton (unfortunately) could never been expected to became a full member due to his Saga commitments. The idea of guest/session musicians is more than good but then you also have a dilemma of - are we going in 'Alan Parsons Project' direction. But, the more quality the better. Aura proved that. One can think of even a Santana concept for one of the upcoming albums. Getting in some guest vocalist (high and popular profiles) for solo or duets with John Payne couldn't be a terrible option. Or maybe it would be selling its soul to the devil. But the devil in this case could be something called - The Grammy!

Writing on this album is probably the finest in Asia history. Production by Arena & Marillion's Simon Hanhart is top of the notch. The masterful strokes of Roger Dean's thematic paintings is back again. Maybe it's no coincidence that the album features the return/resurrection of the "Alpha" pyramid ('The glory days are back'). John Payne's vocal capabilities are awesome. It seems that he can give much more than he does. While the album probably won't achieve the success of any of the 3 albums of the 80's, due to so many other things beside the music on the album itself (today's scene, music, preferences, industry, advertisement, etc.) it will certainly assert Asia again with the above mentioned old and new spearheads of quality music. Asia always deserved to receive the music greatest achievement - the Grammy award. It didn't happen in the 80's but there is always a chance for this group to be recognized if the right thing comes along. This year proved that old timers like Steely Dan (Asia's Elliot Randall shares a part of that too) could take most of the things away from the "plastic" age representatives. American premier Rock band Journey is preparing a comeback with a new singer and a new album "Arrival". Grammy also slipped out of their hands by a narrow margin recently. Why not Asia too? Asia's place was always there where quality was and this time they are there to stay. Don't be surprised if in one of the next albums you see a repetition in the style of Santana's "Supernatural" success or Steely Dan. Wishful thinking or an impossibility? Maybe, maybe not. "Aura" certainly proves otherwise. Very few groups or singers are capable of making such high quality music. Asia is one of those few. "Aura" is a special album from a special group. It is an enjoyment from the first to the last minute. It is not a simple product and it requires a lot from the listener. If you decide take this "subtle sensory stimulus journey" don't expect a plain musical ride. It's much, much more complex task. If you decide to take the "Aura" journey, you will be in for a ride of your life. If you decide not to, you missed a hell of a experience.

30/05/01: Danny - dhayes@essex.ac.uk
Rating: 60
I gotta agree with the negative comments. This album just doesn't do a thing for me. There's nothing on a par with their previous work. I've listened to it several times now, and while there are a few catchy moments, nothing really stands out. I listened to it back to back with Aria (my favourite Asia album) and there's simply no comparison. I wanted to like it, but I think this is one that's going to take a LOT of repeated listens before anything sinks in. Definitely needs rocking up! BTW, I disagree with the comments about Payne's voice - I think he's a great singer, but like Steve Augeri, constantly inhibited by comparisons to a previous vocalist (John Wetton in this case). Sorry guys!

23/05/01: cris - cristobal.romera@100world.com
Rating: 95
Andrew, you do a great work. I read nearly everyday your webpage and i almost ever agree with your album ratings. Not so with Asia´s "Aura". This is for sure their best album after the debut "Asia". Tt´s nothing for fast jumpy rockers but for quiet dreamy moments. The songs are great arrenged, good sound. I bought the special cd with 3 extra tracks on it. Nearly 80 (!!!) minutes of great music. I hope the next album can top that one. By the way the fantasy cover is great. This one is part of my favorite albums this year among Journey´s "Arrival" and Bob Catley´s "Middle Earth".

greetings from Germany

18/05/01: John Trimbos - john.trimbos@ashursts.com
Rating: 8
Dear Andrew
I can sympathise with both the positive and negative reviews that I've read on your excellent site. On the negative side, I don't think there's anything as catchy as previous Downes/Payne tunres such as Desire, Who Will Stop the Rain?, Anytime etc. But on the positive side, the playing, production and rich orchestration are so fantastic that the whole effect is simply wonderful - listening to Aura is like bathing in a lovely hot bubbebath! (Forgive the bizarre imagery there - it's the first thing that came into my head.)
Like some of your other reviewers I'm a devoted Asia fan, and I don't think it's possible for Asia to produce a bad album. Congratulations on your website - essential reading every week.
Regards
John

