Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
Genres: Pop, Rock, Classic Rock
Inside Out Music will release in the context of their famous Special Edition series a collection of five albums of the massively successful melodic rock band Asia. Each album contains bonus material, exclusive photos and i... more »
Inside Out Music will release in the context of their famous Special Edition series a collection of five albums of the massively successful melodic rock band Asia. Each album contains bonus material, exclusive photos and interesting background information. Every Special Edition is housed in a lavish slipcase with embossed printing. Arena is a novelty in the history of Asia. Geoff Downes and John Payne used some influences from South American and oriental music and created a fresh and modern rock sound. Of course there are some tracks (like Heaven and Arena) in the traditional Asia style. Fans of pure Progressive Rock will love the song The Day Before The War, which shows the full spectrum of this extraordinary band. Arena features great guests like Elliott Randall (Steely Dan), Aziz Ibrahim (Simply Red) and Luis Jardim (Bryan Ferry). The wonderful fantasy artwork was painted by Rodney Matthews (Magnum, Barclay James Harvest) and the album has been digitally remastered.
Similarly Requested CDs
East meets Southwest
Prog Nerd | Southern California | 11/22/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"After the exit of guitarist Al Pitrelli halfway through the band's last tour, as well as disappointing sales and promotion problems, Asia regrouped and re-thought their entire process, from songwriting and production, up to band lineup and sounds. In many ways, Arena is a "clearing of the slate", and has a freshness and vitality that the band had only hinted at on previous releases. The production is a little more raw and live (certainly this is Asia's most "organic" album), but this only enhances the flavor of the music.
Joining Payne and longtime original keyboardist Geoff Downes were Michael Sturgis on drums (on and off as an Asia session man since the late 80's, but contributing significantly as part of the core lineup since Aqua), and two new guitar players: Elliot Randall (formerly of Steely Dan), and Aziz Ibrihim (ex-Simply Red.)
Both add a different dimension to Asia's sound; Randall bringing a smooth, classic rock/jazz element, and Ibrahim with a slightly metallic, Middle-Eastern vibe. Guest musicians included Hotei Tamayasu on guitar, and Luis Jardim (Mike + The Mechanics) on percussion.
Arena sounds extremely different from previous Asia albums; almost completely gone is their arena-rock AOR sound, replaced with prog-metal, Latin rhythms, reggae, and some slight jazz, soul and funk influences. According to the band, they spent a lot of time listening to 70's albums by Santana, Supertramp, Steely Dan and the Eagles, and the idea was: What if Asia had existed in 1976 instead of 1996? How would they sound?
Trust me, the end result is much better than you might think...
"Into The Arena" kicks things off with an exact Santana vibe, Latin fire in Hotei Tamayasu's guitar stylings as exotic percussion and shakers keep things spicy in the background. The title track comes next; a little more conservatively Asia, but still featuring some ethnic percussion and a Spanish motif from Geoff's piano.
"Two Sides of the Moon" is another Is that Asia? song, as the band explores more Latin rhythms and drums, and some wonderful trance-like keyboards over a mostly-acoustic groove. The band absolutely smokes during the instrumental bridge and jam, and then closes things off by slowing everything down for a reggae outro.
Two mini-epics in the 8-9 minute range are included on Arena. "The Day Before The War" (a nod to 1985's "After The War"?) sounds as dark and oppressive as the words suggest, which features dissonant chord changes, slow, deary sections, and occasionally speeds up into some fast and rhythmic Hammond organ and electric guitar duels. The song fades out uncertainly, as if not entirely resolved. The organ reminds me of ELP in this song, and the metallic guitar leads bring to mind Dream Theater.
"U Bring Me Down" (co-written with Aziz Ibrahim) sounds like Led Zeppelin done modern, as Middle-Eastern stringed instruments and an interesting, odd chorus come into play. The song builds and builds, and has an amazing end section, with various multi-layered vocals and instruments meld together as they all fade out...
All of the other songs are amazing too, but perhaps more stylistically fit together more evenly than the "experimental" pieces: "Heaven" has a dramatic delayed guitar intro (reminescent of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall Part 1"), "Never" has some fiery guitar leads and great rhythms, "Falling" features some dreamy keyboards and smooth lead vocals (doesn't the intro sound just like Geoff's Yes song "Run Through The Light"?), "Words" contains more epic and fiery playing, and "Tell Me Why" is an angry, almost bitter song that just drips regret.
"Turn It Around" is amazingly uplifting and beautiful (listen to Geoff's gorgeous keys that precede each chorus), detailing someone's journey back to their devastated home town, reflecting on the fact that bridges can always be fixed, and new homes built on the ashes of old. The cycle of life is neverending, and continues forward into the beautiful, techno'ish Geoff Downes keyboard instrumental "Bella Nova (Out of the Arena)".
If you're a fan of Asia's more typical AOR sound (especially the early years with John Wetton), this may not be your cup of tea. But if you enjoy beautiful, soulful, groove-like classic rock, or other classic 70's prog-rock with lots of extended, shifting time signatures and multilayered Hammond keyboards (Yes and ELP fans, I'm looking at you), then this could be right up your alley.
I've also found that Arena is especially great for long road trips. I took it on one in 2005, and the southwest vibe of the music provided an amazing soundtrack for driving through the desert of New Mexico at sunset.
Although it was a little disappointing to not have Roger Dean do the artwork again after Aria, Rodney Matthews contributed a stunning and epic cover, which is easily one of Asia's best. Good and evil are shown as polar opposites across the gulf of a massive desert cavern; smoke, battlements, shapeshifting skulls and a viper are on one side; the other is represented with a regal and divine lion of truth, a crown of light around its head, and the Indo-Asian "eyes of awakening" adorn its wings as a flowing waterfall runs underneath.
John Payne really grew into an amazing Asia frontman. His singing here is smooth and soulful, and not at all grating or overdone as he was on the previous two albums. The lyrics are also among Asia's best, reflecting a darkness and inner battle that is palpable in every single word. Esoteric and Biblical references abound, but they're fit seamlessly into a slightly Eastern, universal spirituality that is incredibly positive and uplifting on every level.(This spirituality would carry into 2001's Aura with more amazing results.)
Arena is perhaps Asia's most underrated album. It recieved virtually no promotion upon its release, and no tour was ever performed. The band had a single acoustic show in 1997 (look for the CD Live Acoustic or the 3-disc set Different Worlds) which featured Ibrahim and Jardim as backup players. However, only one Arena tune was done live (the title track), as well as a song from the same sessions ("Different Worlds".) After '97, only a couple songs would occasionally get played on tour, until they dropped them entirely around '05.
This is easily in the running as one of Asia's best albums (right up there with the debut, and surpassing Alpha for sure), and joins Aria and Aura as a stunning trilogy of middle-period Asia albums with John Payne.
Note: Various editions and rereleases of Arena are out there, all of which feature one or more bonus tracks. "That Season" is on every one, and live and remix cuts are on others, in addition to liner notes. (If you're interested in further outtakes, about six more tracks are included in the two Archiva releases.)"