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Old 07-01-2012, 05:05 AM   #1381 (permalink)
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Old 07-01-2012, 05:09 AM   #1382 (permalink)
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A hit single for the Queen guitarist, this was also used in one of the advertisements for a major motor company. This is Brian May, with “Driven by you”.
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Old 07-01-2012, 11:23 AM   #1383 (permalink)
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Time to return to the world of long, complicated, involved songs, where an eight minute composition is considered a short one! Yes, all the songs here are considered


Here's a rather incredible one to start us off, from Kate Bush, a track that runs for a total of forty-two minutes! Think that's the longest we've ever had here! This is “A sky of honey”.
Spoiler for Click here for video:


Here's one from the Alan Parsons Project, title track to the album “The turn of a friendly card”, and arranged as a suite under that name, it clocks in at 16 minutes 28 seconds.
Spoiler for Click here for video:


One of my favourite progressive metal bands, this is Threshold, with a track that comes in at 11 minutes 15 seconds, this is “Narcissus”.
Spoiler for Click here for video:


Just over the ten-minute mark by four seconds, this is Kansas, with “Song for America”.
Spoiler for Click here for video:


And to finish with, here's one from Black Sabbath's self-titled debut. With a length of 10 minutes 35 seconds, this is “Warning”.
Spoiler for Click here for video:
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Old 07-02-2012, 04:56 AM   #1384 (permalink)
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Old 07-02-2012, 05:03 AM   #1385 (permalink)
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Chris de Burgh, rocking out you say? Yeah, well, he does, or did, on occasion. Well, for him, that is. This is “High on emotion”.
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Old 07-02-2012, 11:32 AM   #1386 (permalink)
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"XXX = YAWN"
Warning: I've been composing this review in my head for about the last week, and let me just say right from the off that I am NOT happy with this album. It's going to be a long review, and blood will be spilled! So strap yourself in and expect a bumpy ride, cos it's gonna get ugly!

XXX --- Asia --- 2012 (Frontiers)


Those who know me will know I'm a huge fan of Asia. Although I didn't think their debut was that great, I did like it and the followup “Alpha” really spoke to me. I do find myself mostly falling into the John Payne camp however, which might possibly explain my disappointment with this album, except that I really loved “Phoenix”, which was John Wetton's return after nearly twenty years, and I thought “Omega” was all right, though no triumph. I also, as I say, liked the early albums with Wetton. Up to now though, I've never bought an Asia album I didn't like, or come to like pretty quickly. Even the dubious “Silent nation”, which I took some time getting into, is now firmly ensconced as a proper Asia album with me.

But this is a massive let down.

I know what it is, and I will be going into boringly detailed explanation and opinion through this review, but it's something I never expected to say of an Asia album. The main thing that really burns me about this, Asia's fifteenth overall, third with the reformed original lineup and the album that marks thirty years of Asia, hence the title, is that it is, in a word, boring. In another word, flat. In another word, uninteresting. Stale. Unadventurous. Boring. Oh wait, I said that already, didn't I? Well, sadly it's worth repeating.

Asia's fifteenth album, XXX, is boring.

Much of the blame has to lie squarely with Wetton's vocals, which sound dull, uninspired, disinterested. To be fair, it opens well, with some beautiful piano from Geoff Downes and some cello I think, and you really believe the album is starting off with a ballad, which would not be a bad way to start, but would I think have been a first for this band. However, one minute in it kicks up and becomes a boppy little rocker. Now, I have no problem with this per se. For the first time we hear Downes' famed and instantly recognisable trumpeting keyboards, and for a moment you think yeah, here we go. And to be fair, as an opener it's not too bad of a song, but I do have an issue with the title. When I see a track called “Tomorrow the world” I think this is to do with intention: today London, tomorrow the world, that sort of thing. But it's actually a promise that tomorrow the world will be better, and although that's a laudable sentiment I think they should just have called this “Tomorrow”. Would have been punchier, looked to the future, made a better impact in my opinion.

