Dragon Ball & Pyramid
I’ve got myself stuck in a weird rut at home where I’ve been listening to Asia. What I really should be doing is writing a crit of their latest album, the just-released ‘XXX’, but I can’t say I’ve got my head around it enough to write anything insightful. The problem I’m having with ‘XXX’ is that it all sounds like rehashes of musical ideas they exhausted in their first two albums. Thus, I’ve been turning over these two discs with some morbid intensity, more than any kind of nostalgia.
I hadn’t really noticed this but during the GFC, the original lineup of Asia had gotten together and put out a quick couple of albums in ‘Omega’ and ‘Phoenix’, both of which I haven’t managed to get my mitts upon. It’ll happen – ‘Omega’ is already on its way from Amazon. In the mean time, of course, the only reference I have are the original two albums, and it’s made for some interesting listening.
Goodness those Roger Dean covers are beautiful. They’re some of his best covers.
Way back when in the ole’ mists of time, when Asia first came out with their eponymous album, they had a hit single in ‘Heat of the Moment’. It got tons of airplay. I dare say there are 80s nostalgia stations still whipping that track out once in a 48hour cycle of their rigid playlists. I don’t know which was more surprising; the supergroup lineup or the fact that the prog rock alumni went and recorded a hit single. After all, Steve Howe has ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’ on his resume, Carl Palmer has ‘Karn Evil 9’ with its three impressions and John Wetton played on some pretty long improv bits on ‘Larks Tongues in Aspic’ and ‘Starless and Bibleblack’. A punchy little hit single for the ages?
‘Alpha’ quickly followed and that was just as carefully confected pop as ‘Asia’ was carefully confected stadium rock anthems. I remember feeling an immense amount of frustration as I listened to them that these albums were definitely lacking in long pieces with big instrumental sections. It was harder to take because I loved ‘Drama’ by Yes and here were Geoff Downes and Steve Howe doing pop rock. The sum total experience across both albums felt like much less than the parts and ingredients going in.
Listening to both albums today, I feel like I’ve grown into these songs more. It’s still prog rock, but less mannered, less figurative, less abstract, and less convoluted – and I’m old enough now to handle these albums being that way. I don’t need all of my music to be chicanes and break-neck changes and diabolically convoluted time signatures. I’m finding I’ve got a lot of time for this stuff today.
I figure that in Steve Howe’s mind, Asia is an opportunity to just go out there and rock. There’s no whimsy like ‘Circus of Heaven’ or ‘Madrigal’ or ‘Wondrous Stories’. Instead there’s John Wetton singing about resenting undeserved medals for generals and generally living a rough and tumble life where people go on secret missions and trade punches. The singing persona he sports sounds like a Steven Seagal movie character; a bit like his previous work in the band ‘U.K.’.
Carl Palmer’s work stands up to the test of time the most for me. He’s very crisp and measured without being machine-like; it’s simply tremendous playing. Geoff Downes sounds like a catalogue of 80s synth sounds but I guess that’s what makes Asia so punchy and pop. It’s more amusing than anything.
Anyway, I’m just putting this up in a way as to get myself to writing something about ‘XXX’. By the way, I went looking for a digital image of the ‘XXX’ album cover and typed in ‘XXX’ and ‘Asia’ into the Google image search and I have to tell you it’s pretty unsavory.