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Live review: Asia's new 'XXX' album is out today

asia-xxx.jpgAsia has released a new album today -- the aptly titled XXX -- and I've just downloaded it via iTunes. It's been a while since I've heard an Asia album truly worth getting overly excited for, and today I'm going to try something new: I'll review it right here as I listen to it the first time.

Some quick background: This is the original Asia lineup again -- Geoff Downes, John Wetton, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer -- and their third album since reuniting in 2008 with the founding members.

First, the name: XXX. (BTW, be careful when googling XXX and Asia together!) It's an appropriate name considering 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the super-group's founding (and their  self-titled debut album.) Let's listen to some music!

1. TOMORROW THE WORLD: Of course it starts with Downes on keyboards. I think that's legally required by now. "Tomorrow the world will seem much clearer." Lead singer Wetton has been recrafting his typical heart-crushing, cynical tunes into more optimistic anthems ever since his heart surgery in 2008. And this is another example. Great harmonizing here, some fantastic guitar licks by Howe (his best since maybe the first disc) -- this song is a winner. Nice to see every band member contributing equally again. If the rest of the album is this good, I'm a happy man.

2. BURY ME IN WILLOW: ...Wow, I have chills now! Wish I had a lyrics sheet though. This song has a really sweeping chorus. It's also 6 minutes long. Long live, prog rock, I guess! Two songs into the album, I'm ready to say this is easily as good as their first two albums. But it's early, and I do tend to over-exaggerate at times. (Right now, this song ranks as the most popular on iTunes too, for what it's worth.)

3. NO RELIGION: Hmmm, yep. Spoke too soon. This tune does nothing for me. A little too Emerson Lake & Palmer for me.

4. FAITHFUL: (sorry for delay; took a break to write up some breaking news about Devo coming to town) ... This isn't the John Wetton I'm used to. Talking about being faithful? Love? What happened to the broken-heart singer we came to know and love?

5. I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL: Am I just distracted, or is the band starting to get distracted here? I'm not feeling the same enthusiasm. Neither a great nor disappointing tune. Definitely a mid-album cut.

6. FACE ON THE BRIDGE: I already like this one (the band released a video a while back for it). It has a nice sense of urgency like the first couple songs. This is the detached Wetton I know so well, but still with a nice touch of love and hunger here. (Screw everyone else, the song basically says. Fine by me, John!) Howe gets to cut loose again, which is nice. The danger of Asia is underutilizing Steve Howe.

7. AL GATTO NERO: I'm a sucker for the call-and-response chorus trick here. Have I mentioned how good Wetton's voice sounds? He's lost nothing over the years. Nice tune so far. I'm wondering how happy Downes is on this album -- he's not as prevalent as he has been in albums past. Personally, I prefer the equality here. (Nice drum rolls by Palmer here, who needs to be challenged more.)

8. JUDAS: Catchy chorus, which helps because the rest of the song doesn't do much for me. One of the shorter songs on the album, at a mere 4:44. Did Wetton really just sing, "You put a knife in me!" I guess that makes sense but it feels comical. Damn, someone give me a lyrics sheet. I know Wetton's a little more spiritual than the others, but I might have vetoed the idea of this tune.

9. RENO (Bonus track): It's tough listening start to finish to any album, especially an Asia one. I'm starting to imagine that this song is the same as the last one, only slower. "Reeenooo, Reeeeenoooo, you put a knife in me....."

10. GHOST OF A CHANCE: I feel a peace descending over the album at this point. This is a nice closer so far, even as it descends to "power ballad" status. It's a nice chance for each musician to step forward for a final bow. 

11. I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL (Midnight Mix bonus track): So when did Asia borrow Duran Duran's remix tricks? I like this version better than the original, which would be a first for remixes. You rarely can go wrong by stripping down an Asia song and letting Wetton's voice carry things. You feel the emotion a lot more clearly here.

So, final thoughts. Well, there are some winning songs here. Tomorrow The World, Bury Me in Willow, Face on the Bridge are tunes I'll want to listen to again and again. But does XXX live up to the hype about it being as good as Asia's earliest albums? Jeesh. Tough call.

I'm going to say ... maybe? 

Those albums -- in my mind anyway -- were great start to finish; XXX isn't. But XXX is certainly as better than anything they've done since Astra. Consider this a valid and true attempt at finally capturing the magic of 1982 again. And maybe that's what XXX is really all about.

[Last modified: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 11:11am]

    

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