This is the only the second album by Dukes of the Orient, but their roots go back to 2007 when John Payne (Asia) put together a touring line-up for Asia Featuring John Payne, the band he put together when the original line-up reformed. As part of this he recruited Erik Norlander (Last in Line, Lana Lane, Rocket Scientists), and they have worked together ever since. I have been a fan of Erik ever since I first came across his work with Rocket Scientists more than 20 years ago, have followed his albums as a solo artist and also those with his wife Lana Lane, and I am convinced he is one of the most exciting and interesting keyboard players around. So why is it that this album just feels so boring? I saw one review where someone said the album is “likable” and I thought that was a really good way of putting it. The album is likable, but certainly not essential, yet I would argue many of his other albums do fall into the latter category so what is going on?
I am pretty sure that part of this is due to the band playing to a formula, as opposed to going where the music takes them. They proudly state that if you enjoy ‘Aqua’, ‘Aura’ or ‘Silent Nation’ then you will enjoy this, but none of those are a patch on ‘Asia’, ‘Alpha’ or even ‘Astra’. They changed the name to Dukes of the Orient after the death of John Wetton out of respect, but in virtually every way this is still Asia Featuring John Payne with just two permanent musicians plus session guys. Just from checking the band’s website it is obvious there are only two people in the band, yet Asia was originally created around four musicians coming together and bouncing ideas off each other and seeing what they came up with. That is no longer the case, as we have a band determined to follow a certain style with little in the way of experimentation or growth, which to be fair is also something Asia have also been guilty of with inconsistent releases ever since the name was resurrected in 1989. This album is so middle of the road they may as well be painting white lines as they go along, and I would much prefer to hear Erik performing with Lana or Rocket Scientists, as this does little for someone who in so many ways is the one person keeping Keith Emerson’s legacy alive. As they say, if you enjoyed the period of Asia when John Payne was involved then you will probably enjoy this as well, but as I cannot remember the last time I played any of the albums out of choice, and probably only ever played them to review, I think I will pass.