But these are small concerns, as are some of the lyrics: Wrap (the world) up and throw it like a ball? What the hell is that meant to mean? Still, it's an upbeat, uptempo rocker to start, even if it's not as powerful as I would have liked. It does however end very badly, looking at first like it's going to end on organ, then this switches to a rolling drum outro, but instead of finishing powerfully it just sort of fades out, which annoyed me. But however, on we go, and at least Wetton is in decent voice for this track, and the next one, “Bury me in willow”. Reading the title I assumed that Willow was a place, but no, it seems the idea is bury me in a coffin made of willow wood. I'm no expert, but I think coffins are made from pine? However, it's got some decent ideas in it, a sort of anti-war sentiment --- ”Give me no standards or eulogy/No red white and blue/ No sceptre or no cloak” --- but again it's a little limp, a little weak, though Downe's keyboards carry the song, as they often do.

So we're not too bad so far. So far. Then comes “No religion”. Now, the first thing to hit you about this is the oh-so-familiar guitar riff. Yeah, it's BOC's “Don't fear the Reaper”, shamelessly ripped off, note for note. Oh dear. This is where you start to hear Wetton's voice start to sound a little less sure, a little weaker and less committed, as if he's losing interest. It's paradoxically the heaviest track on the album, and one where he should really be letting it rip, but no, there's no heart or soul there. No religion? No interest, more like. And it doesn't get any better as the album wends what becomes its weary way on, as each song becomes more a trial to listen to, and my own interest begins to wane. “Faithful” sounds, to me, a little too close to “The last time” off “Aura” for comfort, and as Wetton sings ”I was hardwired to forget” I begin to wish I was! This is lovesong drivel of the worst kind, the sort of thing that got Asia pegged as “a bunch of old men singing to their girlfriends”, even back in the eighties! The lyric is awful: ”Wherever you may go/ You'll always know/ Faithful I'll be to you” Oh, again I say, dear. It's like mid-eighties Asia but without the class and the power. It just sounds desperate, almost as if they're trying to write a hit single one more time. Doubt this will manage it.

Even Steve Howe's guitar playing is subsumed in the album generally, although he does let loose with a nice solo here that helps to rescue the song a little, but even that can't prevent this from sliding down a deep hole from which it (hopefully) will never emerge. Awful. And as I say, unfortunately, it does not get any better, with Supertramp style piano opening “I know how you feel”. It's not the worst song, and I wonder how Payne would have handled it, but Wetton just doesn't come across as invested in it at all, and if he really did know how we feel, he would have put in a better performance on this album, while maybe writing some better songs into the bargain. Again there's a decent little Howe solo, but it's very restrained and almost lost in the backing vocals and Downes' keys.

“Face on the bridge” isn't bad, to be completely fair, nice keyboard intro, good beat, and Wetton's singing is not too bad, but still way below par. It's very derivative though, like most of the songs on this album: I can definitely hear echoes of “Astra” and “Alpha” material in it. For what it is though, it's probably the last decent track on the album, which is not really a compliment, but a sad statement of fact. This is, as the man says, where things get ugly, where the precariously-balanced house of cards shudders and threatens to fall.

I don't know what “Al gatto nero” means, and have no idea what the HELL it's about. Wetton uses a mixture of English and either Spanish or Italian language in the lyric, and although I can't quite place it, the melody of the song comes across as very, very familiar, and I'm sure I've heard it in a previous Asia track. It is, however, notable for one thing: it will go down in my own personal history as THE most annoying Asia track EVER. I bloody hate it! It just grates on me, mostly perhaps because I don't know what it's about, but it seems to be very smug and self-serving. To understand what I mean you'll have to just bite the bullet and listen to it. Oh yeah, and just to add insult to injury they throw in the ending to “Here comes the feeling” off the debut album. But even at that, it's not the worst track on the album. Oh no.

If a band writes a song called “Judas”, you can be reasonably sure it's going to be about betrayal of some sort, treachery, backstabbing, that sort of thing, and that it should be sung in an angry voice. Whether that anger is a growl or rage or a mutter of cold reproach is a matter of style, but what you don't expect is for the lyric to be rattled off with no heart, no emotion, no feeling and no impact whatever. When John Wetton sings ”You put a knife in me” he sounds about as concerned about it as what he's going to have for his breakfast. He might as well be reproving someone for turning up late, or spilling his drink. There's not one iota of anger in his voice, it's completely matter-of-fact, flat and bored. Christ, if he's not interested in the song, how am I expected to be? It's the most one-dimensional Judas I have ever heard about, and it makes zero impact on me. A song without emotion really isn't a song at all, at least a rock song. This is terrible. Though it rocks in melody the vocal drags it down to the very bottom of the barrel; you can't believe in it, so you can't enjoy it. Well, I can't.

