EUROPE – Prisoners In Paradise (1991, 2001 reissue)
I know people who love this album, and admittedly it has a couple good songs on it. However, by this time Europe had lost their identity. They were now openly pursuing a commercial American sound, and it shows. The regality of old Europe was now only audible on a handful of tracks. On some, they were attempting to milk the ZZ Top cow. This is by their own admission. On other songs, you can mistake them for Roxette!
I had always loved Europe, and could not wait for the fifth album. Three years in the waiting, when Prisoners of Paradise finally dropped I snapped it up. Produced by Beau Hill (one of my least favourite metal producers of all time, ruining almost every band he touched, hello Twisted Sister!) and mixed in “Q Sound” (remember that?) I was immediately taken aback. Europe did promise a “heavier” album, and in a sense, this has more guitars. However, heavy is not the word I would have chosen. The album is overproduced, overpolished, and contrived. With a few notable exceptions, the riffs don’t stand out and the songs just drown in a morass of gang vocals courtesy of Hill’s horrendous production.
“All Or Nothing” (co-written by Mr. Big’s Eric Martin), the opening track, is a great example of this. Yeah, sure, it’s based on guitars rather than keys. However, this is a pop song! Track two, “Halfway to Heaven”, co-written by Jim Vallance sounds exactly like Roxette. My Roxette-loving sister adored this song. “I’ll Cry For You” is a way, way, way overproduced ballad. No wonder the band preferred their later acoustic rendering of it. “Little Bit Of Loving” is just a bad song, too American sounding for this band, not worthy of the name Europe. “Talk To Me” isn’t bad, and “The Seventh Sign” is at least heavier, but not a particularly memorable song.
That ended side one of the original album. Side two began with the first really good song, “Prisoners in Paradise”. This ballad-like anthem is still overproduced, but it at least breathes and is irresistibly catchy. I just don’t get that dumb, spoken word opening. “Man, I just wanna be somebody!” Come on, guys. Let’s not write down to “the kids”. (Why did bands always refer to their fans as “the kids”?)
“Bad Blood” sucks. “Homeland” is not bad, and could have fit in on the previous album Out Of This World. It’s a decent song, and the lyrics at least sound heartfelt rather than contrived. This however is followed by the absolute worst song on an already dreadful album: The ZZ Top inspired “Got Your Mind In The Gutter”. The lyrics: dumb. The riff: stale. The chorus: awful. Terrible song. We’re almost near the end, and “Til My Heart Beats Down Your Door”, although a bit too soft, has a pulse.
Europe at least had the class to write one classic great song and end the album with it: “Girl From Lebanon”. It grooves, but not in a cheesy contrived way like the rest of the album. The chorus is irresistible It’s a great song, and the only truly 100% great song on the album. This one has the regal Europe sound that I missed. They still play it live.
Remastered versions of the album throw on two bonus tracks, both nondescript and not memorable: “Mr. Government Man” and “Long Time Comin'”. No matter how many times I’ve played the CD, these two songs refuse to stick to my brain.
Commercially, Europe’s fifth album was a complete dud, and sounded that much more stupid in the wake of its competition. Not that Europe could have foreseen this, but Nevermind, Ten, and Badmotorfinger drove this album into the dirt. Fans were eager to soak up something more heavy, heartfelt and real. While Europe’s goal here was to “heavy up” their sound (this is the direction that metal was going in previous months anyway) they were completely lapped by the new kids on the block. And then came a decade-long hiatus.
The good news is that Europe came back with original member John Norum on guitar for 2003’s excellent Start From The Dark, one of their best records.
Lineup – Joey Tempest, vocals. Kee Marcello, guitars. Mic Michaeli, keys. Ian Haughland, drums. John Levin, bass.