Asia – XXX
Chemistry. If you go back far enough you’ll hear words like alchemy and magic when referencing how certain pieces come together and create something special. How precise the measure of specific parts are can be seen from sciences to cooking. 30 years ago, a musical recipe was created with Asia’s self-titled debut album. A cup Wetton, a cup Downes, a cup Howe and a cup Palmer made for an electrifying two albums. It took some time to bring the ingredients back to the mixing bowl but the original line-up have returned with, XXX, their 5th album together (their third since reuniting in 2008.)
Asia open the album with possibly their strongest song to-date, “Tomorrow The World.” Driving beat, infectious lyrics, vocal harmonics galore, sizzling guitar… let’s just say that it is classic Asia with the pedal on the floor. As much as I like the opener, “Bury Me In Willow” seems so unlike Asia that I’m drawn in. I’d say it’s almost worthy of anthem status but its dark lyrics betray that notion. (Yes, there really are willow caskets out there. Which tells you how effective the song was that I looked it up.) “No Religion” is an agnostic rocker while “Faithful” comes across sensual and pleading while still catchy and energetic. It’s funny to see a song titled “Judas” following “No Religion” and “Faithful” but this story of betrayal is full of punch and keyboard virtuosity. They have a little fun with “Al Gatto Nero” (meaning “the black cat”) which is a lyrical romp. There are some spectacular moments on this album from the mesmerizing “I Know How You Feel” to the throbbing single “Face On The Bridge” to the grand layering created on the closer “Ghost Of A Chance.”
The measurements add up here. Carl Palmer had to pull a muscle or two drumming on some of these tracks. Steve Howe achieves some dazzling peaks while emphasizing and maximizing hooks. Geoff Downes creates drama, adds his textures and baits the listener with his piano. John Wetton delivers strong and sure vocals as his bass is active throughout. Top notch songwriting. XXX proves how important our knowledge of chemistry is. This Asia line-up retains it and — quite like caesium and water — they’re explosive together.
4.5 out of 5