Also available in a 3-pack with ARIA and ARENA on Snapper Music (6101).
Asia: John Payne (vocals, bass, guitar); Steve Howe (acoustic guitar, mandolin, pedal steel, electric 12-string guitar, dobro); Al Pitrelli (guitar); Geoff Downes (keyboards, background vocals); Carl Palmer (drums, percussion).
Additional personnel: Anthony Glynne (guitar); Simon Phillips, Nigel Glockler (drums).
Principally recorded at Advision Studios, Brighton, England.
Asia hadn't released an album of new music since 1985, so changes were to be expected. But changes for the better -- well, that was a pleasant surprise. Aqua found the band infused with new energy, represented by a younger generation of arena rockers in bassist/vocalist John Payne and guitarist Al Pitrelli. Although Payne doesn't invite comparison to John Wetton or Greg Lake (his voice tends to get rougher as it gets louder), he gets the job done and turns out to be a pretty good songwriter in the bargain. Pitrelli, who had recently worked with Alice Cooper, knows his rock guitar; he's no replacement for Steve Howe, but he doesn't have to be -- Howe makes guest appearances throughout the disc. Aqua is an amalgam of arena rock and hair metal that avoids sounding sappy or self-pitying, two adjectives that would describe Alpha or Astra. Geoff Downes (who continues to write much of the material) keeps the music punchy and professional; gone are the dated synthesizers of the '80s, replaced by cutting-edge keyboards and savvy production. The opening and closing instrumentals, "Aqua I" and "Aqua II," show just how far Downes had come since Astra. The rest of the songs are pretty much of a piece; written with outside collaborators in many cases, they tend to be either moody ballads or hard-driving numbers about love and war (some things never change). "Who Will Stop the Rain?" was chosen as the single; it didn't chart (neither did Aqua), but it's as good a track as you'll find here. "Heaven and Earth" (apparently tested as the second single) is another standout track, shifting from a ballad to an all-out rocker that sounds like Yes' music from the '90s. "Someday" and "The Voice of Reason" are other tracks that represent the album well, and have since been added to their concert repertoire. After ten years and two label changes, Asia finally produced a suitable follow-up to their first album. Few fans remained in the seats to hear it, but those interested in a delayed encore from the band should skip to Aqua and forgo the albums in between. ~ Dave Connolly