09/05/01: Nightwarrior - seelenfaenger@web.de
Rating: 95
Frankly speaking, I never was a huge fan of Asia´s post John Wetton-era (apart from killer track "Who will stop the rain"), but this one really leaves me breathless and flabbergasted. I didn´t expect anything from this record, but the more I listened to it the more it grew on me in such a way that words fail me.
If you expected a hard rocking album then this CD is really a disappointing affair. If you like moody, laid back and matured AOR then this one is the best deal since Kip Winger´s two solo albums and Cornerstone´s "Arrival" (this is the only time I agree with Andrew when it comes to a comparison with Cornerstone, a very underrated masterpiece and one of the best CDs of the last two years!). Having this said, it´s impossible for me to pick out some outstanding songs as this CD as a whole is not too far away of being called a masterpiece.

05/05/01: Eric Stanaland - estanaland@att.net
Rating: 89
When I first heard Asia with John Payne on Aqua I was apalled (having run across it in a record store not knowing that Wetton was absent). His Melo-dramatic, cheesy "soap opera" voice was almost comical to me and the music was pure AOR "ooh baby, baby" fluff. However, a couple tunes grew on me and I continued to give subsequent albums a chance. Aria wasn't much better and sounded amaturish (having lost their major label support) but, still, I held out. Arena, turned out prety good with Payne's silly vocal style smoothed out a bit and much stronger song writing. It seemed like maybe they had found some sensible direction and renewed taste with the addition of Elliot (if we can't have Steve Howe, this guy's the next best thing) Randall. It definitely got better with each listen.
Knowing the star studded guest line up and anticipating better production with a great producer, my hopes for Aura were very high, indeed. Well, I am delighted with the product! Although I still expected a harder and more progressive edge givin the line-up, this is the best Payne era Asia ever. Still, a couple of oinkers on the album have'nt stopped me from spinning this on a regular basis. I've finally learned to accept Payne and Downes together. The intelligent music and catchy "trance-style" layers of some of the tunes work beautifully. "Awake" is fantastic and the cover of the Gouldman/Gold "Ready to Come Home" is masterfully crafted. "The Last Time" through "On the Coldest Day In Hell" are good, but constitute the weak stretch for me. "Free" is incredible! and half the reason I bought this album. Intense is the best word for this song with a "Boston-like" finalle that sounds like world is coming to an end at proper volume of course. "...Stranger", "...Night" and "Aura" excellent pieces. On my UK import copy there are 3 extra's in "Under the Gun", "Come Make My Day" which evoke the feel of old Asia creativity. Very cool. "Hands of Time" should have been left off this CD. While potentially a good song the production sounds abysmal, like a cheap demo cut. Payne definitely should not be allowed to play guitar. He sucks, to put it mildly, and frankly why try this when you have some of best guitarists in the world working with you. It ranks right up there with the "Archiva" issues as colassally embarassing mistakes, but, still does not detract from this being the finest work the band has done since "Alpha". If you only buy one Payne era album - this is it! I can only hope they continue to build on this direction in the future.

04/05/01: Paul - paulj@philnet.nl
Rating: 30
Sorry to disagree with most of you,
but I don't like this record and Arena.
I was expecting a rock record, not a soft pop one. The arrangements on the songs are very good. But I really can't gat a song into my mind. This is background music mostly, and while Payne is doing a great job, this record is not better than any of their previous ones.
Aqua is still the best with Payne. Aria is quite good too. But the negative trend still goes on with Aura.

04/05/01: Carlos Marchal - cmarchal@navegalia.com
Rating: 100
Just Perfect,

I totally desagree with Andrew and I totally agree with George, the first review in this site.

