When Asia formed in the early 80’s, they were looked upon as a supergroup, rightfully so. John Wetton (bass, lead vocals – King Crimson, Uriah Heep), Steve Howe (guitars – Yes), Geoff Downes (keyboards – Yes, The Buggles) and Carl Palmer (drums – Emerson Lake & Palmer) scored a multi million seller with their self titled debut from 1982 and the mega hit “Heat Of The Moment”, but after the way more commercial and poppy Alpha (1983) failed to match guitar player Steve Howe’s musical expectations, he found it best to leave the band an concentrate on his new (and to be short-lived) project GTR with ex – Genesis guitar player Steve Hackett. After that Asia became an unemployment agency for musicians, with multiple line up changes with every album. The fact the original members weren’t the best of friends – in the end only Geoff Downes was an original member of the band – made it a bit of an eyebrow raiser when the band decided to reunite in 2008 and released a surprisingly good reunion album in Phoenix. What was even more surprising was that the original line up stayed together for five years and three albums – Omega (2010) and XXX (2012) – before Howe once again decided to leave and concentrate on Yes. But this time there was no bad blood involved. The band recruited young Sam Coulson, born in 1987 and half the age of the rest of the members, as Howe’s replacement and now it’s time for Coulson to debut as Asia’s new member on record. I was curious of if Coulson had made a change in the sound for the band or if he would just be a hired hand, playing what he’s told.
I saw the band play at Sweden Rock Festival last year and to be honest, the kid sounded great but he looked a bit misplaced – the young kid and the three grandpa’s, but sound wise there wasn’t much changed. Maybe a bit heavier, but I’m not sure that had anything to do with Coulson’s involvement. “Valkyries” that opens the album is a winner, sounds like classic Asia, only a little more on the progressive pop side. Ironically enough, that’s probably the way Steve Howe would have liked things to sound. The title track is great and has all the ingredients of a classic Asia tune, “The Closer I Get” is a great ballad with a big chorus, “Nyctophobia” is very good AOR / pop, Asia style and “Heaven Help Me Now” has a really catchy melody, but it’s also progressive. “I Would Die For You” might not be the usual sounding Asia, but it is a big AOR rocker and it will probably go down well live and the same can be said of “Til We Meet Again”, a straight forward AOR tune that has more in common with a band like FM, than Asia. That said, it is a brilliant track. On the minus side we have “Russian Dolls”, a song that maybe could have evolved into something cool, but the way it’s presented here, it just goes nowhere.
Ironically enough, Asia has with Gravitas made their strongest album since the reunion, without Howe in the band, but my guess it’s just by coincidence as the all the songs are written by John Wetton and Geoff Downes, which has more or less been the case since the original band reunited. Fact is, this was the case in the beginning as well. As for young Coulson, he does what he’s been hired for – to play guitar and make sure he doesn’t change the sound of the band. Coulson might not be no Steve Howe, but he is a very good player and he makes sure that this sounds like Asia. My guess is that if you’re into Asia, you’ll like this as the songs are strong and the production is clean, smooth and commercial, just the way Asia has always sounded. Thumbs up!
Jon Wilmenius (7/10)
3. The Closer I Get
5. Russian Dolls
6. Heaven Help Me
7. I Would Die For You
8. Joe DiMaggio’s Glove
9. Till We Meet Again
10. The Closer I Get To You (Acoustic)
11. Joe DiMaggio’s Glove (Acoustic)
12. Russian Dolls (Acoustic)