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Aria (Spec) Special Edition, Import
|価格:||￥ 2,215 通常配送無料 詳細|
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.
Aria is the second collaboration of ASIA founder Geoff Downes and singer/bass player John Payne. On Aria, John Paynes voice is more powerful than ever and every single track is a massive thunderclap. As a special feature the Aria Special Edition contains the video for the song Anytime. The cover artwork was done by the legendary Roger Dean (Yes, Uriah Heep) and the album has been digitally remastered.
However, Aqua left the band in a precarious position, with a real need for a successful album on some level - any level. Aria is not a cutting-edge album, either in its time or now (2014). The sound is very like a number of glam-pop-metal bands that had been successful five to ten years previously, but which had nearly all disappeared under the tidal wave that was grunge. I suppose that it took some courage to release an album like Aria in 1994, but since we're talking John Payne here, we can't rule out thick-headedness. At any rate, the album isn't what you'd call successful creatively, and it sure as hell wasn't a financial success; it also failed mightily to spawn a successful tour (when your guitarist quits in the middle of a four-date tour, that is bad indeed). Pictures in the liner notes seem to indicate that the tour included at least one date at a Chuck E. Cheese. I'm not kidding - get the special edition and you'll see what I mean. Even worse: the shots were taken before that god-awful hat of Payne's was stolen (one blogger posited that Geoff stole it out of sheer embarrassment; I'm not convinced he's wrong). In short, by all appearances this is a failed work.
But it isn't. Sure, there is a lot of derivative-sounding music here. Yes, not all of it is good. However, there are several very positive things about Aria, beginning with the sound itself. It is very well mixed, very clear and bright, reminiscent of the starfield on the cover of the album itself. While the content is still lacking to some degree, it is a quantum improvement over Aqua and frankly is superior to Astra as well, to my mind. There is a flow to the songs that paints a picture of a man as he moves through a life in a series of clearly defined steps, which makes the entire album a single unit in a way that no prior Asia album ever really achieved. Finally, there are several individual songs that rise significantly above the rest of the material, and that would have on any subsequent Alternate-Timeline Asia release.
Looking at the entire album, song by song, 1-5:
ANYTIME - 4.6. A terrific, energetic opener, musically flows quite nicely, Downes' signature layered keyboard tracks are at their best here.
ARE YOU BIG ENOUGH - 1.4. Barf. Dragging attempt at a harder sound that just doesn't work. It fits with the story lyrically, but it's more fake-toughness than real. From the opening vocal, this one has me reaching for the Skip button.
DESIRE - 4.0. Normally, when a recorded sound starts an Alternate-Timeline Asia song (like the jaw-droppingly inane motorcycle in "Back In Town" or the dubious 19th-century combat sounds from "Remembrance Day") it's a warning that bad things are about to happen. Thankfully, that's not the case here. The title says it all, and it's done with a passion and energy that comes across quite well. I would also note that lyrically, this is actually quite good as well.
SUMMER - 3.9. A more laid back, melodic piece than the previous two, more mainstream. Almost blands out, but never quite loses the energy entirely. Enjoyable enough.
SAD SITUATION - 3.7 - in a similar vein as Summer. Musically, I would prefer that Desire and Summer be switched, flowing into this one, but that would upset the storyline. Can't have everything.
DON'T CUT THE WIRE (BROTHER) - 3.2. Lyrically, this song tells the story of two brothers who took radically different paths. Musically, it seems a bit nondescript to me. I do know that on some level, I have trouble connecting with this song - it's more like I'm sensing some inconsistency that I can't define, more than anything I can actually point to and say, "that's B.S."
FEELS LIKE LOVE - 4.2. I'm a bit of a sucker for this song, even though I know I shouldn't be. Guilty pleasure, feeding the romantic buried in there somewhere. It's cheese, but it's listenable cheese, certainly.
REMEMBRANCE DAY - 2.3. The problems start with the sounds of the battlefield. Sorry, guys, but the fact is, practically no one alive today remembers what a cavalry charge sounds like, especially given what happened the last time such a maneuver actually occurred (when the Polish cavalry met the Wehrmacht in 1939 - and we know how that turned out). The lyrics demand that we remember those who fell in battle, and try to address some of the underpinning issues as to the very necessity of war, but they don't go far enough, and they really lack clarity as to the subject matter. Moreover, the music isn't particularly inspiring, which is not good when dealing with this type of subject matter. Not a bad idea but terrible execution in the writing.
ENOUGH'S ENOUGH - 3.6. Anyone who's worked at a career for a long time can identify with the idea of the monotony and frustration of the day-after-day grind of the workaday world, and what it does to the psyche.
MILITARY MAN - 3.2. Musically, this song is a 4+, terrific intro and strong, driving, uptempo, martial beat. But the lyrics... I have the same problem here as on "Don't Cut the Wire" in that it doesn't hit the right chords with me - it might be unkind, but hearing John Payne (who one album earlier was wearing that god-awful hat and leather frayed-sleeve jacket) singing "I'm a Military Man" kind of reminded me of Howard Hesseman's comment on the Village People, from WKRP in Cincinnati: "Nobody believes that ANY of you guys was in the Navy." See what I mean? Doesn't work.
ARIA - 3.3. Mainly a coda to the original work, with a reprise of "Desire", creating the image of a man looking back on his life.
