Asia Plays B.B. King's (Times Square) on Sept. 20th / 'Gravitas' CD Review (Frontiers Records) ~ BrooklynRocks: NYC Music Blog

Monday, May 26, 2014

Asia Plays B.B. King's (Times Square) on Sept. 20th / 'Gravitas' CD Review (Frontiers Records)

As much as I'm not a fan of going to Times Square for any reason, I might have to break down and go see Asia at B.B. King's Blue Club on September 20th. General admission tickets are $42.50 Advance / $47 Day of Show and VIP Reserved Floor Seating is $75.

Asia Plays B.B. King's (Times Square) on Sept. 20th / 'Gravitas' CD Review (Frontiers Records)
I was a bit nervous when Steve Howe checked out of Asia and was replaced by guitar shredder Sam Coulson (holy shades of Astra, Batman). This concern was without merit though as Asia’s new disc, Gravitas, continues in the spirit of the last few reunion albums with all the tracks written by Wetton/Downes. In comparison to Astra, Gravitas is a better album as there are more stand-out tracks but there are similarities between these two discs as both have tracks that are just ‘ok’ and even a few that don’t stand up well to repeated listening. In comparison to the most recent reunion albums, Gravitas is much more textured and layered and seems like a noticeable attempt to capture past glories from the 80’s. The most relevant point of comparison to would be to compare Gravitas to Alpha.

The disc starts with "Valkyrie" and it is everything that you would expect from the 80’s lineup of Asia. The song is layered and atmospheric, with big vocals and harmonies, strings (from Sam Coulson) and a clean guitar solo. This track sets the tone for the rest of the disc as this is clearly the Wetton/Downes show.  Across the disc, Coulson's presence isn't always noticeable and Carl Palmer’s contributions are minimal.

 The next track, “Gravitas”, clearly highlights the difference between these songs and those from Asia’s first album. This eight minute track starts with a huge synth build before the song kicks into full speed. The pulsing back-beat sets the expectation of the exploding choruses and urgency of the first disc but Wetton and Downes are never able to turn this corner. The songs “Nyctophobia” and “Heaven Help Me” are the highlights of the disc and both of these songs come the closest to capturing the sonic force of the first album. “Nyctophobia” is a mid-tempo rocker with a multi-layered sound and big backing vocals. “Heaven Help Me Now” is a solid rocker with a driving beat and huge Queen-like backing vocals. This later song is also one of the few times that Coulson’s guitar work surfaces.

“The Closer I Get”, “Russian Dolls” and “Joe DiMaggio’s Glove” are the mellow and introspective numbers on the disc and these tracks are in 'soft middle' in what could have been an extremely solid outing. All three songs are tales of lost love and broken hearts but, unfortunately, Wetton’s schmaltzy lyrics get annoying fairly quickly. “The Closer I Get” is a piano ballad that is carried by Wetton’s vocals, “Russian Dolls” is a mellow and melancholy number that meanders a bit before finally picking up the pace and “Joe DiMaggio’s Glove” sounds a bit too much like Bon Jovi in the beginning for me to be comfortable (and lyrics like ”how did my heart become so soft as Joe DiMaggio’s glove” make me queasy).

In an interview with Classic Rock Revisited, Carl Palmer said the following about Gravitas: “We wanted some younger blood in there and we wanted to sound a little bit heavier. It is classic rock and it is more in that Van Halen sort of area, or whatever you want to call it. We have been softer in the recent past, so we wanted to rock it up a bit. “ Check out the video below and see what you think.