best ballads

REVIEW: Europe – Best Ballads (unauthorized Russian release)

EUROPE – Best Ballads (1999 unofficial Russian compilation)

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.

/5 ЗВЕЗДЫ

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Part 153: Russian Imports

SAM_1771

RECORD STORE TALES Part 153:  Russian Imports

One of the weirder items that we used to see regularly were these Russian import discs.  Their status as official releases was very questionable, the quality was cheap at best, and the guy that sold them wanted top dollar for them all.

His name was Serge, and he was a Russian model.  Seriously.  He gave me his business card one time.  He was a model, and he had the perfect Fabio hair and everything.  On the side, he’d bring CD’s over to Canada from Russia. They would usually come without jewel cases, just the CD and the paper cover art, so he could transport more of them.  The discs often ended up terribly scratched because of this.  He’d bring over “greatest hits” releases from everybody.  Springsteen, Abba, Bon Jovi, even bands that didn’t have greatest hits releases like AC/DC.  Often the Russians would throw on “bonus tracks” from live or solo albums.

The guy was a real pain to deal with, and most of the stuff he brought over was obscure European dance, trance, techno stuff that nobody had heard of over here.  He’d assume he was going to get a lot of money for them, because they were big in Europe.  But if nobody had heard of them in Canada, and they sat on my shelf for a year, no, I’m not paying top dollar for it.   So, eventually Serge stopped coming in.

I bought two albums from him that I’ve never played, but bought just “for the collection”.  One is a Kiss disc called Hit Collection 2000, the other by Europe, called Best Ballads.

Hit Collection 2000 is on a label called “DJ’s Club”.  It does not have the official Kiss logo, just a poor attempt to copy it.  There are some spelling errors on the back — I don’t know where “Detrot Rock City”  is.  The tracklist itself is pretty weird, containing newer songs like “Psycho Circus” and “I Finally Found My Way”, along with one track from each of the four Kiss solo albums.  There are three songs from Dynasty, and three rare live cuts from the Psycho Circus Live Australian disc.  This one came sealed but I didn’t even bother to open it.  Even Serge’s sealed discs often ended up scratched to pieces, I don’t know how that happens because these are clearly factory sealed.

The Europe album, Best Ballads, is notable for not depicting keyboardist Mic Michaeli on the front cover, even though he plays on the majority of songs.  The album contains ballads from Europe’s first monumental self-titled disc through to 1991’s Prisoners In Paradise.  The Russians picked some cool songs this time:  “Words of Wisdom” and “The King Will Return”, from the first album, “Dreamer” from Wings of Tomorrow, and “Coast To Coast” from Out of This World.  As usual there are three “bonus tracks”; “Under the Influence”, “Lord of the Manor”, and “Elsewhere” from Joey Tempest’s 1995 solo album A Place to Call Home.   Not that you would know this from the liner notes, since there are none.  Just a paper sleeve.

In the end I don’t think we missed Serge when he decided not to deal with us anymore.  A lot of his product sat on the shelves.  In fact I tried selling my Kiss Hit Collection CD back to the store last year, and they refused to take it.  Lesson learned!