Top positive review
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Another Fine Entry!
on 8 April 2014
To be honest, I wasn't really too concerned when Steve Howe left Asia for the second time. As much as I love his playing, he doesn't even feature on two of my favourite Asia albums (1994's 'Aria' and 2004's 'Silent Nation') and Asia have had a countless number of guitar players over the years, including the likes of Elliot Randall, Aziz Ibrahim and Guthrie Govan, so there's never been a shortage of quality in that department. The real driving force behind Asia has always been Geoff Downes and whichever singer/bassist has been fronting the band, whether it's John Wetton or John Payne.
'Gravitas' sees Wetton and Downes coming to the fore once again and delivering another set of finely crafted, accessible melodic rock songs with the odd progressive rock flourish.
Opening track 'Valkyrie' is a real earworm of a song. It's classic Asia and once it takes a hold of you, it won't let go for days. I've been humming it constantly for nearly two weeks. The title track is a good eight-minuter, with soaring vocal harmonies and a driving rhythm section.
'The Closer I Get to You' is one of the strongest tracks on offer. A traditional, emotionally driven Asia-style ballad with plenty of majesty. It sits nicely alongside some of their strongest material and should become something of a fan favourite. 'Joe DiMaggio's Glove' is another slick ballad, beautifully sung by Wetton.
My favourite tracks on 'Gravitas', along with the aforementioned 'Valkyrie' and 'The Closer I Get to You' are the lively 'Heaven Help Me Now' and the bright and breezy finale, 'Till We Meet Again'. To be honest though, there isn't really a dull moment on this album. 'Gravitas' sounds great and has arguably the best production of any record in the Asia catalogue. Roger Dean's artwork completes what is a very satisfying package indeed.
In terms of individual performances, obviously the focus is on Steve Howe's replacement, Sam Coulson. It's obvious that on this album, his role is to supply some straight ahead rhythm guitar and weigh in with a big solo as and when required. When he comes to the fore, his playing is very much in the same vein as Pat Thrall and Al Pitrelli when they were in the band. However, there are some moments during the title track and the ballads that seem to be crying out for some of Steve Howe's guitarwork and at times, I feel Coulson is holding back slightly. On future albums, I'd like to hear him adding some acoustic guitar, expressing himself a bit more and really letting rip, because the talent is definitely there. All that being said, considering he's only a young man, he delivers a solid, mature debut with plenty of potential.
As for the other members, John Wetton, as ever, delivers a masterclass of soulful and earnest vocal performances, along with beautiful, fluid bass playing. Carl Palmer's drums are more rhythm based; less erratic than usual and more focused, allowing the songs to really flow. Geoff Downes keyboards are sumptuous, with classical chops and symphonic flourishes by the bucketload.
'Gravitas' is an album that I liken to 'Alpha' and 'Aria' in terms of it's mood, tone and emotional depth. It's a good fifty minute record that doesn't outstay it's welcome. I've knocked a star off due to Howe's presence being missed here and there and for some of the lazy fadeouts on a couple of tracks (check out Magnum's 'Escape From The Shadow Garden' if you want to hear how to end songs properly). Other than that, anyone that's enjoyed Asia's output since 2008 will have plenty to enjoy here and fans of the band in general will lap it up. It's good stuff.