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Friday, February 1, 2013

Asia: XXX


ASIA: XXX (2012)

1) Tomorrow The World; 2) Bury Me In Willow; 3) No Religion; 4) Faithful; 5) I Know How You Feel; 6) Face On The Bridge; 7) Al Gatto Nero; 8) Judas; 9) Reno (Silver And Gold); 10) Ghost Of A Chance.

I tried looking for some smart 'n' sleazy joke on the album title, about Asia finally ma­king it in the adult entertainment business after all these years or something like that — all in vain, because dirty jokes stick to Asia about as well as they do to a freshly cut block of ice. Who would I be kidding? Naturally, XXX is just about the thirty years of the band's existence in a world of Roman numbers, Roger Dean album covers, and Popular Romantics. In fact, you could even argue that the title of the album is simply Asia, once more — since the «xxx» is actually formed by six little fish less-than-randomly trying to escape the jaws of the now-senile, but still actively hun­ting Asia dragon. Now that might be sexually suggestive, perhaps.

Anyway, strange as it is, 2012 finds the reunited band still reunited — all four members still per­fectly happy to work as a team — and still turning out unmistakably «Asian» material. There are no attempts to return to the mildly progressive experiments of Phoenix: XXX is a direct sequel to Omega, a steady, balanced stream of relatively short stadium-pop songs with loud and catchy Wetton choruses and immaculately crafted backgrounds with thickly layered keyboards and choral vocal harmonies. No corny power ballads whatsoever, not a single one: a few upbeat «power anthems», perhaps (like ʽFaithfulʼ or ʽI Know How You Feelʼ), yet overall, the guys admirably act their age — it's almost maddening, but I can't think of a single insult to fling at these songs.

The only disappointment is that, once again, Steve's role begins to get downplayed, almost as if they were intending to replay the old story another time. He does get to solo on many (not all) of the tracks, but the solos are usually short and supportive, never at the heart of the matter — and the primary melodies are almost exclusively keyboard-driven, or founded on rather unassuming, safely generic power-pop riffage (ʽJudasʼ). That heavenly slide tone is still out there somewhere — look for it in the deliciously flowing phrasing on ʽGhost Of A Chanceʼ, for instance; but that is the problem, since you really have to look for these bits. Otherwise, they just slip by through the cracks in your attention span, dissipated among the evenly rolling waves of the Asian Sea and those singalong Wetton choruses, surfing on the surface.

I do have to confess that ʽBury Me In Willowʼ is touching: maybe it is the heart surgery that Wetton underwent in 2007, or simply the fact of time rolling on, but as far as introspective songs that reflect on one's mortality go, this one is fairly strong, no matter how utterly «mid-1980-ish» the drums and keyboards make it sound. Supposedly, it all has to do with one's opinion on the natural properties and the «spiritual adjustment» of the lead singer's voice — well, I, for one, think that Wetton is one of the best guys around to carry on that retro-chivalrish tragic-epic vibe, and his "this is my final day, you know I would not joke, so bury me in willow, not in oak" strikes a fine chord somehow.

In fact, most of the songs here do. They are all stylistically similar, extremely even in terms of lyrics and sentiments, no highlights, no lowlights — moderately intelligent, catchy «adult pop» (actually, «old geezer pop» at the moment, but hey, that's a market niche, too). Thirty years after its inception, is this late-period brand of Asia actually any worse than it was at the beginning? Certainly, they've lost the freshness of approach and a bit of energy — but they make up for this in terms of accumulated «wisdom», as they now seem to know perfectly well what works for them and what does not. And since Asia has never really been a «young man's band», it is little wonder that they can get better as they get older.

I think I'll go with a thumbs up here, after all. I have no idea what to say about individual songs — so totally interchangeable most of them are — but the formula still works, and the funny thing is, the less they have left to prove, the better it works. It used to be that Asia was this unwieldy, cheesy «synth-art-pop» monster, polluting popular taste with their perfectly shaped, but consis­tently stillborn anthems. Now, somehow, in some way, perhaps because they have been doing it so long that nobody gives a damn any more, their creations show tiny glimpses of life — the still­born reanimated, through increased scientific progress. It's probably a corny way of describing the situation, but that is the impression I get when looking back at this oddly corroded thirty-year history — and it could have been a much worse impression.

Check "XXX" (CD) on Amazon
Check "XXX" (MP3) on Amazon

6 comments:

  1. Hi George. I love your blog. I follow you since your web page days. Just to let you know that just a couple of weeks ago Steve Howe left Asia and has been replaced by a new unknown young guitarist. Although the split this time has been in good terms (in fact Downes and Howe share the bill in Yes) it's funny how the story is repeated.

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  2. I really don't see why Howe would be so hot to get back to Yes. After all, Asia and Yes have essentially been playing the exact same music style (AOR/post-prog) for the past three decades (XXX indeed!). It must simply be a case of an older gentleman having too much on his plate, and needing to prioritize his activities so as to ensure adequate time for rest. In that sense, his membership in Yes would trump membership in Asia, since Yes works much less frequently, leaving him plenty of time for solo endeavors.

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  3. Good review, George, as always. Great blog indeed. Howe did left now, as Yes are settled to do a new "3-albums" tour and record a new album, first one with Jon Davison. Considering his age, it's probably hard to share that with Asia duties. Gives him no time to rest.

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  4. For a group so identified for all time with one man at the mic, it's a bit startling to realize that Yes are now officially on their fourth lead singer!

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  5. I'm sure you're aware George, that Asia has a new album out now, called "Gravitas." I listened to it a couple of times and have found it rather disappointing compared to these three previous efforts.

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  6. It's a bit of a challenge to find info on this album online. If you enter "Asia XXX" into your search engine, you get something quite different...

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