The whole album is marvellous: music, production, players, balance of backing voices, lead vocal, everything. The work of art is fantastic as you can see.The opener Awake introduces you in the classic atmosphere of Asia and gives you the general idea about the quality in this album. The rest of tracks are growing inside you in only one listening. Wherever you are is absolute perfect AOR. Ready to go home is the classic Asia ballad, huge. Perhaps at this point, you think that I am a maniac of Asia. This is not true, but I am pleased to say that it is fantastic to buy an album and to receive a very good work just which you always are waiting for. The last time again huge AOR anthem, On the coldest day in hell reminds me Chicago........and the killer song Free "increase the volume", what to say, for me the best hard song in years from any AOR group, PERFECT. The new bands have to learn a lot to reach the level of Asia in this song and in this album. One of the best ever. Trust me, this album demands buying.

See my personal review in: www.navegalia.com/personal/cmarchal

Thanks.

03/05/01: John Ruggiero - js.ruggiero@btiternet.com
Rating: 98
AWAKE - Great opener to the album, a perfect AOR song, burns slowly until the choir comes in for that epic moment.
WHERE EVER YOU ARE- Continues the theme, simmple but so effective.Guthrie Govan delivers a nice solo.He used to write for a guitar mag you know.
READY TO GO HOME - This song really impressed me, so sad but uplifting. I found out that Graham Gouldman wrote this after his father died. Ive heard his version of it which is a bit weak, the Asia version is perfection.
LAST TIME - By now you start to realise that this is a quality album. Geoff Downes' keys are so important to the sound, he's got some great ideas.
FORGIVE ME - Great keys from Downes. John Paynes vocals are superb through out the album. Why does John Wetton rubbish ? Ive heard them both live, Im sorry John you lost.
KINGS OF THE DAY - Another quality song.
ON THE COLDEST DAY IN HELL - One of my favourites on the album. The album has a very spiritual feel and feel good factor. Great keys at the end another epic.
FREE - Downes, Payne, Phillips, Howe, Thrall & Crichton, supergroup !! Despite including these guitar greats its Downes who steals the show on this one. Another epic ending, music for the gods.
YOURE THE STRANGER - Another foot tapper & slow burner. Downes' keys are a joy to behold. Elliot Randall delivers a fine solo.
THE LONGEST NIGHT - Great stabbing bass line and melodic guitar make it another great track.
AURA - Ive read that this track lets the album down but to mean its a message to all film producers that Downes & Payne are sure to write film music soon. It also gives us the chance to hear Randall stretch out.
The extra tracks are all great. COME MAKE MY DAY - Downes plays superb symphonic keys on this oneits one of the high spots on the album. The only reason I did not give it 100 rating was the last track which has a bit of a Owner of a lonely Heart rip off riff.
I have to agree with the majority that your rating on this one was way off the mark. Its a stunning piece of work which will be hard to follow.

02/05/01: rockdog6 - greenman@ntlworld.com
Rating: 85
Just a short review,Having loved early ASIA,and stuck with them up to ARIA,I finally
gave up,I thought they had become a 2nd rate Uriah Heep!!,and blamed it all on
John Payne,Well SORRY john,this Cd is beautiful,a lustruous sound,great songs,
Great playing(and singing)it has put my faith back in Geoff & John.WELL DONE!!!

