ASIA debuted in 1982 with a monstrous self-titled album which not only celebrated the perfect music partnership of legends Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, Geoff Downes and John Wetton but also became one of the essential AOR albums that ruled the 80s. With radio-friendly classics like “Heat of the Moment”, “Sole Survivor” and “Time Again”, the album was destined for commercial success. Coming up with an equally deserving follow-up album was always going to be quite the formidable task. One year later, however, ASIA released a worthy sophomore album, titled “Alpha”, which in its own way became a valuable ‘80s classic. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the last album with the band’s original line up as guitarist Steve Howe left one year after its release. There have been some reunions here and there, but the momentum was long lost.
The second date with ASIA was definitely less tense and more familiar, more sensitive even. Producer Mike Stone was once again on board with the rest of the team, crafting a quality collection of charming pop/rock tunes. All of the songs are credited to the songwriting collaboration of John Wetton and Geoff Downes, except “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes”, written by Wetton alone. Juxtaposing “Alpha” to its predecessor is inevitable. In terms of sound, ASIA’s second album is less progressive and more mellow, pop oriented, fuelled up with excellent hooks and delightfully attractive choruses. Melodically-empowered and well-seasoned with pleasing keyboard work and sleek multi-layered harmonies, “Alpha” definitely captures a type of progressive rock, that could almost effortlessly be digested by the audience of the ‘80s.
Many experts claim that the debut album is the most important album of a musician’s career – after all, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. We have so many examples of ground-breaking debut album which sky-rocketed the careers of bands like Guns N’ Roses, Bad Company, King Crimson, Boston, Rainbow, etc. Because of its novelty, huge impact and quality of production, ASIA’s debut album certainly falls under the category of “the greatest rock debuts of all time. “Alpha”, however, didn’t have that novelty factor anymore, nor could it compete in terms of quality of production. “Alpha” also couldn’t meet the industry’s expectation and despite its platinum status, critics often refer to it as somewhat a failure. Sadly, this album turned into one of the most underrated ‘80s rock records of all time, despite the wonderful playlist it offers. If one should chose to ignore all that was said and written about this album and for a second forgets about the enormous sonic force of their debut album, “Alpha” could become a truly pleasant experience. Someone once said that “Asia‘s first album is like Saturday night while the sophomore is more like a Sunday afternoon” which entirely supports my claim – “Alpha” may not be as strong or as important as “Asia” but it still holds a place in our heart.
Cracks were slowly starting to appear, but once you hear songs such as “Don’t Cry”, “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” or The Beach Boys sounding “Open Your Eyes”, it will all be forgiven. There are great and good songs on this record, but the level doesn’t go below that. The album is a festival of romance, under a sky of gorgeous lyrics and touching music. I often referred to “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” as one of the most beautifully written ballads of all time, despite its weak production. This stunning song deserved so much more. A Phil Spector/Wall of Sound treatment, including horn sections and enhanced piano sounds would’ve done some justice to it. “Don’t Cry” is a personal favorite, mainly due to the dreamy lyrics which every girl secretly wants to hear from a guy: “So leave it all behind you, It took so long to find you, I know that we can last forever, ever and more…”. “The Heat Goes On” is another fine moment which should’ve been awarded with more attention; an atmospheric classic rock tune with so much energy, it surely deserves a listen or two.
I’m not gonna go into detail about each and every tune of “Alpha” – you can listen to the whole album below the publication. What I would like to emphasize on is that even though is not as strong as their debut album, it still carries valuable characteristics that makes it a great ‘80s rock record. Symphonic sound, sensitive lyrics and stirring harmonies are just a few of its valuable qualities. ASIA would disappear for two years before they released “Astra” in 1985. The first three albums, in my opinion, perfectly represent their glory days. Whichever one of those albums you pick, you won’t make a mistake. I am somewhat biased and “Alpha” will forever remain my favorite ASIA album mostly because of a few tracks I hold very close to my heart and of course, that marvellous Roger Dean cover. That’s the beauty of music, isn’t it – it has to offer something to everyone. Listen to those outstanding tracks and let’s appreciate such long gone musicianship!
Listen to ASIA’s “Alpha” here:
The Smile Has Left Your Eyes