I was never quite sure if Asia was actually all that good. They were one of the first bands that I got really into once I got over Kiss. On one hand, they seem an awful lot like an AOR band. On the other hand, it’s three prog giants along with the guy who brought us the quirky "Video Killed the Radio Star" (and played on Yes’ Drama album). Their pedigree is good, but I still wonder if "Heat of the Moment" and "Only Time Will Tell" appeal to me because they’re actually good or simply because they caught me at a young age when everything was new and exciting. Over the years, I’ve wavered on this subject. Asia, AOR or not, is a solid, albeit safe, rock album. Of course, Alpha just had a catchy pop song and a lot of filler. After that point, only Geoff Downes was a constant with Palmer, Wetton and Howe in and out of the band over the course of several forgotten albums. For whatever reason, I can neither dismiss Asia nor shake the nagging suspicion that they aren’t all that good.

Phoenix is the first effort from the original lineup since 1983. With their first new material in 25 years, perhaps Asia could answer my question now that I could hear the music without all the nostalgia that surrounds the old songs. The album opens up promisingly enough. "Never Again" isn’t quite on par with the material on Asia, but it’s in the same vein. Unfortunately, that’s the last decent track on the album. "Nothing’s Forever" starts off with some of the same grandiose prog-pop, but quickly devolves into a synthy lite-soul ballad that reeks of everything bad about the 80s. After "Heroine," I’m pretty much done with Phoenix. It’s supposed to be emotional and heartfelt, but the lyrics are laughable and the music flat. From that point on, it’s just a chore to continue. There are a few so-so prog parts in "Sleeping Giant/No Way Back/Reprise," but they more than offset those few moments of listenability with the New Age-y "Wish I’d Known All Along," a Howe-penned song so bad that it probably makes his career a wash. The rest of the album just makes me wonder why at least someone among these four seasoned musicians didn’t stop and ask, "Why are we doing this?"

So, was Asia a guilty pleasure? If they were ever as good as they seemed to me 26 years ago, I’d think they’d have something left even today. Because Phoenix has practically no redeeming quality, it seems Asia’s debut is to be sadly relegated to something I like despite itself. Phoenix doesn’t even fare that well, because there is simply no pleasure, guilty or otherwise. I guess everything that rises from the ashes isn’t good.

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