The special edition contains two bonus tracks, "Reality" from Archiva 1 (I rate it a 3.9; it doesn't fit anywhere on here except maybe before or after "Are You Big Enough) and a half-plugged version of "Military Man" (2.5) that isn't nearly as good as the studio version, unless you prefer the live-type sound. OK, maybe it's better than a 2.5, but I docked it for forcing me to hear those lyrics twice. It also contains a copy of the video from "Anytime", and damn it - there's that blasted hat again. The video itself is straightforward 1980's style, tell-a-story-in-five-minutes, and it isn't terrible, unless you count the desert backdrop in the hat scene. (I'm wondering if that's the same one they used for Geoff's scenes in the Don't Cry video.) Also, Payne's lady (in the video) must have a pretty damn good job to afford that house in LA, while he has to walk home from a stalled Jeep in the desert. This video actually gives "Come Make My Day" (from Aura, digipak edition) a whole new meaning - one that makes a lot more sense, when you think about it
All in all, this one's a little short of four stars, but its high points are undeniable. It's interesting to posit what might have been if this had been the first album from A-T Asia, instead of having to buck the outgoing tsunami wave of grunge - which was exacerbated by the impact splash from the million-ton turd that was Aqua. I have to think it still would have failed, given the musical climate of the time, but possibly - just possibly - the ten-year exile from the U.S. might not have happened. On the other hand, Arena and Aura might have turned out differently, too; given the steady growth curve of the band, I doubt that either album would have improved. The Alternate Timeline Asia probably had to be what it was, to become what it became. I say, get this album, and follow their road. It's not well known, but it's a pretty scenic trip (like the Anytime video).
Steve Howe and Carl Palmer were now completely gone after (unecessarily, IMO) guesting on the last album. Downes and Payne solidified the group into a solid unit, retaining Aqua session men Al Pitrelli (Savatage, Megadeth, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) on guitars, and Michael Sturgis (21 Guns, Wishbone Ash) on drums.
Sturgis pounds the drums with unbridled abandon, and Al Pitrelli gives the guitars a very shredding, thrashy feel. Truth be told, these elements are the two things that make Aria feel distinctively like a true 90's album. The rest of the songwriting, playing, and production is very, very 80's sounding. Moreso than Aqua.
This is one of those cases where an album is simply released at the wrong time. If it was ten years earlier, it would've been a massive hit. If it was ten years later, it could've competed with the other classic-sounding metal in recent times, such as The Darkness, Wolfmother, and Jet. The music is almost a cross between Deep Purple-esque classic rock riffing, fist-pumping arena rock, and gorgeous classical progressions and operatic interludes.
Every single track is solid here, which had not been the case since the debut album, IMO. A few songs are ever-so-slightly weaker in a certain sense, but it's more due to perhaps being worn out by Aria's relentless heart-on-sleeve lyrically mentality, which after the first forty minutes or so, can feel a little Velveeta near the end (as on "Feels Like Love".) However, this is all relative, as Asia has been lyrically and (sometimes) musically cheesetastic since the beginning.
For the first time on an Asia record, we have ourselves a loose conceptual story of a man growing up from childhood to middle-age, reflecting on the stages of his growth, the people he meets and how they affect his life, and the struggles of war, work, and regret. The story begins in the ambient dronescape that opens "Anytime" as you hear the sound of children playing, and continues onward through his first love and sexual encounters ("Desire", "Summer") towards old age and bitterness ("Enough's Enough", "Aria".)
"Are You Big Enough?" has a killer outro, punctuated by Geoff's biting keys, before leading into the tribal chants of a southern Asian marketplace on "Desire". "Sad Situation" slowly grew on me more and more over the years, and now remains as my absolute favorite track on Aria. The song builds and builds with Downes' pulsating, trance-like keyboards, and Payne's warm bass and vocals. Sturgis provides fast-paced, shuffling snare fills as the song reaches its climax. "Remembrance Day" is a fast-paced, nearly metal tune that reflects on the ghosts of the American Civil War. There's some beautiful Yes-like keys from Geoff again, and the song ends with a blazing Pitrelli guitar outro. Sadly, it's cut too short, fading out much too early. The album ends with a short title track piece that reprises various lyrical and musical themes as the protagonist looks back, reflecting on everything that occured in his life. As the song nears the end, the theme from "Desire" returns, perhaps a symbol for his earlier love with a woman which leads to a new birth and a continuation of the cycle into a new dawn and a brighter future...
Aria contains the band's best production job ever (even moreso than Mike Stone's wonderful mix of the 1982 debut), with gorgeous clarity between instruments, and everything given weight and heft. The drums snap and reverberate awesomely, the bass is warm and chunky at the appropriate times, and even Downes' keyboards sound warm and punchy, with a beautiful use of classic Hammond sounds (foreshadowing 1996's Arena) and soothing ambient drones. His patches are never overtly electronic here, as they become on all future Asia albums.
The band reaquired the talents of Roger Dean for the cover, which is much more breathtaking in larger formats (look for the full version on the internet) and has a return of the Chinese dragon theme, this time featuring massive draconian bridges and towers, a sparkling softly-lit ocean, and a rocky balcony which overlooks it all.
Overall, Aria is an incredibly strong release, with amazing playing and production, and was clearly Asia's best release since 1983's Alpha. This would continue the upward climb of the band through the 90's as they diversified their sound, took in new influences, and took some experimental, progressive chances. This album took a little while to grow on me (see my other Asia reviews), although I got into it much easier than Aqua or Arena. Aria is recommended not just for fans of the early band, but also hard rock or prog-metal afficionados ala Deep Purple, Dream Theater etc.
Note: Most releases of Aria feature bonus tracks, which include an outtake ("Reality"; which doesn't particularly fit with the other songs, although has a nice techno-ish Buggles sound, and is great) and various live tunes, in addition to a video track to the rare promo video for "Anytime". Liner notes and photos are included in mine, which include a nice essay by Asia fan and journalist Dave Ling.