28/04/01: george - gydanev@rubin.epi.bme.hu
Rating: 99
I'm a big Asia fan, so it's possible I'm a little bit predisposed in the band's favour. However, I think Aura is at least as good as their previous albums. If you liked the soulful, atmospheric Arena, you will love the new one! Leaders of the band, keyboard wizard Geoff Downes and his partner in crime, vocal god John Payne invited some of prog. rock's premier musicians to Aura. That was a great idea!
Let's see my favs:
Awake - a typical keyboard driven Asia number with powerful vocals
Wherever You Are - this beautiful '80s style AOR song is one of my biggest favs, Payne sings from his heart, newcomer Guthrie Govan plays a tasty guitar solo.
The Last Time - it's easy to describe with one word: masterpiece! Vinny Colaiuta's marvelous drum work, Downes' symphonic keyboards, guitar dueling between Steve Howe and Saga's Ian Crichton, etc., etc...
Forgive Me - another big fav of mine, another typical keyboard playing, another strong lyrics. John Payne's catchy melodies are incredible (but where are the guitars?)
Kings Of The Day - an epic prog. rock track with poetical lyrics, this one is reminds me Pink Floyd's Division Bell album.
Free - an 8 minute long uptempo prog. rocker, with unique keyboards by Downes and solid drumming by Toto's Simon Phillips. Steve Howe, Ian Crichton and Pat Thrall play the guitar. Attention guitar shredders! You'd better learn from Mr. Thrall, who plays a great fast fingered solo in the middle! Free is one of the heaviest Asia songs ever!
You're The Stranger - an exotic mid tempo AOR track with '80s feel.
Aura - the instrumental title track includes latin rhythms by percussionist Luis Jardim. This is co-written by Elliot Randall, so he plays lead guitar and sounds like Santana.
Hands Of Time - a real hard rocker, but unfortunately the first riff is very similar to Yes' Owner Of A Lonely Heart.

26/04/01: Robin McGhie - robin@mcghiefamily.freeserve.co.uk
Rating: 90
Andrew, you provide a wonderful service for us melodic rock fans out here and I feel that there is no other site to compare with yours, well done sir, it is after all a labour of love.
There are times however that readers will not agree with your reviews, isnt this the beauty of music however, everyone has an individual taste , exclusive to them. On this occasion I feel that I must pass comment. Due to the lack of quality mags there are very few places we can find reviews of our types of music, therefore your reviews have an influence on what the reader purchases. Now I am not a huge fan of Asia, but I saw them recently , supporting Paul Rodgers in Glasgow and their short performance was excellent, so much so that I bought the new CD the next day. Andrew, your review is totally off the mark. This is one of the finest melodic rock releases from the UK for many a year. How can you say the that this is very one paced and the new Journey CD is not. They are both paced in a consistent style, in a style that plays to their strengths and the results in both cases are excellent.
The Asia album has been well covered by other readers and I can only reinforce the message that it is an excellent CD well worth purchasing. In fact , if you can, look for the Digi pack release, with 3 extra songs , mind you Andrew, you will have crashed your car by then !!!!!!!!
Keep up the good work and its in your favour that you have provided us the opportunity to redress the balance.
Just to sum up then....AURA by ASIA is AWESOME

25/04/01: koogles - progrocknerd@aol.com
Rating: 90
Asia's "Aura" takes the direction hinted at on "Arena" (the song) and builds an entire album around it. The result is the most mature, enlightened CD of their career. This CD's hooks sink in gently and don't tear into you at first listen. That makes "Aura" a gradually more and more enjoyable CD. With "Aura", Asia re-invents itself for a new decade much as they did with "Aqua" nearly 9 years ago. In the staid world of AOR and the misnomered tradition of "progressive" rock, Asia may be one of the few bands who are still evolving and exploring new directions.

