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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
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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.
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on 1 May 2014
Wetton and Downes are old men. It's unreasonable to expect them to have the fire of their youth - indeed I think Wetton's once-distinctive overdriven bass sound was last heard on "Ride Easy" on the original Asia album! Both have spent a lot of time piddling about in lower-grade work. Any good music needs edge. Generally Steve Howe ensures that any work he is associated with is of a minimum standard, but of course he isn't here.

Now I got this through the post together with "North" by John Lee's Barclay James Harvest (The JLBJH effort was so lame it hurt). The comparison made me realise that Gravitas is not at all bad.

First, it's got two tracks that I can't get out of my head - "Valkyrie" and "Joe di Maggio's glove". The rest is variable and hasn't grabbed me yet - I've only had the CD for a few days. Wetton's voice on both is good, and the production is crisp.

It's not very up-to-date, but then Asia always set their own style which was often at variance with current fashion. I was afraid that it might be a keyboard-driven album, but Asia seem to have avoided this trap largely. The new guitarist is excellent, fits in, and is not as "tacked-on" as Mandy Meyer so obviously was.

What I recommend is using the online snippets and listening to a few of the tracks. If it grabs you even that much, then it is for you. If not ... not.
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on 8 April 2014
To date, we've had three strong albums from Asia since their original line-up reformed to make 2008's Phoenix. The following outings, Omega (2010) and XXX (2012), took what John Wetton, Geoff Downes, Steve Howe and Carl Palmer had reignited and moved it forward.

So now, in 2014, we're due another Asia album and here it is. However, one founder member, guitarist Howe, has retired from the band, with 27-year-old YouTube sensation, Sam Coulson, taking his place.

Asia's third album saw the Yes-bound Howe replaced by Krokus's Mandy Meyer, so is this 'Astra Mark II'?

No. Despite the cataclysmically corny spoken section in Countdown to Zero, Astra may still be the better album.

Not that there's anything irredeemably wrong with Gravitas, it's just that thus far it has failed to grab me as much as the previous Wetton-associated Asia offerings.

The reformed Asia have always started their albums strongly and this is still the case here. Valkyrie kicks things off in style but is perhaps a little too reliant on its huge sumptuous harmony, while Gravitas is a sprawling eight-minute epic with a very proggy opening. The Closer I Get to You is the first ballad and Wetton's voice has never sounded better, although the bridge is uncomfortably close to the main hook in Drive by The Cars.

Nyctophobia feels like a bit of a novelty track, as Emily was on Omega. It sounds very New Wave, like it could have been the work of New Musik, XTC or perhaps even Downes's previous outfit, The Buggles. It's a decent enough entry though, while Russian Dolls is an atmospheric piece with a rare but excellent Wetton bass solo.

Heaven Help Me Now opens with a rather churchy harmony (reminiscent of the theme tune to Mr Bean!) and a melodious keyboard interlude, before beefing up into a decent rocker. Next is the equally upbeat I Would Die For You which would sit comfortably on both Alpha and Omega. And then we have Joe Dimaggio's Glove, the second ballad of the album and something of a masterpiece, with its many different tones and mellifluous chorus.

Til We Meet Again is a disappointingly leaden coda to the album, with a mildly unpleasant Bon Jovi / Lay Your Hands On Me feel to it. This should have been buried in the middle of the running order somewhere, although the sentiment is appropriate for an album closer, I suppose.

Lyrics have never been Asia's strong suit but there are more jarring moments than usual here.

The title track has Wetton singing the word "dignity" while the backing vocals repeat the song title "Gravitas". This combination unfortunately results in the singer seeming to call for Dignitas - the assisted dying organisation! Things can't be that bad surely? And "like Joe Dimaggio's glove" is a weird simile but seems to have first appeared in the musical South Pacific. Still odd though.

Other lyrical lowlights include the risible phrase "ten seconds from Leningrad" in Russian Dolls (can you reasonably be ten seconds from a massive city?) and I can't help feeling Wetton had just spotted 'Nyctophobia' in the dictionary when writing the album. A trifle naff.

Lastly, the words to Heaven Help Me Now seem to be a litany of cliches, tacked onto the blushing behind of the horribly clumsy opening line "Stared down the cold blue muzzle of a steel blue gun".

Musically though, the album is very much up to snuff with excellent and diverse vocals from Wetton and lots of melodic keyboard hooks from Downes. Palmer provides his signature powerhouse drumming and it's great to hear him higher in the mix under the production auspices of band-mates Wetton and Downes.

There's some fluid soloing from Coulson, which makes a refreshing change from Howe's rather more staccato improvisations. The young guitarist is a more than adequate ringer and his style is more sympathetic to the Asia sound than Mandy Meyer's was. It would be nice to hear him add a few more flourishes to his non-solo playing next time though.

All in all, however, Gravitas is a little disappointing compared to the superlatively high standards most recently set by Omega and XXX. That said, if you've enjoyed Asia's output post-2008, you'll almost certainly like this.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 10 April 2014
"Gravitas is Asia by Asia. At last."
John Wetton.

Beg to differ.
Gravitas is Asia by John Wetton and Geoff Downes.
Again.

Wetton and Downes song writing partnership has dominated recent Asia releases; all the numbers on Gravitas were penned by the pair and they also produced the album.
And in terms of song structure, arrangements and sound Gravitas is more accurately an album by Icon (the franchise vehicle for the Wetton - Downes duo) in everything but name.

Which is all fine and dandy if the album is littered with a great set of songs but Gravitas is, for the most part, mid-tempo soft rock by numbers.

