Frontiers [Release date 24.03.14]
Crop rotation is something those of us of a certain age will recall from O level geography – leaving land fallow and rotating crops leading to bigger and better harvests.
Certainly over the years there’s been plenty of rotation and fallow periods in the Asia line-up and output. But there have been harvests of immeasurable quality – the band’s first couple of albums in 1982/83 and, for me, Aura in 2001 was something of a minor masterpiece.
The reunion of Messrs Wetton, Downes, Palmer and Howe in 2008 was another good summer for the band – whetting the public’s appetite once again with their well-received Phoenix album. Since then it’s been ‘business as usual’ with regular decent gatherings in the form of Omega (2010) and XXX (2012).
Where Asia is concerned size is never an issue – Wetton’s soaring vocals and choruses, Palmer’s bombastic fills and in Howe and Downes stadium filling guitar and keyboard runs. But while quality has been consistently good it’s not always vied for ‘best in class’.
Which brings us to Gravitas, an album that sees the band continue to plough the same furrow with the only rotation being the retirement of Steve Howe and his replacement by Sam Coulson – a young guitar whiz first spotted on YouTube. According to Wetton it’s ‘pure, unadulterated and stereotypical Asia, with raw energy, enthusiasm and free from impurities’.
That’s as may be, but the fact is Gravitas is another Asia album that delivers, bluntly, ‘more of the same’. Coulson’s guitar work may be a more ‘direct’ than Howe’s, but in truth, aside from the odd solo break here and there, Coulson makes very little difference to the band’s overall sound.
The result is, don’t get me wrong, a decent album – as you would expect from such a seasoned bunch of players but it won’t I suspect, be contributing many tracks to future set lists. Tasty, yes – but it’s not going to have you salivating. ***1/2
Review by Pete Whalley
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