Asia - XXX (Frontiers)

Four decades in, is the pomp rock powerhouse running out of steam?
Release Date: 
29 Jun 2012 (All day)

Calm down, calm down, the title doesn’t mean this album is choc full of ‘adult entertainment’, the three exes are merely a nod to the fact that it’s thirty years since Asia foisted themselves upon a salivating public with their storied debut album. It’s really as simple as that. I’m sorry.

Now we’ve got that out of the way, Its a shame to have to report that there’s a sad irony to the implied meaning of XXX as a title, because this album is really as safe as its possible to get. Asia of course deal in big, stadium-stridng sentiment as a stock in trade, and over the years they’ve hit paydirt time and again with the grossly inflated sentiment of songs like Heat of the Moment and Go. Hell, even the two albums the reformed classic lineup has recorded since getting back together a few years ago have had some splendid moments; Those moments are largely missing from XXX.

That’s not to say this is a bad album – far from it. It’s just that the overwrought emotion on which the band built its fortune is just not here, which makes for a very polite – not to say slightly lifeless – listening experience. Whether this has anything to do with vocalist/bassist John Wetton’s waning vocal powers I don’t know (I saw Asia live at the High Voltage festival a couple of years ago and the man appeared to be struggling throughout), but there just aren’t the soaring peaks of quivering sentiment we’ve come to expect from this band peppering the album. Faithful comes close, I’ll grant you, and the splendid I Know How You Feel, featuring some marvellous keyboard work from former Buggle Geoffrey Downes, also flags that the band haven’t completely lost their collective mojo, but these highlights have to be spread thinly to compensate for the comparative lack of inspiration to be found elsewhere.

Face on the Bridge infuses 80s AOR with a nice Motown feel courtesy of some beguiling backing vocals, the sum of which leaves the band sounding like Abacab-era Genesis (no bad thing, really); It’s here for the first time, six songs into a nine song album, that the band sounds truly energized. Even Steve Howe wakes up from his reveries for long enough to contribute a couple of nice solos to the track. This is the Asia we’ve come to know and love.

To be fair, you’ll be singing along to every song after four or five listens, but, as stated before that doesn’t take away from the fact that there is a worrying lack of life about XXX. Can they regain their muse as a band? I hope so, for it would be a shame if this was to be the band’s last recorded document. Good, enjoyable stuff – but I wanted something more.