europe

#820: 1991 Was the End and 1991 Was the Beginning (Part Three)

GETTING MORE TALE #820: 1991 Was the End and 1991 Was the Beginning (Part Three)

As monumental as 1991 already was terms of massive change, a big one was still to come:  finally learning how to drive!  The time had finally come when I had to, and so I did.  I cut my teeth driving to and from University during the winter.  You can get pretty good pretty quickly that way.  Most importantly, I discovered the pleasures of listening to music alone in the car.

Choosing an album.  Turning it up as loud as I could handle.  Listening to the whole thing from start to finish without complaints.  It was…a revelation.  My parents used to be able to hear me coming home from around the corner, so loud was I blasting it.

It was an ’89 Plymouth Sundance, but all that really mattered to me was that it had a tape deck and I was allowed to drive it.  Upon arriving at school, I can remember putting the tape case on the dash board so the parking control guy could see how cool my music was.

Jesus, I was weird.

Still am?  I guess this website is just me putting my tape cases up on the dashboard of life.  Right?

With new music on the shelves by Europe and Tesla, and a monolithic new slab by Guns N’ Roses to enjoy, I was keeping myself busy.  Then and now I believed in giving new releases multiple listens, and I always played the Guns tapes as a set.  There was no point, I reasoned, in listening to one more than another.  They’re really one album so that’s how I played them, every time.  Late ’91 was a Guns-heavy time.

Although first year of university life was a lonely time, I did make some new friends.  I had two night classes.  One thing I enjoyed about night classes was that there was only one per week — a big three hour chunk.  You could cover a lot of material in one class, and have a week to absorb everything for next class.  My first night class was Sociology, and next to me sat big Rob V, who quickly became one of my Jedi Masters of Rock.  He educated me on Whitesnake, Deep Purple and the Black Sabbath discography.  Then he taped for me a number of rarities, and they were treasured by me for many years.  Those tapes were only replaced when I finally scored original CD or vinyl copies for myself.  We weren’t the cool guys in Sociology class, but we had a lasting friendship.  Rob lived not too far from me, so I was happy to drive him home after school.  He would often have commentary for me regarding my musical selection for the car.

My favourite night class was Thursdays — Anthropology 101.  I hated the professor initially.  He was a ponytail guy.   Our school had a couple ponytail guys.  Also a few socks-and-sandals guys, which blew my mind.  “What the fuck is the point of that?” I asked myself rhetorically.  All psychology professors, those guys.  But ponytail-Anthropology guy (gosh I wish I could remember his name) won me over very quickly with his entertaining, though factually dense, teaching style.  There was a lot to cover each night.

Another quality that night classes had was a higher number of adult students.  I enjoyed speaking to them, but one poor older lady really struggled in Anthro-101.  I’ll never forget her because although she slowed the class down, I just felt badly for her.  She dropped the course by the second semester.

The teacher liked to use examples to illustrate a point.  I can’t remember the exact details, but he was using a current TV ad as his example.

“I don’t know these modern TV commercials!” she said in frustration.

“OK, no problem…here’s an example from your generation.  On the original Star Trek in 1969 there was an episode where they beamed down to this particular planet…”

Then he lost her even further!  He tried though; lord did that professor try.

While I was making interesting new friends in 1991, an old friend became more special.  I took my studying very seriously and because of that I had to stay home for Thanksgiving instead of going to the lake with my parents.  I couldn’t study there.  Too small a space.  So Peter invited me to have Thanksgiving dinner with his family.  That was something that meant a lot to me.  I wasn’t going to be alone and I had a hot meal to look forward to.  I even put on a nice shirt and shaved my peachfuzz.  Peter had an incredible family.  His mom and dad were always welcoming, making me feel at home.  Same with his sister Joanne.  Over the coming months and years, Peter and I would grow closer and hung out every weekend.  Where I had friends that were Jedi Masters of Rock, Peter was more like my Jedi Master of Movies.  He had a huge collection.  I think as a collective, comedy was our thing.  Peter was also my Jedi Master of Comedy.  I might never have seen Slap Shot if it wasn’t for Peter.

At the end of 1991, my Christmas list took care of some of the last new releases in music that I needed.  Poison’s double Swallow This Live was, not surprisingly, a letdown.  I was also underwhelmed by the Operation: LIVEcrime box set by Queensryche.  Too many backing vocal tapes.  But for a long time I had looked forward to Motley Crue’s Decade of Decadence.  Back in the summer of 1990, Vince Neil was talking about this album.  Finally I had the tape in my hands!  (It’s a shame I spent so much time in my collection lingering on the cassette format, but the car tape deck made it a natural choice.)  I loved the new heavier sound of “Primal Scream”.  The new remixes were just added value to me.  I eagerly awaited whatever heaviness Motley Crue were working on, without realising that the band were working on firing Vince Neil!