John Wetton’s voice is strong and prominent as you would expect, but many of the songs suffer from keyboard heavy arrangements or their over-use, giving new kid on the Asia block Sam Coulson little room for expression.
Coulson’s guitar licks are well placed and the solos are generally short, sharp and solid but that’s part of the problem – they sound like they are please-insert-your-solo-here moments.

And it could be any drummer keeping the predominately mid and slow-tempo beats; Carl Palmer is in no danger of having to remove his shirt during his percussive work on Gravitas.

‘Valkyrie’ is the first single to be lifted from Gravitas and it leads off the album.
Its soft rock, big vocal and choral chorus arrangement is pleasant enough but the album’s opening statement loses impetus because of the continual ‘Valkyrie’ repeat in the latter stages of the song.
A far more vibrant and fitting introduction to the album would have been the eight minute title track.

But ‘Valkyrie’ is simply setting the musical template for most of what follows.
‘The Closer I Get To You’ is a written to order Downes-Wetton ballad while the more interesting and quirky ‘Nyctophobia’ suffers from the same repetitive issues that plague ‘Valkyrie.’

There are a couple of instances where the pace is picked up.
‘Heaven Help Me’ carries that stereotypical Asia rock sound but is over produced while the punchier ‘I Would Die For You’ has some verve about it but suffers from a clichéd chorus.

The aforementioned title track does carry some musical gravitas and the acoustic led classic rock of ‘Till We Meet Again’ stands out as a highlight but outside of the dedicated fan base and fan boys who applaud every release as if it’s the Second Coming of the first album, it’s a case of Gravitas in name only.

Whether this particular Asia line-up has any longevity, Only Time Will Tell (oh come on, you knew it was coming).
And it remains to be seen if they can produce a true band album and one of high quality.
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on 28 July 2014
Its not a bad album but as others have said, it starts very well with the first three songs, then it seems to drift off a bit in places. Just feels a bit rushed and not complete. Other Asia albums tend to have more solid songs and more than nine tracks. Having said that, there are some great songs, just wish i didnt have to skip a couple of songs.
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on 27 May 2014
Fantastic album!

Simply a great Asia album, Steve Howe is not here, but Sam Coulson is and he does a bloody good job.

The bonus DVD...

I am a sucker for bonus editions, for those who want to get this for the DVD, be warned it is only about 10 minutes long! That includes the music video of "Gravitas".

If you want a DVD about an Asia album, XXX's bonus DVD is much better and much longer.
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on 6 June 2014
Possibly a bit more of the same old Asia - so exactly what you would expect. Probably 7 out of 10 for the boys here. Not a definative album but well worth a listen. A few good early tracks, possibly let down in later tracks.
I believe that there is so much more prog potential in the music so was a little dissapointed in the overall output. I believe there could be more depth and variation, especially when some of the lines repeat a lot. There could have been a growing intensity during those phases, or variable drumming or bass, or something. But this is typical of Asia.
Production by John Mitchell (It Bites / Arena / Frost / Kino) has added some quality to very early Asia, but I think the boys could move this music to a different place, influenced more by the music JM is typically involved with.
No problems for the Asia purists. Slight frustration from us die-hard Proggies who can see an opportunity missed.
Just my option though, so don;t take this as a definative view. And I will be in Malvern to see the boys play it live (June 2014).
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on 24 April 2014
Getting old gracefully...thats what I thought after a few spins of this new album. Carefully crafted, new man on guitar does a good job, but unfortunately not many sparks in here.

It starts off pretty well, with the first three songs all holding the attention. Then things get rather nebulous and altogether too "department store lift music" orientated.

Nothing wrong with the songs, they just don't make me want to sit down and listen to them rather than simply have them there in the background filling the silence while I do something else.

For me, they'd started down this path with XXX, which I felt was a bit of a damp squib after the altogether more satisfying Omega.

Overall, not bad, but some way off being a really good album.
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on 27 March 2014
“Gravitas” is the fourteenth studio album by Asia, the legendary British melodic progressive rockers. Produced and written by founding band members John Wetton and Geoff Downes, the record also introduces their new guitarist, Sam Coulson, and is the follow-up to their “XXX” album from 2012.

My favorites on this album are the opening track “Valkyrie,” a real stand-out with its great harmony vocals, the power ballad “The Closer I Get To You,” which reminded me a bit of a song by Boston I can’t recall the name off, and the rockers “Heaven Help Me Now” and “I Would Die For You.” Another stand-out is the ballad “Joe DiMaggio’s Glove,” which seemed to show some influences from Supertramp.

While this is a good, solid Asia album and a welcome addition to my Asia collection, it seemed to lack a certain, well, gravitas. I’ve been listening to this album for the past couple of days to let them really sink in, as I didn’t want to write a review in the heat of the moment, but the only songs that really stood out to me after repeated listening’s were “Valkyrie” and “Joe DiMaggio’s Glove.”

So to sum it up, I still enjoyed this album. All the other songs were good… but not great. And last but not least, there’s the fact that there are only 9 tracks on the regular CD. This is a bit flimsy, so for the above mentioned reasons I have given this album four stars: I like it, but don’t love it.
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on 25 March 2014
I have to say that I don't think this is as good as 'XXX' or 'Omega'. It's a little too safe for me. It's not that it's bad - John Wetton's vocals are great, the production is superb as usual, and Sam Coulson is a fine replacement for Steve Howe - but, I don't think the material is as strong. That said, I agree, if you like ASIA you'll probably lap this up.
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