24/04/01: Glenn - gdw118@psu.edu
Rating: 92
Ok, I don't know where anyone can get off rating this album a 62%.....No offense pagemaster, but you're way off. Just like you were with "Hair of the Dog." I went out and bought that album cause you rated it like a 96. I returned that album the very next day and it took a week to get that "horrible taste out of my mouth". I seriously suggest having more than one reviewer sometimes because it's better to have more than one person's opinion and you're into some weird stuff. I do agree with your review of "Arrival" though, good job on that one. But anyway, we're talking about "Aura". This is the first album with all new material since "Arena" which I didn't feel was excellent. It had like 5 or 6 good songs, but as a whole, the album lacked in the song-writing department and had too many fillers. Here we are 5 years later with "Aura." Simply put, this album is a well crafted gem. Most of the songs are 5 minutes+ and there isn't one song on here that i don't enjoy listening to. Most of the songs are not heavy, but this is the new Asia and it seems to be their new style. Generally, the songs are keyboard driven and who else to make an great keyboard driven album than Geoff Downes??? Some hightlights on the album are "Wherever You Are" which is a poppy rock song with great melody. "Forgive Me" is another great song which will leave you singing it after a few listens. "On the Coldest Day In Hell" and "You're the Stranger" are fantastic also!!! The thing that separates this album from the rest of the Asia catalog is its consistency. Whereas other albums had some great songs, it felt like you were being pulled in like 5 different directions. I think they've finally decided on a definite sound and it suites them masterfully! I feel this is their strongest album and competes with their classic "Aqua" in terms of songwriting. If you are an Asia fan, please check this out. Or if you're looking for something a little different and on the mellower side of rock, then this is for you! If at all possible, try to get your hands on the import version of "Aura" with the 3 extra songs because they are highly impressive. They should be on every version of the album, but unfortunately are not. With the bonus tracks, the album has a running time of 79:58 and it's all pure joy!!! Absolutely Amazing!!!

24/04/01: Andy Sokol - Stimpy2301@space.com
Rating: 93
The 80’s rock group Asia, a product of ex-members of other popular bands, started off their career with at the top of the charts and collected numerous fans. Over the years, Asia fell apart but soon was rebuilt and has put forth strong musical efforts. Not strong enough, however, for many fans...but now, with Asia’s new album “Aura”, those fans are about to reestablish their loyalty.
The most distinct characteristic of Asia’s music is the performance of the chorus. The chorus of each song is given a choir-like backup, bringing out beautiful harmony to strengthen the pleasurable sound. This is the one aspect of Asia’s music that has held constant over the years, and naturally is a strong point of Aura. Also particularly noteworthy on Aura is the unique use of percussion. Aside from regular drums, Aura’s tracks are given extra spice and mystical sound with cabasa, congas, daibouka, dunbec, bongos, go-go bells, and granite blocks. Lyrically, the album is quite emotional, maneuvering smoothly through topics on the human spirit and faith, as in “Awake”, “Forgive Me”, and “Kings of the Day”. Aura is like no other Asia album before it, and sounds unlike any other music today; this small confined space cannot begin to define its majesty. Aura is a must-have for Asia fans, and a must-try for all others.
The briefest possible description of the Aura experience is as follows: Listeners are guided over the smooth ocean of Asia’s melodic tunes in a solid boat provided by the keyboards of songwriter Geoff Downes. The sails are filled by the wind of John Payne’s soothing voice, and though the drumming of Michael Sturgis provides the drive towards the distant shore, the harmonic choir-vocals instill a longing for the journey to never end.

--Andy Sokol, Florida Tech Crimson Newspaper

24/04/01: Ken Warren - kswarren@hotmail.com
Rating: 90
While I think melodicrock.com typically is on the mark with album reviews, I want to provide a different viewpoint for one of my favorite recent releases, Asia's new "Aura" album. Sorry for the length of this post, but I want to update those unfamiliar with Asia's newer releases as well.

I typically prefer to listen to faster-paced rock albums, and early Asia releases like "Asia" and "Alpha" are some of my favorite ever. However, this is a different Asia - nearly 20 years later - with current lead singer John Payne and original keyboard guru Geoff Downes in control.

Asia with John Wetton released "Asia", "Alpha", "Astra", "Then and Now" (a greatest hits compilation with several new songs) and "Live in Moscow" with one new studio track. In the early 1990's, John Payne became the new lead singer and "Aqua" and "Aria" were released. Both had an edge to them reminiscent of earlier Asia, but some experimental and progressive tracks as well. Then came "Arena", a love it or hate it change of direction for Asia. Progressive and experimental, it was a definite change in direction. However, I really enjoyed the new life breathed into this 80's band. This was Downes and Payne doing what they wanted to artistically. Shortly following "Arena" were "Archiva I", "Archiva II", two releases that were outtakes, demos, b-sides, and other unreleased songs. If only bands like Journey and Boston were to release stuff like this! Then came "Anthology" another greatest hits effort with Payne covering several classic Asia tunes. Recently Geffen records released the Best of Asia, a Wetton-fans' dream greatest hits for Asia. Though I love Wetton's music (and without getting into the whole Payne vs. Wetton debate), I thoroughly enjoy Payne at the vocals helm.

