Asia
XXX


3.5
great

Review

by dynamic range police USER (37 Reviews)
February 2nd, 2017 | 15 replies


Release Date: 2012 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Focused, coherent and subtly variegated; XXX arguably stands as Asia's unsung magnum opus.

The 2000s were a pot of surprises for Asia. 2004's Silent Nation saw the band, still fronted by John Payne, releasing the more serious sounding album of their career, embellished with markedly progressive writing twists and surprisingly gritty playing. Then when the original line-up reunited in 2006, the direction expectedly moved towards the sound of the iconic self titled debut with a modern touch. That said, while a good portion of the new material was far from an orthodox pop rock affair, it possessed a certain inoffensive character a lot of times, which plagued even the proggier excursions like the two suites offered in 2008's Phoenix.

And so XXX comes without any red carpets, anticipated by the anthemic choruses of the single "Face on the Bridge". The surprise? Turns out that the single is far from the album's strongest point. Accompanied by one of Roger Dean's best artworks, XXX starts very strongly with the "progressive pop rock" of "Tomorrow the World", boasting very confident vocals and surprisingly intense guitar soloing, with airy instrumental passages that charge the song with dynamics and atmosphere. The best part is that this is not a fluke! Though far from a straight progressive rock work (detractors beware), XXX can count on being cohesive and coherent. The lengthy "No Religion" focuses on the more rocking and proggy side of the sphere, while "Al Gatto Nero" offers an infectious pop rock affair where Carl Palmer doesn't forget to throw in a little drum solo for good measure.

The album succeeds even in its mellower moments. Especially notable are the moving "Bury Me in Willow" sustained by John Wetton's groovy bass and impassioned vocal delivery, then rounded up by Geoff Downes' keyboard work; and the symphony-tinged closer "Ghost of a Chance", in which Steve Howe delivers emotive guitar playing putting the goodness of his tone in full display. Worthy of mention is also the bonus track "Reno (Silver and Gold)", which meandering passages give off a watery atmosphere, making it perhaps a bit too interesting for being relegated in the bonuses, especially considering that it's inserted before the closing song (positively) affecting the album's flow.

Despite the presence of lesser moments, XXX is a strong AOR offer backed by interesting twists and unique atmosphere, which is obviously sustained to a degree by the splendid artwork but is ultimately created by effective and complementary playing from all members, as shown in the intriguing opening of "Faithful". In a discography filled with easy to criticize material, XXX is a breath of fresh air that can stand right next to the lauded debut album, and arguably on an even higher plane. The convinced detractors aren't likely to change their minds, especially not after the release of the recent Gravitas. But those who were always on the fence may be surprised by the integrity the band displayed in their 2012 fatigue.

"Give me no standard, no eulogy
No red, white and blue
No sceptre and no cloak
Just bury me in willow, not in oak.
"
Asia - "Bury Me in Willow"

R.I.P. John Wetton, June 12th 1949 - January 31st 2017




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user ratings (29)
3.1
good


Comments:Add a Comment 
Sabrutin
February 2nd 2017


9541 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Stream on Spotify (with bonus tracks!): https://open.spotify.com/album/3yB4GdmrL4Rwxbhdrs2yEh

My favorites: "Tomorrow the World", "Al Gatto Nero", "Reno (Silver and Gold)", "Ghost of a Chance".

"Tomorrow the World": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePUPD0fHs94

I was never the biggest Asia fan. Look for yourself: of the 13 full-lengths I only have 3 of them at a positive rating. But I never denied that I really like a lot of individual songs, and Wetton's vocals are my biggest point of interest.

For some reason, XXX caught me from the beginning and just kept growing. I have fond memories connected to it, and I decided to keep my personal rating separated from the review.

bloc
February 2nd 2017


69359 Comments


Haha it's funny because even their magnum opus gets only a 3.5

Divaman
February 2nd 2017


16120 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Nice tribute to Wetton.

Jethro42
February 3rd 2017


18270 Comments


I'm hard to please when it comes to AOR, and this album is no exception. After one spin, album doesnt appeal to me. It seems ''Ghost of a Chance'' is too good for the rest of the tracks. I'm gonna give another spin to see if it's just me.
Very nice review, Sab!

Xenorazr
February 3rd 2017


1466 Comments


Nice review, pos'd. I actually had never heard of this band, so imagine the look on my face when I click the band page here and see they've released 13 LP's!

e210013
February 3rd 2017


5025 Comments


Sincerely, I never paid much attention to Asia because I always saw them as an AOR band, which never was my favourite cup of tea. For a band with such a great prog artists, some of them belong of my favourite list, I never could digest that, very well. I always know very well one of their albums, their debut, which isn't a bad album. So, I don't know this album and it seems to me that it shouldn't be an excellent work, despite be not bad, especially after I have read your review and the commentary of Jethro. Still, when I'll have some time, I don't know when, maybe I'll give more attention to Asia.

