Stallion 2001 / Epicon 2017
No rest for the wicked: power pop drivers recover the path to their backroads and untrodden tracks to reveal the tunes that never stopped flowing.
ASIA may have run the band’s course by 1986, but the law of diminishing returns hardly affected John Wetton and Geoff Downes‘ creative partnership: the writing team carried on composing until their group briefly sprang back in action four years later, and here’s the results of those occasional sessions. Having appeared, sporadically, under the artists’ names, this collection is officially re-contextualized, if not retconned, into the ICON franchise now as the series’ tentative starting point, which makes sense because it was an attempt to establish a musical entity outside of a known ensemble. For the most part, though, the duo’s demos don’t possess their usual immediate melodic quality; well aware of that, they wouldn’t develop proper arrangements for the hiatus tapes, so only a few pieces would emerge on later releases.
Amazingly, “Summer (Can’t Last Too Long)” and “Kari-Anne” – the latter, with easily recognizable Scott Gorham and Francis Dunnery on guitars, also present on this disc in its earlier, less impactful form, “Oh! Carolann” – which accompanied ASIA’s comeback, aren’t the strongest songs on display; neither is the jubilant “We Move As One” that, written for and voiced by ABBA’s Agnetha, had shown Geoff and John, before their own quartet broke up, a way of going beyond its constraints, and, thus, was the reason “Zero” exists. While the punchy bass and economic keyboards can’t elevate “Walking On Air” as it’s grounded by a mundane tune rather than cheap sonics, “Lost In America” does indeed get lost in tasty intent, but “Don’t Say It Again” – arguably influenced by the aforementioned Swedish collective – has robust riff and chorus of Top 10 proportions. Whereas “Running Out Of Time” is quite raw, and “Just As Long (As I Need You)” and “I Would Die For You” are nicely orchestrated, “by numbers” Wetton-Downes offerings, the delicate “Only You” finds John’s vocals tapping into classic soul and instrumental “Soul” sees Geoff playing around Caribbean groove, yet the somewhat understated “Please” has an immense depth to it.
The rarely aired “She Knows” may be as impressive, albeit, again, it’s not up to iconic standards. Still, as part of one of the best pop institution’s narrative, each of these songs is exemplary, and the entire collection provides a great glimpse into Wetton-Downes’ creative process. Thus, it’s essential – if for fans only.