Although worlds seemed to be ending when highschool did, somehow life was still going on.  Many things did come to their natural conclusions, like friendships, rock bands and the Pepsi Power Hour, but other things had started to bloom.  Peter and I were to trek onto many 1990s adventures, for the human adventure always continues.

 

REVIEW: Europe – “The Final Countdown 2000” (Single)

“Oh God!  What did I just listen to?” – J from Resurrection Songs

EUROPE – “The Final Countdown 2000” (1999 Sony single)

As we edge closer to the start of a new decade, it’s the perfect time to look back at the turn of the millennium, 20 whole years ago.   Sony decided that Europe’s “The Final Countdown” would make the ideal anthem for the millennium, and so had it remixed by the guy (Brian Rawling) who did Cher’s “Believe” a year earlier.  Joey Tempest was not amused, and tried to find another mixer without success.  Drummer Ian Haughland called the finished remix a “disaster”.

The full 5:45 remix was released as a single, while a 3:47 edit version was issued on a new version of Europe’s “greatest hits”, with title updated from 1982-1992 to 1982-2000.  At least the millennium led to a performance by a reunited Europe on New Year’s Eve featuring both guitarists John Norum and Kee Marcello.

The full length remix is the antithesis to rock music.  Sped up, with bouncy synth bass and drums, it was obviously calculated for dancing.  There are keyboards, weird sounds, and samples that have nothing to do with the song.  Of the original recording, Joey’s vocals remain, but the rest sounds completely digital.  It goes on, and on.  The edit is tolerably shorter, but barely.  “The Final Countdown 2000” is an affront to rock music and everything its fans enjoy.  It is pure pandering to people who would never have bought a Europe album in the first place.  Is that what Sony felt they had to do in order to make it a hit a second time?  Imagine if Europe recorded a new version with both guitarists instead.  The song was already pop enough to be a hit again on the wave of 80s nostalgia.  It didn’t need to be mutilated to fit into a dance remix.  It surely would have done better than this (#6 in Sweden, #36 in the UK).

As a consolation prize, this CD single includes a single edit of the original song.  All it’s missing is the countdown opening.  After hearing the dance version twice, it sounds strangely sluggish (even though it’s not).  It’s like taking an offramp from the highway into normal traffic.

Possibly the worst single I’ve ever bought.  And I’ve bought Puff Daddy.

0.5/5 stars

WTF Comments: Prisoners in Max’s Paradise edition

You gotta give Max [not The Axe, as far as we know] credit for this scorcher.  We don’t agree on Prisoners in Paradise by Europe, and that’s OK.  I was harsh on the album so Max was harsh on me.

I don’t know what the fuck this reviewer got stuck in his ears; a dead cat!?

Good one for sure.  Max goes on:

He complains about some songs being “pop” songs. Well what the fuck do you think this band is, Metallica??

Of course not, Max.  But have you heard of this album called Europe, by the band Europe?  Not a pop record, bud.  Not a pop record.

I don’t care. I like ’em. 

That’s cool Max.  I like ’em too.  Cool yer jets, bro!

For Max’s full comment click here.  Thanks for reading, anyway!

REVIEW: Rulers of Rock – Various Artists (1988 cassette)

RULERS OF ROCK (1988 PolyTel)

When the front cover features crumbled tinfoil, you know you’re in for a seriously good time.

This tape still sounds amazing!  It was a gift 30 years ago from an old girlfriend, and it somehow survived all my cassette purges (even the one that sent most of them to Thunder Bay.)

From the fine folks at PolyTel, you get an assortment of hot rock that makes for a remarkably good listen today.  Opening with Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” you couldn’t ask for a better embarkation point.  That goes right into the back-to-basics brilliance of “Love Removal Machine” by the Cult.  I remember that old girlfriend really hated The Cult, so it was kind of her to give this to me.  I didn’t have Electric yet, so this was my first ownership of the song.

The Ozzman cometh on “The Ultimate Sin”, still relentless today even though Ozzy tries to ignore most of the Ultimate Sin era.  Ozzy and Jake made some incredible music together and this is one.  The cassette swings back towards hair metal with Cinderella and their early hit “Nobody’s Fool” from 1986.  On tape, the ballad sounds thicker and heavier.  It also appears to be the full length version and not a single edit.  Up next, it’s the non-metal of The Alarm, but “Rain in the Summertime” fits like a glove.  It’s really no softer than “Living on a Prayer” when you think about it.  Unfortunately the cassette has a warbly spot right in the middle of the song.  Kiss close the side with the softest one yet:  “Reason to Live” from Crazy Nights.

Flipping the tape, side two opens with a hit just about equal to the one that commenced side one.  The keyboards sound carpet-deep on tape, as you recognise “The Final Countdown” by Europe.  If there were only two bands battling for rock supremacy in 1987, it was Bon Jovi vs. Europe.  Side one vs side two!

