Published on March 15th, 2018 | by Justin G.
Dukes of the Orient: Dukes of the Orient (Frontiers)
I’m in the minority here, but I was less than thrilled when the original Asia lineup reunited back in 2007 because it meant the end of the John Payne era of the band. It didn’t help that the albums Asia released after reuniting were so lackluster. Now John Payne, as well as former Asia bandmate Guthrie Govan, drummer Jay Schellen (Huricane) and keyboardist Erik Norlander (Lana Lane) are back with a new project that captures the spirit of those still underrated ’90s Asia releases. It’s called Dukes of the Orient, and the self-titled debut finally sees its release this year.
This is essentially the Asia album I’ve been waiting a decade for. Dukes of the Orient perfectly captures the tone and soul of albums like Aqua and Arena. It’s kind of surprising, actually, given Geoff Downes’ absence as a songwriter, but Payne and Norlander write this kind of music quite well together. Norlander’s keyboard style (which can also be heard on the Last in Line project) also pairs well with Payne’s soulful, expressive vocals.
Dukes of the Orient has eight songs, ranging from 5-10 minutes. They all have that later Asia feel, but songs like “Brothers in Arms,” “A Sorrow’s Crown” and “Fourth of July” are the most effective at bringing back that classic sound. The keys on that last one are straight-up 1982 Asia. The 10-minute closer “Give Another Reason” is the only song that wears out its welcome, lacking the same spark that sustains the (almost) as long “Fourth of July.” That’s a minor complaint for what is such a satisfying return to form.
It’s so good to have John Payne continuing to make this kind of Asia-inspired music. It’s also a nice touch that they’ve chosen a new name rather than muddying the waters with the “John Payne’s Asia” moniker. Dukes of the Orient is an album that will more than satisfy fans of the Aqua through Silent Nation Asia era, and ought to please fans of the original Asia as well. Beyond the Asia camp, fans of Dare, Magnum, Yes and soulful AOR in general should give this a listen.
Summary: The Asia album I've been waiting a decade for.