Anyway, nice to see an album of Asia reviewed here with nice review, especially in a momment like this. I'm very glad that you paid a nice tribute to John. I myself hope to do the same in this month, as I did before with Chris Squire, David Bowie, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake.

Cheers, Sab. Nice work. Have a pos.

Jethro42
February 3rd 2017


18270 Comments


I agree with e21 that it's hard to digest to see such quality prog artists taking that kind of virage. Despite their huge discog, making pop rock music is not really natural for them and it shows they are not in their element. Proggers were made to prog in the first place, but yes, the 70's and classic prog music were gone during their reign.

Sabrutin
February 3rd 2017


9541 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

@bloc: Welp, every band has its traits.

@Divaman: Thanks, your list too.

@Xeno: You may notice the consensus about them isn't of the most inviting. The debut is pretty much legendary (for sales too), give it a shot when you have nothing else to do haha. Don't be afraid if you don't like the first song, I don't like it that much either even though it's an iconic anthem.



@Jethro: I see what you mean about that song, I feel the same for "Nyctophobia" from Gravitas. Personally I instantly loved the opener, then Ghost of a Chance, then I took a liking for the Italian bits in the choruses of "Al Gatto Nero" (especially the final ones) and realized that I loved the rest of the song too. Eventually, it became a special album to me, I love the passage you hear in the beginning of "Reno".

By the way, about AOR, I'm likely going to review more of it as time goes on. One band you already know, but I'll do others too.



@e210013 and Jethro: I have a lot of respect for proficient musicians that choose to write down to earth music, especially when you have other material that you can listen to if you aren't in the mood for too accessible music. Of course, as I'm sure my Asia ratings show, I don't always "fall" for it. But when pop music is written with intelligence, it becomes very valuable. I don't like to condemn musicians for "wasting time" writing accessible music, because writing good accessible music isn't easy

e210013
February 3rd 2017


5025 Comments


Ok, Sab. I see your point of view and I even can agree with it. And I also think that it isn't easy to make good pop stuff, especially with a touch of prog. There are many good examples of it. Some Genesis' albums of the 80's, the debut Tony Banks album and so on. However, I continue with some difficulty with many albums and bands. Probably it's a problem of prog heads, but this still is a problem to me.

Sabrutin
February 3rd 2017


9541 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Of course, the flip side is that if you are a renowned musician and decide to make shallow music then yes it becomes a problem even bigger than it would be if you didn't know the past works of said musician.



For example let's take Invisible Touch, speaking of Genesis. As much as I like Collins' vocals, the song is so straightforward that it ends up being bittersweet

Jethro42
February 3rd 2017


18270 Comments


I agree that simple, catchy and great is not always easy to match up, and it's particularly true in the case of some proficient prog artists.
Asia started their career in the 80s, where prog rock was almost dead because punk and new wave took the floor. At that point, prog rockers were confined to go more pop in order to survive (a lot of them just died on the run), and Asia took that direction, and they survived by doing a dozen of so-so pop rock albums that probably all contain decent songs which are not really their true style. They released so many albums when we all know that quality > quantity.

In the 90s, prog came back in strenght to the map. It's a shame they haven't return to their roots after trying so hard to find an identity in the 80s.

Sabrutin
February 3rd 2017


9541 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

It seems they did try to balance the prog and the pop, but they (almost) always possess this inoffensive flavor that can get really off-putting. See Gravitas for example: there is some straight-up symphonic prog in there, but the core of the songs makes the symphonic elements useless. No matter how pleasant those elements are, if the core is made of monotonous drumming and anonymous guitar "riffs"...

Jethro42
February 3rd 2017


18270 Comments


Yeah you're so right! I noticed that they often start or finish their songs in beauty but they regularly neglect the core of the songs which generally end up falling into mediocre and repetitive ditties. That is what I'm trying to say; these guys are better for composing majestic, epic symphonies. It's not natural for them to flirt with pop rock. The blend of prog rock and pop rock is a risky formula. Styx, Kansas and Supertramp are some specialists to mix both, cos they found their way and their identity in doing so. I guess Asia needed money, but they tried too hard.

That being said, I just listened to Alpha and imo it's like a good follow up to their debut album which I gave a 4. I think you gave Alpha a 2.5...I'm not ready to rate it yet.

Jethro42
February 3rd 2017


18270 Comments


Good Sound Off btw Sab. I bumped it.

Sabrutin
February 4th 2017


9541 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

I don't dislike Alpha, 2.5 for me isn't a totally bad rating. It's literally "half good" after all :D

I just feel that as a whole the album feels too ballad-ish, but there is definitely some sweet stuff like True Colors, The Heat Goes On, Eye to Eye, Never in a Million Years... oh, I kinda dislike Don't Cry though.

I may get it to a 3 if I "decided" to focus more on it



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