Review by David Waterfield
Release Date: 21 March 2014
Although the prog rock pedigree of their individual members might have suggested otherwise, right from the outset Asia established a distinctive, concise and cohesive group sound based on powerful vocals, multi-layered harmonies, excellent musicianship, big production and strong songs with accessible lyrics about real life emotions and situations. I’m pleased to report that these classic Asia hallmarks are all present and correct on the band’s latest album, Gravitas.
Opening track ‘Valkyrie’ is the album’s calling card: five minutes of pure Asia graced by a haunting cello from Katinka Steijns. In Scandinavian folk lore the Valkyrie chose which soldiers would live and die on the battlefield and escorted the chosen safely to the afterlife. The guardian angel theme is one that recurs throughout the lyrics on Gravitas.
The departure of Steve Howe last year left Asia with some very big shoes to fill but, for me, Sam Coulson has slotted into the line-up admirably. The young guitarist has brought a refreshing directness and a harder edge to the band’s sound. He also gets chance to cut loose with a superb solo at the close of ‘Gravitas’ – an absolute belter of a track and one of the highlights of the album.
‘The Closer I Get’ is a lovely melodic ballad with the closeness and intimacy of Wetton’s vocals in the verses opening out into a huge, panoramic chorus. ‘Heaven Help Me’ is another album highlight and is a plea for spiritual help whilst the redemptive and transformative power of love (another underlying theme on Gravitas) pervades the lyrics to ‘Joe DiMaggio’s Glove’ and ‘Russian Dolls’, the latter featuring a gorgeous melody and chord sequence in the verses.
The 1987 demo of ‘I Would Die For You’ (which first appeared on a collection of Wetton/Downes demos on Stallion Records in 2001 if anyone remembers that. No? Just me then) is dusted down and transformed into a full Asia track. The album closes with the Celtic flavoured ‘Till We Meet Again’ a celebration of friendship and surely one of the first names on the team sheet for any future ‘Asia Unplugged’ CD.
Gravitas doesn’t break much new ground for the band but it’s a fine album of excellent songs with emotional depth, beautifully played, sung and produced. Whether the general public will be accepting of an original Asia line up without Steve Howe remains to be seen but – and I say this as a dyed-in-the-wool Yes fan too – I sincerely hope that they do. Gravitas demonstrates that, 32 years on from their debut, Asia still has much to offer.
8.5 out of 10
- The Closer I Get
- Russian Dolls
- Heaven Help Me
- I Would Die For You
- Joe DiMaggio’s Glove
- Till We Meet Again