Thursday, July 13, 2006

Asia: Together again despite underwhelming demand

Yeah, like we were eagerly awaiting this...

The original lineup of Asia is reforming for a 25th anniversary reunion tour.

Let the ennui commence.

Back in the day, circa the late 1960s, when a rock band was hyped as a "supergroup," that handle actually meant something. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, for example, brought together key members of three superstar ensembles: The Byrds (David Crosby), Buffalo Springfield (Stephen Stills and Neil Young), and The Hollies (Graham Nash). Blind Faith combined the already legendary talents of Eric Clapton (The Yardbirds, Cream), Ginger Baker (Clapton's bandmate in Cream), and Stevie Winwood (the brilliant Traffic), along with bassist Ric Grech from the group Family. Even into the 1970s, we were still getting supergroups worthy of the name, such as Bad Company — Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke from Free ("All Right Now"), Mick Ralphs from Mott the Hoople ("All the Young Dudes"), and Boz Burrell (the seminal progressive rock band King Crimson).

By the advent of the '80s, however — man, that was one culturally bankrupt decade, wasn't it? — the biggest "supergroup" the music industry could scrape together was Asia, which merged the tattered remains of a pair of defunct prog-rock bands, Yes (guitarist Steve Howe, keyboard player Geoff Downes) and Emerson, Lake and Palmer (drummer Carl Palmer), with a singer/bassist named John Wetton, who had been in one of the myriad permutations of King Crimson half a decade before.

With much fanfare, Asia's self-titled (I was going to say "eponymous," but I've exhausted my allotment of pretentiousness for this week) first album was unleashed on Top 40 radio in 1982. The singles "Heat of the Moment" and "Only Time Will Tell," trademarked by Downes's screechy, repetitive synthesizer riffs (the guy had just come over from the Buggles, whose MTV hit "Video Killed the Radio Star" may have indeed sounded the death knell for rock and roll as we once knew it) and Wetton's hilariously wimpy lead vocals (if you've seen The 40-Year-Old Virgin, you'll recall that the title character is portrayed as an Asia fan, which partly explains his lack of "experience"), immediately wormed their way into Western consciousness, never to be eradicated.

Fortunately for civilization, Asia's succeeding albums fared less strongly in the marketplace. The band continued to record and tour with various patchwork lineups — something like 16 or 17 different musicians have been members of the four-person band at one time or another — and gradually faded from view.

Until now.

Darn it.


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