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Music Review: Asia – XXX

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After the reformation of the original Asia in 2006, the group has been on a roll. They’ve released a series of successful albums, including Fantasia: Live in Tokyo (2007), Phoenix (2008), and Omega (2010). In fact, the original band has stayed together longer for this run than they did the first time around. Now, the group is getting its best press since 1982 for XXX, a listenable album well worth the attention of both critics and audiences. But, contrary to some, it’s not the best album of 2012 for several reasons.

The one and only bona fide Asia is Geoff Downes (keyboards, backing vocals), John Wetton (lead vocals, bass, guitar), Steve Howe (guitar, mandolin, backing vocals), and Carl Palmer (drums, percussion). As Palmer observed in a May 2012 interview for Rhythm magazine, the group has around 250 years of collective experience between its members. In terms of restrained instrumental chops, soaring vocal delivery, and carefully crafted catchy melodies, XXX certainly shows off all the cumulative abilities of Asia.

In particular, after two mild opening tracks, XXX spends much of its time rocking rather than presenting a series of power ballads. Some of the “dinosaurs” of rock, you know, have forgotten how to kick out the jams. Were this any year between 1970 to 1990, “Face on the Bridge” would be a major AM hit, and it is getting considerable airplay now. The surprisingly effective “No Religion” would likewise have been an anthem on FM radio.

However, while songs like “Judas” have a beat you can dance to, as they used to say on American Bandstand, Wetton’s lyrics don’t always match the performances that support them. Repeating the line “You put a knife in my back” isn’t exactly poetry. Slow melodies such as those in “Faithful” have all the ingredients of a classic love song, but the verses and refrains sound derivative, like music that has touched all the bases many times before.

Still, there are high points aplenty on the album, including a stronger presence for Howe, interesting call-and-response harmonies on “Al Gatto Nero” (which does have lyrics requiring more than one listen), and the superlative grand finale, “Ghost of a Chance.” Folks who get the deluxe edition will be rewarded with the bonus tracks “Reno (Silver and Gold),” “I Know How You Feel (Midnight Mix)” and a DVD with video clips of “Face on the Bridge,” “Faithful,” and a “making of” featurette.

As demonstrated by sales to date, XXX is a treasure for Asia fans. It’s pure Asia as they once were, and that’s good enough for most of us. But it breaks no new ground, admittedly isn’t really “progressive rock”—if they ever were—and, with the exception of “No Religion,” Asia doesn’t really have anything special to say. Still, the sound and power of their pop should shame John Payne into retiring his bogus Asia and let the founding fathers have the stage. The heat of the moment is theirs again.

The question is: Will new listeners be drawn to the Asia banner? Old fans already have their copies—I’d like to think younger listeners will find a place for a “super group” that sure doesn’t sound like they’re long in the tooth.

XXX may not deserve Grammy nominations, but it does capture a band in perfect sync with each other and delivering the kind of music no one does better.

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About Wesley Britton

  • Lee

    The album XXX is awesome as it really depicts what a Supergroup really is and should be. That is awesome musicians coming together and getting a timeless sound that will continue to be listened to for years to come, not minutes!