The only good thing about “Judas” is that it heralds the arrival of the final track. Yeah, that's right: thirty years in the business is marked by an album with NINE tracks. What a rip-off! And none of them are even any way particularly long. Then again, with quality this low it's probably a blessing there are so few tracks. Where is the heart and emotion that went into tracks like “Heroine” and “Orchard of mines” on “Phoenix”? No three-part compositions like on that album, nothing to stand out, unless it's how bad the material is. Well, the closer is called “Ghost of a chance”, and that's fairly appropriate, as that's how much it's likely I'll ever grow to tolerate, never mind like, this album. There is some lovely acoustic guitar from Steve Howe and some nice strings, and they do try to kick it up for one final last-gasp effort. It's not bad, but it'll take more than this to rescue such a poor album.

It's possibly telling that when you try to access their website (ASIA | XXX) it takes an absolute age to come up. Perhaps Asia are tired, perhaps they should think about calling it a day. Thirty years is a long time, even if this particular lineup hasn't been together all that time. If they can't find the creative spark that lit albums like “Alpha”, “Aura” and even “Phoenix”, they really shouldn't be foisting this substandard trash on their longtime fans, and giving ammunition to those who say Asia are a boring, tired band. If it's too much to mark your thirtieth year with a standout, or at least impressive album --- hell, I'd have accepted adequate! --- then I have to wonder if Asia have any business putting out new albums and expecting people like me to pay for them.

That said, I have no doubt the album will sell well, and the upcoming concerts will no doubt be sold out, and perhaps the songs will translate better live. But I don't have the money for concert tickets, even if they were playing Ireland, which I don't know, and I should be able to get the same basic feeling from their recorded output. On the strength of this, I wouldn't go see them if the tickets were free. Well, of course I would, as they have produced excellent music down the years. But I really feel they've let me down this time, and at a time when I would have wanted, and expected, them to reaffirm their love of music and their talent, and their commitment to the people who have, after all, put them where they are today.

To paraphrase Meat Loaf, this album is a lemon and I want my money back!

I will, however, leave the last word to Fry.


TRACKLISTING

1. Tomorrow the world
2. Bury me in willow
3. No religion
4. Faithful
5. I know how you feel
6. Face on the bridge
7. Al gatto nero
8. Judas
9. Ghost of a chance
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Old 07-02-2012, 01:34 PM   #1387 (permalink)
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An excellent and unfortunately spot-on review of XXX compadre Trollheart. I couldn't have done it better myself had I been in Rage Mode on RYM.

It's actually quite baffling when you think about it, especially in light of the high quality associated albums have been since last year (Yes's Fly From Here, Squackett's self-titled, etc.).

My guess is that Wetton is holding everyone else back at the moment. Maybe they should pull a Queensryche on him and bring Payne back all official-like.
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Old 07-02-2012, 05:09 PM   #1388 (permalink)
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Thanks Ant, and thanks for taking the time to comment.

Thing is, Payne is still around isn't he, touring with "John Payne's Asia". But there must be some contractual guff that precludes him from recording under that name. Damn pity, as it could be a hell of an album!

I'm so pissed off with Wetton, and I lay the blame for XXX mostly at his doorstep. Downes is his usual excellent self, no real complaints there other than that he sort of takes over, Howe is there when he wants to be but conspicuous by his absence too many times, and Palmer is, well, Palmer. But Wetton is the focal point of the band, and it stands or falls on his personality and charisma, or lack of, and his own belief in these songs, which after all he helped write. So I don't think there's anywhere for him to hide.

Such a disappointment. Won't stop me buying the next one, if there is one, of course, but it's tough to see your gods have feet of clay in the end...
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Old 07-03-2012, 04:41 AM   #1389 (permalink)
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Old 07-03-2012, 04:46 AM   #1390 (permalink)
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One of those old disco semi-classics you often hear about, but don't hear too often, this is Andy Kim, from 1974, with “Rock me gently”.
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