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“Gravitas”: A mediocre Asia album, but a decent John Wetton solo album

As an Asia album: 6/10asia_gravitas
As a John Wetton album: 8/10

Earlier this year I posted about the (then) upcoming, new Asia album, “Gravitas,” and wrote the following about the first single, “Valkyrie”:

The positives: Wetton sounds great; his vocals are impressively strong and clear at the age of 64. The song itself is quite decent, with the distinctive Asia “sound”: soaring keyboards, big chorus, and lyrics tinged with semi-mythical elements. The negatives: the video is rather (very!) low budget, the song sounds quite a bit like most Asia songs of the past couple of decades, and young Coulson seems underused. What strikes me odd, as I’ve read about this new album, is that while the band members talk about Coulson bringing a harder, even more metal-ish, sound with him, it doesn’t show up in the first single or in the clips of the other eight tunes. And, of course, none of them really sound prog-gy at all. Come to think of it, when did Asia last really incorporate anything obviously proggy in its albums?

Having now listened to the entire album a dozen times or more, I confess to being a bit conflicted. The positives are pretty much as described above. Wetton, who is 65, sounds exceptional; his vocals are strong, clear, and with plenty of nuance and bite, as evidenced on the title track. If anything, my appreciation for Wetton as a vocalist expanded in listening to this new release, especially for the various colorings and emotional nuances he brings to the table. The production, handled by Wetton and keyboardist guru Geoff Downes, is mostly excellent (see below for the negative), featuring lush soundscapes and impeccably crafted waves of vocal harmonies, a classic Asia staple.

In short, the top end—lead vocals, vocal harmonies, and keyboards—sound great.

Unfortunately, the rhythm section and guitar ranges from occasionally agreeable to rather boring. There are times, frankly, when I wondered, “Carl Palmer still plays drums, right? Where, oh where, is the bass?!” Yes, there are a few moments that rise above average (“Nyctophobia”, for example), but overall the drums are so far back in the mix and so generic sounding, it may as well have been Session Drummer Bob Smith behind the kit. The same could be said for much of the bass guitar, with a couple of exceptions, such as a nifty solo-ish section in “Russian Dolls”. Simply put, the bass and drums are often quite pedestrian, especially for players of this caliber; they might as well have been mailed in via Pony Express and then told, “Sit down way back there and play quietly!”

As for the harder guitar sound, I’ve heard heard more rockin’, “in your face” guitar on Michael Jackson albums. Sam Coulson might be the next Joe Satriani, but he rarely gets a chance to show what he brings to the table, and his solos are short, safe, and sadly generic. There is more guitar in, say, “Sole Survivor” or “The Heat Goes On,” than on the entire “Gravitas” album.

Having listened to “Gravitas” several times, I went back and listened to “Asia” and “Alpha”, which established, for me, the benchmark for subsequent Asia albums. Two things stand out: first, the early Asia songs were far more interesting, especially musically, with a remarkable amount of “proggy” elements for such commercially successful albums (of course, the early ’80s were far kinder in that regard, as also evidenced by Yes’s “90125”); secondly, the early Asia sounded like a band that wrote songs as a band and wanted to be a band. The input and influence of Steve Howe and Palmer are readily evident, even if Wetton and Downes were the primary songwriters. And so the songs were far more diverse, ranging from “Heat of the Moment”, with its upfront guitar lick, to the dramatic push-and-pull of “True Colors”, to the deeply longing, semi-epic “Open Your Eyes” (a personal favorite). To sum it up, the songs on “Gravitas” lack variety, suffering from sameness and, in places, some overly long and repetitious choruses and outros.

“Gravitas” is, as an Asia album, rather mediocre; it has some good moments, but is lacking. Those good moments are due mostly to Wetton’s singing and Downe’s keyboards. Lyrically, there is a singer/songwriter quality here that also suggest this is more of a Wetton vehicle than a real band effort. There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but I miss the interplay and band-oriented sound of earlier Asia.

Battle Sounds on the Definitive Edition of Relayer

The mystery of the missing battle sounds!

Definitive edition, or not?

You decide…

relayer-battle

Shakira reviews the new Steven Wilson mix of Yes’ Relayer

shakira-cropped

Shakira signals her approval of the new Steven Wilson mix of Yes’ Relayer by wearing the appropriate T-shirt.

I’m still waiting for my copy to arrive. But here’s what’s in both the CD/DVD-A and CD/Blu-Ray versions:

CD (both versions):
NEW 2014 STEREO MIXES by Steven Wilson from the original multi-track tapes
1. The Gates Of Delirium
2. Sound Chaser
3. To Be Over
Bonus tracks (Mixed & produced by YES and Eddie Offord):
4. Soon (single edit)
5. Sound Chaser (single edit)

