Asia – XXX

4

Review by Brian McGowan

Original members reunited”.

The road leading back to the eighties will soon be dammed up by a flood of reformed bands. Paradoxically, for fans of the era’s music, it’s something to celebrate. Though when it gets specific – in this case, Asia – that emotion usually gives way to apprehension as we wonder if the band in question can still cut it. Asia’s entry level album was a monster, showing a lofty, if overwrought ambition, which they rarely matched with subsequent releases. We know from experience that so many comeback bands seem trapped in aspic, unable to break free from their famous past, their previous ever-present energy dissipated by the daily grind and changing musical fashions, the well of inspiration exhausted by constant touring and personnel changes. Earning their daily bread has been the priority. It’s great to report then, that the initial and lasting joy of ‘XXX’ comes from the disparity between our downbeat preconceptions and what the album actually delivers.

Remarkably lean openers, ‘Tomorrow The World’ and ‘Bury Me In Willow’ play to the band’s illustrious past with no hint of self parody. The latter arrangement expands with keyboard orchestration, incorporating fleeting glimpses of pomp rock that sound almost impromptu in their real time immediacy. ‘No Religion‘ is gloriously reminiscent of the debut album’s most hypnotic moments, with wiry axe work and thundering keyboards displacing the track’s pacy pulse before ceding ground to a sotto voce chorus on the outro

The balladic ‘Faithful’ is arguably the album’s killer cut. The sound is earthy, not raw, natural but not organic in the lo-fi sense. It has a warm, valve driven ambience and a romanticised dramatic tone, matched by peerless song writing and cool, confident performance.

By this point, 4 tracks in, the album has picked up the confident rhythms of a relay race. Each track is performed with conviction and style and the band still reach for “that awesome melodic moment”, gilding each memorable melody with a sleek, sharp hook, without falling into the arena rock anthem trap. There’s a compelling emotional undertow to songs like ‘I Know How You Feel’ – a gorgeously understated study of forlorn romance – and the combative yet exceptionally catchy ’Al Gatto Nero’, clearly packing heat, which it releases slowly over the course of 4 and half minutes.

 

These freshly minted songs are effortlessly infectious and the band never run out of steam. Each track seems stronger than the last. Only the punchy, poppy first single, ‘Face On The Bridge’ sounds in any way derivative, recalling Supertramp’s soulful, user friendly stylings. Sketched round an elegant, quietly dramatic piano motif, ‘Ghost Of A Chance‘ is a driving and slightly ominous song, and a magnificently apposite closer. If you liked Wetton’s solo stuff around ‘Battle Lines and ‘Arkangel’ then you’ll love the way in which it builds up, shifting gears gracefully, before ending on a note of hope and optimism.

If only all “comeback” albums were as good as this.

Rated 9 out of 10

4 COMMENTS

  1. It’s well-written so, frankly, I care not for the trivia and minutiae of mere detail.
    That’s just me, though…

  2. Get your facts right. The original line up reunion happened 2 albums ago with Phoenix!! This is not a “come-back album”!

    • Hey Karl,

      Ofcourse you are right and ‘Phoenix’ is a fantatsic album!

      The problem that has lead to Brian’s boo boo is that all the press releases and label/band promotion keep emphasising the fact it’s the orignal line-up. So unless you’re a diehard Asia fan it would be very easy to believe this is the first album in a long time with the orignal line-up….

      I have to admit it left me scratching my head as i too belived this reformation began with ‘Phoenix’…..but with all the PR pushing heavily the ‘orignal line-up’ angle i did start to doubt it myself!

      I’ve made plenty of mistakes or got my facts wrong on many reviews usually due to bad information through PR and band/label promotion….that said it is always nice to correct our faux pas’s when they are brought to our attention so thanks for your comment!

      Woody

      • Thanks Woody, and I agree, it’s good to know there are people out there ready to weigh in with a positive comment or to make sure we get our facts right.

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