Now that your history lesson is over, on to "Aura". First off, Asia has truly become a progressive rock band more so than the hit-generator of the 1980's. The writing has also become more introspective and thought provoking. I knew that this was to be a slower-tempo album, and that early understanding definitely led me to be more open to this album. If I went in thinking this was going to rock like "Asia", "Alpha", or even "Aqua", I might have been disappointed. No question, "Aura" is as different from the debut "Asia" as night and day, but musically the tracks are phenomenal. Go to www.asiaworld.org or www.cdnow.com to download soundbytes of the songs to get a feel for what the album is.

My biggest advice - Buy the Digi-Pak! The inclusion of three extra up-tempo tracks really makes the end of the album remarkable. I bought my copy at www.aorheaven.com at a great U.S. price, and it came in just a couple weeks. On to my opinion of the tracks:

Awake - A mid-tempo opener that sets the stage for the feel of this album. In the vein of Boston's "Third Stage", "Aura" has a feel to it throughout each song that connects it to the album. Awake is my favorite song, with a lot of soul put into the vocals by Payne and Downes' catchy hooks. It becomes obvious very quickly how progressive-sounding Asia has become. Wait until you hear "Free"…

Wherever You Are - Another great mid-tempo song.

Ready To Come Home - A great power ballad

The Last Time - Mid-tempo with a very catchy chorus. There is keyboard work that is reminiscent of the some of the tunes on the "Archiva" releases

Forgive Me - Good, but not a huge stand-out in my opinion.

Kings Of The Day - One of my favorites, again mid-tempo.

On The Coldest Day In Hell - More of a progressive sound. Not quite a ballad, but slower tempo.

Free - The epic song on this album. Clocking in at nearly 10 minutes, it's progressive Asia at their best.

You're A Stranger and The Longest Night are alright. Not my overall favorites.

Aura - An interesting instrumental.

Given that most people will not be buying the Digi-Pak (due to lack of knowledge and/or availability), I can see how this album might not be a stand out ending the way it does. However, the inclusion of the following three tracks uplifts the album greatly. It's too bad the tracks were not included in all versions of the album.

Under the Gun - A bit more uptempo, but not overly remarkable. Many fans heard this song in the past as a demo on www.asiaworld.org.

Come Make My Day -One of my very favorites of the album. Faster paced with great vocals and harmonies.

Hands of Time - Another song that's faster paced, and a great ending to "Aura".

There it is. I rank it overall at about 90% with Production: 95%, Songs: 95%, Vibe: 87% and Attitude: 80%. Definitely one of my recent favorites.

24/04/01: ddregs - ddregs@usa.net
Rating: 60
I completely agree with Andrew.
I had such a great expectation from this record, and IMO it doesn't stand up to the new Asia's best.
The songs aren't as catchy as the ones you could find in Aqua still after 10 listenings. Except for one or two songs this is essentially a prog pop record, no rockers, laid back, not my fav style.
I prefer a lot Aqua for the John Payne version of Asia.
But after the reunion fiasco I expected a lot more on the composition side of the record...
The guests are playing well but not exposing themselves to the spotlight.
Not my fav record (I have them all) at all.

23/04/01: holand4you - w_vriends@hotmail.com
Rating: 8
hello,

This album is really the best asia's ever made, my opinion instead of andrew's one is a little different.
first of all i wanna say that the prduction of this album is worth a 8, and that not till 4 all the songs suck, but untill 8 the songs become a little harder to hear and that the last 3 songs on the diggie-pack really suck.
but my personal favorite is free, it makes me a little happy and a sence of ....dom, so all in all it's a good record.

ps: andrew i wanna thank you for making this site the best of all AOR sites.

greeting from holland4you


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