DVD and BLU-RAY:
NEW 2014 STEREO MIXES: LPCM Stereo 24/96
1. The Gates Of Delirium
2. Sound Chaser
3. To Be Over
NEW 2014 5.1 SURROUND MIXES: 24/96 MLP Lossless/dts 96/24
1. The Gates Of Delirium
2. Sound Chaser
3. To Be Over
ORIGINAL STEREO MIXES: Flat Transfer from original master LPCM Stereo 24/192
1. The Gates Of Delirium
2. Sound Chaser
3. To Be Over
THE “ALTERNATE” ALBUM: LPCM Stereo 24/96
1. The Gates Of Delirium (studio run through)
2. Sound Chaser (studio run through)
3. To Be Over (studio run through)

BLU-RAY ONLY CONTENT:
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL:
1. Soon (single edit)
2. Sound Chaser (single edit)
3. The Gates Of Delirium (Studio run through)
BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVE BONUS: LPCM Stereo 24/96
1. Sound Chaser (Live from Cobo Hall 1976)
2. Sound Chaser (demo version)
ARCHIVAL MASTER: LPCM Stereo 24/96
1. The Gates Of Delirium
2. Sound Chaser
3. To Be Over
2014 STEREO INSTRUMENTAL MIXES: LPCM Stereo 24/96
1. The Gates Of Delirium
2. Sound Chaser
3. To Be Over
NEEDLE-DROP 1: Original UK vinyl transfer: LPCM Stereo 24/96
1. The Gates Of Delirium
2. Sound Chaser
3. To Be Over
NEEDLE-DROP 2: US promo album vinyl transfer: LPCM Stereo 24/96
1. The Gates Of Delirium (Part I)
2. The Gates Of Delirium (Part II)
3. The Gates Of Delirium (Part III)
4. Sound Chaser (Part I)
5. Sound Chaser (Part II)
From the “Official Site”:
BLU-RAY: NTSC, all regions, LPCM playable in all Blu-ray players & Blu-ray drives
DVD: NTSC Region 0 hybrid DVD-A, compatible with all DVD players & DVD-rom drives
Both sets are presented in a mini vinyl replica gatefold card sleeve (with protective inner sleeves) with the original artwork expanded, restored and approved by Roger Dean. The booklet features new sleeve notes by Sid Smith along with rare photos and archive material.

relayer relayer-wilson

Re-Entering the Universe

dennisleeaskew

Well, it has been exactly one year since I first joined Progarchy, and what a positive experience it has been. In celebration, I have decided to briefly give another shout out to my friend Dennis Lee Askew of the band Universe, one of my favorite American prog bands.  I very much enjoyed reviewing his first album in an earlier post.  Dennis recently issued a new album (pictured above) containing some songs from his first album and a few others previously unreleased. If you enjoy the sounds of psychedelia, space rock, acid rock, and prog, you will enjoy this album. It is a superb blend of Pink Floyd and The Moody Blues with some Yes added for good measure.  My two favorite songs on the album are I Am, which is keyboard driven and definitely has an early Pink Floyd vibe, and The Axiom, which features a cool synth opening and some great guitar work. You can support Dennis and his work by visiting his website and purchasing the album.

http://www.universemusic.us

Goodbye Thomas, Hello Billy: Behind the Scenes Drama with Yes

yes-with-baker

Steve Howe has revealed in a radio interview that Yes wasn’t getting what it needed from Roy Thomas Baker on the production of Heaven and Earth, so they had to turn to Billy Sherwood, who left his stamp especially on the vocal mix:

“We got into it, and it was OK,” Howe tells WMGK‘s Ray Koob. “You know, every producer’s got a certain style. Roy’s method was pretty much about the sound. It wasn’t so much about the construction of the songs, like Trevor [Horn, producer of 2011’s Fly From Here], who worked very hard on that. So, Roy kind of let us do most of the music, and twiddled with a lot of knobs. But, I tell you, in the end we really did have to bring it back to Yes Central — because, in a way, I don’t think he was as familiar with our mixing style as say Billy Sherwood, who ended up doing that for us. Well, we did it with him; it was a collaboration. So, we had to kind of pull it back to Yes Central. It was all fair in love and war.”

When I saw Steve after the show in Vancouver, he remarked about his good memories of Vancouver because that was where The Ladder was recorded. Steve is really happy with the sound of The Ladder because of its unique “flavor.”

I think Jon Davison is fantastic and I have come to like Heaven and Earth very much, despite what initially struck me as weird about it — namely, the production! — and this news makes me wonder what the album could have been if Sherwood and not Baker had been involved for the entire process.

I hope they do another album with Davison soon, and with the right producer this time.

Yes — San Jose concert live on the Web tonight

yes-yahoo

YES – Live at San Jose Civic

On 19 August 2014 – Watch the YES live show from San Jose Civic CA – FREE – exclusively on Yahoo Screen.

Setlist: FRAGILE & CLOSE TO THE EDGE in their entireties plus 2 tracks from HEAVEN & EARTH plus more GREATEST HITS!

Showtime: 11:30pm ET / 8:30pm PT / 4:30am UK
Check the show time in your location here.

If you are in the USA you can watch the YES exclusive live concert for free on the Yahoo Screen App, available on iOS for iPhone, iPod & iPad and on Android.

If you miss the live event, don’t worry, the show will also be available to view afterwards on the same website.

Yes to Forever

Will Yes be the first band to transcend generations?

