The classic line-up of Asia (Geoff Downes, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer and John Wetton) got back together to release this reunion album in 2008, but what we have here is its first ever release on vinyl. As everyone will be aware, there is a resurgence in the purchase of vinyl, and the reissuing of albums not previously released on this format appears to be fuelling this. Now your individual opinions may vary, and that’s OK, but for me vinyl has always been my favourite listening medium. I guess that tracks back to my youth in the Seventies when my interest in music came to the fore, and that was how we purchased our music. So, my long association with this format would be a major factor in how I feel about vinyl releases, but I do acknowledge that it is now an expensive format in these belt-tightening times here in the UK, so value for your money is key.
With that in mind, what do we get in this release package? Well, it is a black vinyl double LP release in a slip sleeve, containing a full-size four page booklet with sleeve notes provided by Dave Gallant and including some rare band photos. Also in the booklet is an explanatory note on the track An Extraordinary Life by John Wetton, which is an interesting read. The sleeve is predominately black but with a striking, colourful Phoenix on the front with the band name and album title, the paintings and logos provided by the wonderful artist Roger Dean.
Recorded at Liscombe Park Studios in Buckinghamshire during 2007 and 2008, the album was engineered by Steve Rispin and co-produced by Steve and the band. The reissue mastering and cutting was done by Barry Grint. The tracks have been evenly spread out in threes across the four sides, which keeps the side running times briefer to allow for better sound quality throughout.
I guess most people who are thinking of buying this release will most likely be fans of Asia and know what they’ll be getting in terms of the music, so with that in mind I don’t think detailed track descriptions are needed. The focus so far has been on what the package contains so I will look to describe the sound quality to allow you to make up your mind if this is the purchase for you.
As with all things Asia, their albums are always measured by the yardstick that was their 1982 self-titled debut. That may be a bit unfair as what Phoenix shows is that the band’s sound has developed and improved so much from their eighties releases. If you simply judged this as a debut release, it is a fine album, mature with strong songwriting and great musicianship. The trademark pop/rock hooks are here with their proggier credentials showing when they stretch out on the two longest tracks. Add a few ballads and this becomes a particularly balanced album.
The sound quality is excellent, with good separation for all the instruments. John Wetton’s vocals are clear and well balanced within the tracks and you can clearly enjoy whoever you wish to focus on, whether it be Steve Howe’s guitar, Carl Palmer’s drums or Geoff Downes’s keyboards, they are easy to enjoy in this mix. What cannot be ignored is Wetton’s contribution; the bass and vocals are clear and precise. This may be a poignant acknowledgement of his passing, but it underlines a well-founded appreciation of his life’s work across a variety of musical endeavours. All that said, this is a clear and well mixed album with a warm and friendly sound, making the transfer to vinyl a success.
If you are a fan of Asia, this would be a worthy addition to your collection, a well put together release with excellent sound quality, and with that in mind, for those not familiar with the band’s work, it could be a good entry point, away from the debut.
01. Never Again (4:55)
02. Nothing’s Forever (5:46)
03. Heroine (4:53)
01. Sleeping Giant / No Way Back / Reprise (8:10)
02. Alibis (5:40)
03. I Will Remember You (5:11)
01. Shadow of a Doubt (4:18)
02. Parallel Worlds / Vortex / Déya (8:12)
03. Wish I’d Known All Along (4:02)
01. Orchard of Mines (5:11)
02. Over and Over (3:33)
03. An Extraordinary Life (4:56)
Total Time – 64:52
Geoff Downes – Keyboards
Steve Howe – Electric, Acoustic & Steel Guitars
Carl Palmer – Drums & Percussion
John Wetton – Lead Vocals, Bass
Hugh McDowell – Cello (side B, track 3 & side D, track 3)
Record Label: BMG/Asia Heritage
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 26th May 2023 (originally 11th April 2008)