Towards their twentieth year, ASIA could go no further from their terrific progressive pop to soul territory. Hardly proggy now except for some Geoff Downes parts like the intro to the opening "Awake", the band still evince a penchant for a good melody, but currently it's far below the standards they'd set long ago. No hits there - well, "You're The Stranger" could be one - and just a few surprises, some good, some bad. Off the latter is too overt humility of the guest players, Chris Slade drumming on warm "Wherever You Are" being the most upsetting, the less imaginative you've ever heard from the master. Michael Sturgis Vinny Colaiuta and Simon Philips provide no wonder as well, and only Luis Jardim's percussion enlivens some of the tracks, where lack of hook can't be replaced by gospel choir singing. The real hero here is Guthrie Gowan, whose guitar comes arresting, remindful in its economical harmonic beauty of May's throughout - listen to "The Longest Night". On par with him, only Steve Howe's jazzy solo running across Ian Crichton's in otherwise lifeless "The Last Time". The two are joined by Pat Thrall in "Free", and together they turn this epic into something fantastic, with many plaudits to John Payne's work.
"Free" aside, Payne, though good and reliable as usual, doesn't do anything special, his bass handling's strong, and you can't tell the big difference between John's manner and Tony Levin's, who takes over for "Ready To Go Home", penned by famous Gold-Gouldman team, but be vibrant "Coldest Day In Hell" and "Forgive Me" given to, say, Stevie Wonder or Glenn Hughes, they would shine no less than "Kings Of The Day". And no less than instrumental "Aura" augmented with Elliott Randall's guitar - if only "Aura" sounded unlike Downes' solo albums! Thus, ASIA seem to be losing themselves.
Strange, extra tracks, "Under The Gun", mighty, heavy organ-laden "Hands Of Time" and "Come Make My Day" with its "Open Your Eyes" chorus, are extremely strong, compared to the main body of work. So what's with "Aura"? It's just different.