Writing about records these days can be a little bit like scribbling ad copy for a new Poltergeist sequel. In vast numbers, once-defunct bands have returned from the dead; there’s a strong temptation to start reviews of them by braying ”They’re b-a-a-a-a-ck!”
Asia is the latest to climb up from the netherworld. But this early-’80s group has opted to test the waters of life with just one tentative toe. Their comeback album, Then & Now, offers only four new songs; the remaining six tracks date from Asia’s heyday, and include all four of the band’s Top 40 hits. Cynics will suggest that Asia never had enough hits for a conventional ”best-of-Asia” album, and evidently doesn’t have much to say now, either.
Maybe they’re right. The old songs — ”Heat of the Moment,” for instance, or ”Don’t Cry” — are empty symphonic rock, full of strings and predictable melodic hooks. The new songs aren’t as lush, and — propelled by new guitarist Pat Thrall — hit the beat a little harder, but in essence they’re just as bland. They ask profound questions like ”Am I in love, or is it the magic of tonight?” (That’s from a ballad bathed in secondhand sentiment called, not surprisingly, ”Am I in Love?”)
A more aerobic number, ”Days Like These,” seems to glorify the kind of blind euphoria that in real life would almost certainly be followed by a depressing crash: ”Days like these,” singer John Wetton cries, ”I feel like I could change the world.” He and the band still write appealing melodies, but that’s about as far as it goes. They’re not about to change the world with their music. C