Asia - Gravitas

Asia Gravitas cover
Frontiers Records
Asia were really on a streak of releasing some really good albums since their “classic” line-up reunion a few years back, which was met with both renewed interest as well as commercial success. But as aforementioned above all else they had managed to recapture their “mojo”, releasing albums that pretty much were really deserving of the band’s name adorning the magnificent Roger Dean covers.
But then suddenly Steve Howe, in early 2013 decided to depart the band to concentrate on Yes and his solo work, leaving the band in a rather awkward position... so they decided to soldier on, they tried to recruit another guitarist who could not however make it, who in turn proposed to them Sam Coulson, the 27 year old, prodigious guitar player that actually came to some prominence when Paul Gilbert, saw him on YouTube back in 2007 and invited him over for a series of performances/workshops he was doing… to cut a long story short, Coulton got the gig and does a rather fair job in replacing Howe who is one of the greatest guitarist of this generation. I think the band tries to also be protective, so while the album allows him to flex some musical muscle its mostly based on Geoff Downes prowess, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
“Gravitas” the album is a grandiose album and a very atmospheric one that one needs to open the mind as well as all the senses to really embrace and fully appreciate. I suppose all Asia albums more or less require the listener’s attention, but this one also requires the listener to let go at the same time as well...
Valkyrie” the magnificent opener of “Gravitas” is a very inspired, uplifting number with a superb vocal performance by the inimitable John Wetton, that bears all the marks of a classic Asia composition, a nice string section, that lays down a very nice folk melody and even a blistering solo by the newcomer, Coulson... a tremendous opener.
The eponymous track “Gravitas” is melodic as track can be and chronicles the struggle of a man on the battlefield of life. Again Coulson’s guitar is “discreet” but it does come in at certain points and performs when necessary. I mean the playing in Asia was always – flashy, yet economic, when it came to guitars, I guess, unless a solo was to be performed. The song builds and builds and explodes into a great chorus a couple of times with Coulson also laying down another quite memorable solo the second time around! Well done!
The Closer I Get to You” is a ballad. John Wetton. Even in his mid-60s the guy is a superb singer, channeling more emotion in half a sentence than some people manage to convey in an entire album. Needless to say anything else. It’s not by far the best Asia ballad, but it’s pretty nice.
Nyctophobia” with its obvious “fear of the dark” theme has a quirky rhythm and a rather playful theme and it's quite unusual, which makes it all the more welcome as it sort of offers a bit of diversity on the whole.
What would come up next… well I was never prepared for such beauty… “Russian Dolls” is easily one of the nicest songs Wetton has sung in recent years. Simple as that.
Heaven Help Me Now” begins with some choir vocals and then quickly Downes takes over to create a symphonic crescendo along with the rest... after that there’s silence and around the second minute the actual song begins with a soft introduction and sudden keyboard rushes and flourishes accompanied by guitar eruptions. It’s a quite eccentric and eclectic piece and rather unusual with another impressive lead, with also an interesting crystalline “tone”... very unusual song overall and sure to stick out, in a good “impressive” way.
I Would Die for You” is probably what would win you a woman’s scorn – if she wasn’t head over “high” heels in love with you... if you ever told here you were in love with her… the number might have a kind of nice chorus, but tends to get a bit tedious, as a whole.
Joe DiMaggio’s Glove” is an almost perfect ballad, with a perfect build, but rhyming love with – you guessed it “Joe DiMaggio’s Glove”, is not the best idea, these guys “ever” had... it’s not the worse, but it ain’t the best either… where you’re almost in heaven during the chorus, that “glove bit”… why didn’t they rhyme it with “Smell the Glove” I wonder? Spinal Tap anybody?!
Till We Meet Again” is a nice enough strummed sort of gospelly number with a somewhat somber undertone that sounds pretty cool and makes a quite interesting “closer” for the album, if anything, I might have wanted it a bit, happier and maybe a bit faster… but even as it is – it’s pretty cool.
And to round off the album there are two acoustic renditions one to “The Closer I Get To You” (Acoustic), which to be quite honest, I did prefer to the original and another one to “Joe DiMaggio’s Glove” (Acoustic) which is sort of better with even the word, not ringing as badly, as it did in the “electric version”…
All in all, I can’t understand why some people really trashed this Asia album, unless it was a matter of person-worship. This by no means is a bad album at all, there might be a few not so great numbers towards the end and a couple of acoustic renditions too but still, you know when a band can come up with such great songs every couple of years, I would actually cherish the fact and welcome more music from them with open ears and arms as this will be their legacy and our aural pleasure for years to come…