Ah Russian imports! Those funky and cheaply printed covers, the lack of liner notes or label information…how quaint. It is clear the Tempest Administration had no collusion with anyone in Russia. Yet the Russians did hack their database and release Best Ballads anyway, a weird collection of 12 Europe songs and three solo tracks by Joey Tempest. This CD originated during the period right before Europe’s triumphant reunion album Start From the Dark, so Best Ballads only contains music from the first five Europe discs.
Because it’s unauthorized and the Russians can do whatever they want, why not have both versions of “Open Your Heart” on one CD? The sweeping 1988 version from Out of this World inaugurates the album, a brilliant version often forgotten in favour of the 1984 original. What’s the difference? John Norum played on the 1984 version from Wings of Tomorrow, and the re-recording has his replacement Kee Marcello. The 1988 version also has more modern keyboards added. Since both are included, you don’t have to pick a favourite. We can all agree it truly is one of Europe’s Best Ballads.
What else is present? The “big one” of course, which would be “Carrie”. It’s the only track from The Final Countdown, because it was the only hit ballad from that album. Other crucial Europe ballads: “Dreamer” (Wings of Tomorrow), “Coast to Coast” and “Tomorrow” (both from Out of this World). All timeless and flawless ballads. From their first album (1983’s Europe) are a couple songs I wouldn’t have considered ballads. In my review, I stated that “Words of Wisdom” has “an acoustic verse [but] that doesn’t make it a ballad!” The other track, “Return of the King”, is “still pretty epic and wouldn’t be considered wimpy by anyone”. Do they belong on a CD called Best Ballads? Who gives a fuck; it’s just a Russian import!
You’ll even find a couple rarities included. “Sweet Love Child” and “I’ll Cry For You (Acoustic version)” are both B-sides from the Prisoners in Paradise (1991) period. The title track “Prisoners in Paradise” is also present but again, not really a ballad. Either way…all the Europe tunes included are fantastic no matter how you classify them. Each one has at least a foot in ballad territory so it all works out.
But what about those Joey Tempest “bonus tracks”? Surprisingly good and un-Europe. “Under the Influence” flies close to adult contemporary levels. “Lord of the Manner” could have been a hit for Rod Stewart, but that’s not a bad thing! This is more like soft rock than balladeering. “Elsewhere” sounds more like a ballad, enhanced with strings and all the accoutrements. All good songs and worth checking out.
Europe’s Best Ballads is not a bad little CD, but being an unofficial release, it’s difficult to reason out a rating out of 5. I did the best I could.