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Asia: XXX

Album Review

Celebrating their 30th anniversary in style. Google with care!

First, a word of warning. Don’t Google ‘Asia XXX’ on your computer unless you want to be confronted by page after page of dubious porn links. This has been a Prog customer service announcement. The album title might also sound like an ultra-violent movie classification caution, but it’s actually commemorating – in Roman numeric fashion – the 30th anniversary of the release of Asia’s self-titled debut album.

All four original members are here – Geoff Downes, John Wetton, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer – and it’s a pleasure to report that the result is every bit as good as the band’s classic, early-80s releases. The icing on the cake is some superb artwork from Roger Dean, which, somewhat bizarrely, appears to depict a dragon hunting salmon. But this really is his best CD cover in ages. 

XXX begins superbly with Tomorrow The World. Lonely keyboards and mournful cello provide an elegiac feel before the song develops into a galloping pomp workout. The band then take their feet off the gas for Bury Me In Willow, which, with its soothing, pulsing, Fleetwood Mac vibe, could almost be described as MORP (Middle Of The Road Prog). No Religion, the next track in, is rockier and more hard-edged, and includes some surprisingly prosaic lyrics concerning a chance encounter in a pub: ‘I saw you in The Castle at the corner of Wigmore Street’. But still, all three songs represent a sterling start. 

The high-points keep coming. I Know How You Feel, based on a chintzy, jerky, Supertramp-style refrain, initially sounds throwaway but then builds into something mighty and magnificent. Face On The Bridge, the first single, might have its connections with Heart’s Alone but it’s still full of fervour and passion, and Wetton delivers a particularly robust vocal performance. Ghost Of A Chance is equally dramatic and, as a bonus, provides some shrewd advice with the lyrics: ‘Seize the day, raise your lance’. With its call-and-response chorus the jaunty Al Gatto Nero could provide Asia with their first ever summer-holiday hit – come September the whole world could be singing, ‘I’m going to find the black cat... I’ll be there after midnight... I’m feeling good’

Disappointments are few. The production (by Mike Paxman) could be a bit more grandiose, Faithful is only just on the right side of schmaltz, and Judas is perhaps a little too close to Heat Of The Moment for comfort. But these are minor gripes. Let’s just hope Asia are still around in 10 years’ time to release an album called XXXX. Rest assured, we’ll be breaking out a crate of Castlemaine to celebrate.

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