Category: Progressive / Rock
Blurb: Presenting fine musicianship, catchy songwriting, and a relaxed atmosphere in equal measure, the latest album from ASIA falls just short of brilliance, but still offers no small amount of satisfaction.
For over three decades, ASIA has been something of an anomaly in the annals of rock music, displaying no small amount of excellent musicianship within the confines of the more commercialized AOR format. Seemingly content to have never achieved the heights of stardom first promised by the 1982 debut album (with “Heat of the Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell” still heralded as the band’s best known hits), and while perhaps less architectural in its compositional approach than the band’s progressive counterparts, ASIA has managed to endure through changing trends and lineups and maintain a sense of vitality. With the band’s latest album, Gravitas, that vitality is demonstrated not by excessive volume or florid histrionics, but rather by a conscious sense of restraint and musical economy that can only come from a band with no need of such gratuity. Put simply, ASIA has nothing to prove, making Gravitas an enjoyable if less than essential album.
Simple in its progression, epic in its arrangement and delivery, “Valkyrie” is a marvelous opener that immediately exhibits the full range of John Wetton’s voice; even after 40 years of making music, he remains one of rock music’s most powerful vocalists. Along with somber and classically mystical keyboard accompaniments from Geoff Downes, calm yet masterfully precise drumming from Carl Palmer, and soaring yet soulful guitar from new member Sam Coulson, “Valkyrie” is a snapshot of what Gravitas as a whole has to offer. On the almost jaunty “Nyctophobia” with its unorthodox and almost jazzy progression as well as the elegiac lament of “Russian Dolls,” complete with chilled bass solo and twinkling semi-acoustic keyboards, the band’s musicianship takes center stage, while other songs like “I Would Die for You” and “Joe DiMaggio’s Glove” are most reminiscent of past outings with their instantly catchy hooks and striking choruses, with the latter especially benefitting from the acoustic treatment featured on the deluxe edition. Throughout the album, Coulson proves up to the task of filling the big shoes of recently departed founding member Steve Howe; capable of delivering tasteful melodic touch and blazingly precise speed in equal measure, Coulson’s obviously more incendiary style – perhaps more reminiscent of past members like Mandy Meyer or Pat Thrall – adds no small amount of vigor to ASIA. The best example of this is on closing track “Till We Meet Again” on which his mastery of multiple styles is readily apparent, the acoustic backing mirroring Howe’s more classical style and topped off with Coulson’s own electric touch. Notable tracks include “Heaven Help Me Now,” which begins with a dynamic vocal choir and a majestic keyboard and guitar intro before launching into one of the best songs on the album, complete with a rapid fire solo from Coulson, and “Gravitas” is perhaps one of Downes’ finest moments as the song begins with a veritable symphony of keyboards that gives way to a bombastic rocker on which every band member shines.
Despite the injection of new blood, Gravitas is not as weighty as its title suggests, with the moments of grandeur tempered by the band’s AOR-friendly predilections. As progressive music goes, ASIA has long made clear that grandiose constructions and excessive flights of compositional fancy are not the band’s focus. That’s not to say that Gravitas doesn’t skate a fine line as the songs effectively balance the band’s inherent musicality with a fearlessly pop sensibility that has defined ASIA for over 30 years. It will be interesting to hear what Coulson’s youth and energy will further bring to ASIA on subsequent releases, and if nothing else, Gravitas proves that the well of music has not yet run dry for this band. Add to this an even more relaxed atmosphere and the album falls just short of brilliance, but still provides a satisfying listen.
ASIA Website http://www.originalasia.com
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Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)