In the Nineties I became aware of an American band Rocket Scientists, and I was soon in touch with band leader and keyboard player Erik Norlander. I loved the albums, played the live video so much that I nearly wore out the tape, and kept track of his work as a solo artists, with the Scientists, and also with his wife Lana Lane (if you have never heard her album ‘Live In Japan’, which also features Rocket Scientists as her supporting band, then you need to). Separately, I was also keeping track of what was happening with Asia, one of the most influential bands to come out of the UK scene in the Eighties, and although at one point the only original member was Geoff Downes I was very aware of what he was doing with singer John Payne. Of course, Geoff managed to bring together a reunion of the original line-up, so John formed Asia Featuring John Payne, and Erik was invited to be part of that band. Fast forward from 2007, and the death of John Wetton resulted in John and Erik to work together under a new name, with a new line-up. Interestingly the press release only names Erik (keyboards) and John (vocals, bass, guitar) so I have no idea who else is involved.
But, I’m not really sure that matters in fairness, as I’m also not sure that it matters what the band is called, as this is Asia through and through, no matter what they are calling themselves. And, more importantly, this is an album that any fan of that band will put on, smile, and hit repeat when it finishes. In terms of where it fits in the canon, I would say that this is probably most similar in feeling to the second album, ‘Alpha’, and if anyone asked me whether I would rather listen to this or the 2012 release ‘XXX’ from the classic line-up, there really is no choice as this is superior in just about every way. Norlander is seen by many, and rightly so, as the successor to Emerson in terms of both his playing ability and what he has been doing with Moogs, while Payne is probably one of the most under-rated and side-lined singers of the last twenty years, as he has great control and power, very much in the Wetton/Lake style. Combine that with some great songs and the result is an Asia album that will be close to the top if the albums from the different bands were ranked, so does it matter that this is Dukes of the Orient? Superb.