Whilst John Wetton and Geoffrey Downes have their hands full touring with the original Asia, the release of Icon in 2005 was a pleasant surprise because then, nobody knew that the original line-up of Asia would reunite. With Icon II it’s different. This album was composed and recorded during the negotiations on Asia’s resurrection and the disbanding of the ‘other Asia’ with John Payne. Nobody knew at this point whether Carl Palmer, Steve Howe, Wetton and Downes would ever retrurn to the studio to record a new album, so this Icon II album is the closest you can get at present. Listening to the opener The Die Is Cast one can appreciate this could easily have been one of the lost tracks from the first or second Asia album in the tradition of Sole Survivor. Wetton, in his late fifties now, has overcome his problems with alcohol and his voice sounds stronger than ever and equally beautiful are Downes’ melancholic interludes. The up-tempo tune Finger On The Trigger is one of the many tunes by Downes concentrated around the E-minor, D and C-chords and how strange it may sound, both in this tune and the next, the slower Reflections, I think I hear influences of Abba: very catchy pop-rock songs indeed, but also a superb quality as well! In To Catch A Thief and Tears Of Joy Dutch Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gathering) is guesting on vocals and although she performs brilliantly, personally I would have preferred the voice of Annie Haslam (Renaissance) because I think her voice is an even better match for the songs. In Shannon Wetton-Downes goes back in time and perform a cheerful tune in the vein of Fairport Convention. Except for the interludes it's a bit of an odd song between all the AOR related tunes. The Hanging Tree could have been the title track of some movie telling tales about ancient times when people used to be hung from gallows and trees: a somewhat sad but sensual tune. The unavoidable ballad is called The Glory Of Winning, a superb track however with a very catchy chorus and Wetton backing himself multiple times with the choir doing ‘oohhhhh’, sounding so very familiar in the vein of the best of what Asia did some 25 years ago. In Whirlpool the melody lines remind of Wetton’s Battle Lines-album with subtle piano playing by Downes and a short but awesome synth solo too. The outro is a beautiful orchestral piece comparable to some of the things on the albums by the ‘other Asia’. More difficult rhythm-patterns have been used on the closing track Rubicon, while the chorus, just as all the choruses, again is one of great beauty and very easy to sing along with. The cello heard throughout the album was played by Hugh McDowell and the violin on Tears Of Joy and Shannon was performed by Katie Jacoby, a teenage new talent. Although the guitars and drums were handled by John Mitchell and Steve Christey - two well-respected members of the The John Wetton Band - I wonder how this album would have sound with Carl Palmer en Steve Howe participating.
I really look forward to the next ‘real’ Asia album, but for the time being I’m truly grateful that Wetton-Downes released Icon II. Look out for the official bootlegs from the reformed Asia and the ‘best of live’ performances of a number of UK-concerts, which will be released as a double album around the summer of 2007.