Review Summary: One of the only times Asia has done a record correctly.
Ever since Asia's self-titled debut, it's been clear that they suffered a massive hit, lyrically and instrumentally. Astra would be the last album that got media attention, and even that was close to continental-ignorance. In the late 80's, albums such as Aqua and Aria failed to become even remotely close to good material. They gained one minor success after the second release of Alpha earned them a spot on #37 of the UK Album Charts. However, Arena in general would be one of the last great Asia albums (that is, until the late success of 2008's Phoenix brought them back up to speed) of the three decades they played.
That being said, Arena is a likeable album, and far more serious than the poppy Asia. There's some amazing guitar melodies that pop up here and there, and some of the most popular and influential keyboard tempos pop up from Geoffrey Downes in several tracks. The lyrical content is actually stellar that previous albums, as shown in tracks such as The Day Before The War (Hands across the water, The sun is in the east. Who will feed the famine after lions feast"). And with the exception of U Bring Me Down, Arena is still one of the more serious albums, lyrically, they've made yet.
That still doesn't excuse it from being a generally acceptable album. Despite the standouts, (there are definitely some good tracks) they are sparsely included here. Despite the songwriting, Payne's voice is far too distant and the pitch is too low for most of these tracks. And shamefully so, considering the spastic, young energy of John Wetton in the early 80's. With so much potential in this group (and considering it's nearly fourteen years later), it's a notch below Astra, in many ways. There are tracks that are too long for their own good (across this 64 minute album, the shortest track is under four and a half minutes), considering that the shortest Asia songs usually tend to be the most memorable. Despite the new lyrical content, some of it recycles Aria heavily, in various tracks across the album. That Season
descends into uselessness, and there are tracks that just put you to sleep (U Bring Me Down and Words can be slashed from the album without caring)
That being said, it's still one of the best produced albums of the band's trilogy. The vocal pitches are loud, crisp, and clear, the drum beats come through excessively well. But good production is not enough to save a failing band. At this point, there wasn't enough hope for redemption. Arena was one of the last truly great albums, one of the first times in over a decade Asia finally achieved some minor success (Arena won an underground music contest in SECAM Media Gallery), and one of the only times a record from them was done correctly.
Into The Arena / Arena - 8 minutes of pure frenzy. The former is a brilliant intro, containing some really good bass and guitar tempos, including fantastic keyboard work, the latter a 5-minute magnum opus of the album, one actually worth listening to.
The Day Before The War - This song is almost too long for it's own good. Maybe this song is good because it's some of the best written songs of Asia's period. Maybe it's because this proved that Asia had some serious potential, but didn't show it. Maybe it's because of the extraordinary instrumental work, including the fade-out solos for every instrumental. However you view it, it's an excellent track, and one of the only ones on here that remains memorable.