From an awesome new interview with the excellent Jon Davison:

But even with all the lineup changes, Yes’ music retains a dynamic, unmistakable identity that manages to end up being bigger than its individual players. 
That’s right, and it’s similar to the way classical music works. Long after those marvelous composers, like Chopin and Bach and all of them, passed, and the centuries moved forward, their music lives on. It’s not so much about the personality anymore. And people have a hard time seeing that now, because obviously the members [of Yes] are still alive, apart from [original guitarist] Peter Banks, who passed away last year. But it’s so easy to associate the music with the personality, and that causes a lot of conflict among fans. But ultimately, it’s about the music, and just taking the music forward. And there will always be a Yes. And I’m a lover of Jon Anderson as much as I’m a lover of Chris Squire, but you can’t fight it. And when something has that power to it, it’s beautiful, and beauty transcends all of that personality, and it’s always gonna belong, you just can’t put a cap on it and say, “Well, the original members aren’t doing this music anymore, so it’s over.” That can never be. It just can’t be.

It reminds me of the music of Frank Zappa, who composed so much great material with many different lineups — and many different lineups have performed it.
Yeah, that’s exactly it. Art just transcends so much. And when there’s something beautiful and powerful, it’s going to thrive, and you can’t stop it. Each lineup of Yes reflects a new, fresh kind of flavor, if you will. In the grand scheme and topography of Yes. So I think that’s kept it going. I think that’s kept it really fresh. Even the later albums, with “Open Your Eyes,” and so on, those albums are less popular, perhaps, but there was always a nice freshness there, the music was alive, and I think that has to do so much with the unique lineups that keep evolving.

In a recent article, Yes bassist Chris Squire joked, but in a somewhat serious way, that Yes will be around in a hundred years.
For me, when I hear the classic Yes stuff, yeah, I definitely hear that this is a ’70s band — there’s a lot of aspects in it that reveal that. But at the same time, it’s futuristic music. It’s like this thing you can’t quite pinpoint. It’s, like, way ahead of its time. And I still think we haven’t arrived at the point where, OK, we’ve arrived to the full realization of what Yes is. No, it’s like it’s still in the future, and I think that’s why it goes over so many people’s heads.

It’s definitely rock and roll, but at the same time, it has this transcendental quality that you can’t quite pinpoint.

Love Will Find A Way: Revisiting Underrated Yes Albums @YesOfficial

It can happen to you …

… you can learn to love an underrated Yes album (e.g., Talk or Big Generator or Drama or Heaven & Earth) today.

Why?

Because love will find a way …

 

Yes — “The Calling”: Four Versions

Further to our vigorous discussion of Talk, a nice bit of trivia from the good old NFTE:

Greetings all.  Over the weekend before Talk came out, I picked up the promo
CD single for "The Calling" from my local rarites dealer.  It contains three
different edits of the song plus the original version.  Imagine my surprise
a few days later when I found that the original version of the song is not
on the album (not on the US release, anyway).  The four tracks are:

Radio Edit (5:58) The only version that I have heard on the radio.  An apt
   title, I suppose then.  Edited out are the funky guitar/keyboard break
   (occurs about 3:00 into the original version) and the long quiet part
   that immediately follows.

Single Edit (4:39) Like the radio edit, but with the harmonized vocal intro
   edited out (that is, the first verse starts where we would expect the
   harmonized intro to start), and an very early faded-out ending.

Album Edit (6:55) You guessed it, the same version that is on the album.  
   Like the original version, but with the long quiet part (for lack of a 
   better name) edited out.  Silly me, I was puzzled for a few days as to
   why they called this the "Album Edit", but now I know.

Original Version (8:06) This is the version some have heard on the radio, 
   and I believe it was played at the premiere party.  There is a soft quiet
   part right after the guitar/keyboard break.  To give those who haven't 
   heard it an idea of what it sounds like, I halfway expected Anderson
   to start singing "Awaken" during it.

The cover to the cardboard sleeve is exactly like that of the album (minus
the word "Talk", naturally).  Stranger still is the fact that the words "The
Calling" do not appear anywhere on the cover.  The spine reads "Yes - The 
First Track From Talk".  The back cover reads "The First Track From Talk",
and "Start TALK-ing now!" (duh).  Was there perhaps some indecision over
what the first single would be?  The number on the spine is CDP 1178, if
that helps anyone, and I paid $4 for it.

Alan White on the disputed Yes album Talk

Well, now that’s some perfect timing…

Alan White himself weighs in regarding our most recent Progarchist controversy over Talk:

Rock Cellar Magazine: Is there a Yes album that gets overlooked?

Alan WhiteDrama is an underrated album for me. It was one of my favorites because everyone in the band wrote everything on that. I wrote the main lick in Machine Messiah. There were musical contributions from everybody and I loved the album Drama.

The other one that I thought was really good was done in the Trevor Rabin era and that was the Talk album. That album doesn’t get looked at very much but it’s an absolutely superb album. There’s a track on that album called Endless Dream, which is absolutely stunning and features a lot of great playing from everybody.

And there you have it! “An absolutely superb album.”

‘Nuff said.

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