Asia is a band with an immortal debut hit: “Heat of the Moment,” which has been sung by Cartman on “South Park” and heard in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (album cover art hangs amid action figures in the title character’s apartment).
This pop culture blip aside, much of the crowd that turned out to see the reunited band at the House of Blues in September 2006 seemed to be there as much out of starvation for the band’s musical virtuosos — guitar master Steve Howe and drummer Carl Palmer — as for Asia’s 1982 brand of diluted prog-pop (which was considerably less-diluted live).
That show helped re-establish the group’s authenticity after years of ghost bands devaluing the name in off-Strip casinos (this group is technically billed as All Four Original Members of Asia). A return booking for a Mandalay Beach show last Labor Day weekend was a no-brainer, and no doubt would have widened the audience to the nostalgia-rock masses.
But that date was canceled because 58-year-old singer-bassist John Wetton had triple-bypass surgery.
Then, drummer Palmer, also 58, had a less-serious angioplasty, with a heart stent inserted earlier this year.
Now the group is due back at the House of Blues on Saturday. And lo and behold, they return with a new album; a real surprise from a band that barely seemed to hang together even back in the day. What’s not surprising is the title, “Phoenix.” Or that the second song begins with the group barbershop-harmonizing the lyrics “Hold on to life, for in moments it can fade away …”
Musically, the album sounds a bit languid and oddly retro — call it “regressive progressive rock”? — as though the group is still striving for airplay on a radio format that no longer exists (maybe somewhere on satellite). It doesn’t compare well to this week’s new release from the almost-60 Steve Winwood, which also is aptly titled (“Nine Lives”), but seems somehow current and age-appropriately resonant, if equally doomed to obscurity.
While Asia sounds almost naïve by comparison, Wetton writes in the CD booklet that the would-be single, “Extraordinary Life,” has “a very real meaning to me.” When you hear the relentlessly hooky refrain, “Go seize the day, Wake up and say, This is an extraordinary life,” there’s a Rodgers and Hammerstein kind of corny sincerity that’s sweetly endearing. And, needless to say, believable.