Asia. It's a name on everybody's lips. And like herpes, its essential elements simply won't go away.

One can hardly blame these guys for being tickled with themselves. The band, the sound, the commercial potential represent a concept to end all concepts.

Steve Howe, former lead axeman for Yes, drummer Carl Palmer, the P in ELP, and bassist/vocalist John Wetton, variously of King Crimson, Uriah Heep, Roxy Music and U.K., discovered each other while ghosting about the progressive-rock cemetery, where they simultaneously experienced epiphany. Bathed in the holy light of self-satisfaction, they decided that, having begat the very light-metal rock now enjoying success in the incarnations of Journey, Styx, Foreigner, etc., they would not go gentle into an early grave, but be born again to rule the airwaves. And verily, they commenced to roll away the stone.

Of course, they needed a few '80s touches for staging this mighty ressurrection. They added Geoff Downes for his youthfulness, his quasi-classical keyboard expertise and his mastery of a piece of hardware called the Fairlight Synthesizer. Then they chose a name that would symbolize both their epic ambitions and a chicly tender spot for Third World sensibilities. And lo, this new-age supergroup wrote some songs that would outdistance Journey and put the fear of God into Foreigner.

Such a natural for AOR airwaves is Asia that the debut album wasn't even shipped to the stations by the label; instead, it tumbled down from rock 'n' roll heaven like angel-scat from Hendryx, Morrison and others who dwell there.

From the ethereal software of "Heat of the Moment" to the sweaty romanticism of "Here Comes the Feeling" to the Blue Oyster Cultish "Sole Survivor," the sound of Asia is as homogeneous and innoffensive as Cream of Wheat.

Further, John Wetton's voice is absolutely irresistible. Like Greg Lake's (the L in ELP), it is sweet and well-pitched; unlike Steve Perry's, it is calm with the tiniest hint of hoarseness. It invites you to sing along, but doesn't demand it.

Asia is nothing less than a turning-in upon itself of late-'70s commercial cynicism, spawned by the very "progressive" musicians that initiated rock's backslide. It is the autotelic summation of binge/purge radio rock -- a winking man's Toto.

Think of it as a second coming. Or, think of it as sloppy seconds. Amen. THE ALBUM -- Asia, "Asia," Geffen GHS 2008. THE SHOW -- Wednesday at 8 at Painter's Mill. graphics /photo: Asia