Our first Canadian content is predictably by Rush.  Hey, it had to be either Rush or Bryan Adams.  “Time Stand Still” featuring Aimee Mann was the kind of mainstream hit perfect for a tape like this.  Less predictable is the presence of Yngwie Malmsteen with “Fire” from Trilogy, a song totally out of character for a tape with The Alarm and Cinderella.  Deep Purple are next to crash the party with 1987’s Bad Attitude.  Once again, it was my first time owning a song.  I imagine Deep Purple with a little less shocking next to Yngwie, though probably just as unfamiliar to an unsuspecting buyer.

Why not a little Christian content, since so many styles of rock are represented here?  Stryper’s “Honestly” may sound like a romance, but it’s a cleverly disguised prayer.  And finally, because why not? It’s “Hourglass” by Squeeze!  I was 17 years old, and I hated it!  Different story today.

30 years down the road, Rulers of Rock was a delightfully entertaining listen with twists, turns and surprises.  And it’s still the only place I own those Squeeze and Alarm songs!

4/5 stars

 

 

WTF Search Terms: Surströmming edition

WTF SEARCH TERMS XXXVIII:  Surströmming edition

Heyo, LeBrainiacs!  It’s time for more WTF Search Terms, those weird and wacky things that people typed into search engines to bring them here.  I’ve gathered 10 more for your enjoyment.

People often search for “naked lebrains”.  Should I be flattered?  Setting the record right, once and for all:  I have never, and will never, do porn.  I’m glad that you keep searching for it, but give it up will ya?

  • lebrain hot dee
  • www . sex photo lebraln fucking

This isn’t a how-to site, but I loved this next question.  It had to be from a Trailer Park Boys fan.  Nobody else would think of it.  Bless you, whoever you are:

  • i want to turn my living room into an ice rink

True north strong and free!

These folks also had some Trailer Park Boys questions:

  • in tpb europe do they throw up

It sure looked like they did, in Stockholm after opening a can of putrid of fish called surströmming.  Nothing appeared to be faked for the cameras!

  • what episode is the trailer park boys where they go to denmark

I know this is hard to believe, but it’s the episode called “Copenhagen”.  Because it’s the capital of Denmark.  C’mon guys, use your heads before asking Siri to find out for you.

  • trailer park boys europe wheres randy and lahey

Not in Europe.

  • trailer park boys quotes they’re canadians they don’t know any better

I plead the Fifth.

This next one is related to Kiss.  I wish this is what I titled from review of Kiss at the Ritz:

  • kiss shit fits at ritz review

And then there’s this, obviously triggered by “Kiss” and “Maiden” who I’ve reviewed, but I don’t know what this person was searching for:

  • I fear they kiss,gentle maiden

And then in the “Conspiracy Theory that Just Won’t Die” category…guess who’s back!?

  • joey tempest lookalike

 

Thanks for checking out these search terms.  Subscribe so you never miss any!

 

 

WTF Search Terms: WOO! edition

WTF SEARCH TERMS XXXVII: WOO! edition

What are “WTF Search Terms”, you ask?  Simply, they are phrases that people typed into a search engine to wind up at mikeladano.com.  They’re sometimes weird, sometimes wonderful, and always amusing.  I hope you enjoy this 37th instalment of WTF Search Terms!

First please welcome “Nature Boy” Ric Flair to the WTF Search Term family!  The 16 time world wrestling champion was immortalized in the Legendary Klopeks song “Ric Flair” from their album Straight to Hell.  Someone googled the lyrics:

i wanna do a chop i wanna do a woo i wanna be like ric flair cause he’s so fucking cool

I love that somebody heard that lyric and had to google it.  Next up:

does anyone like the 2002 version of blizzard of ozz

The answer is yes:  Sharon does.  But next is a band that Sharon does not like.

benjamin of beef iron maiden

Oh, autocarrot.  I think they meant Benjamin Breeg.

This next person mixed up two bands, but it also could be autocarrot.  Funny either way:

deep leppard heartbreak

Then a grouping of searches for Snake the Tattoo Man.  But people need to decide where he’s from.  (It’s London).

snake from brantford tattoo guy
guy named snake in london, on
the man called snake, london, on

I got a chuckle from this next one:

fankie banali sucks

Well, let’s be fair.  Frankie Banali is an awesome drummer.  I’d never say he sucks.  I never have.  But his current version of Quiet Riot does kinda suck.  Unlike the following album:

europe last look at eden satanic lyrics

Oh, come on.  I’m sick of the “satanic” accusations levelled at this band.  Some deluded people actually think Joey Tempest is a demon.  I’m not fucking kidding.  Next question.

does album slave to the grind have any value?

Only what the music is worth to you.

which rock band was dressed to die in 1974

Hah!  None.  But Kiss were Dressed to Kill in 1975.

Thanks for reading!  The WTF Search Terms keep rolling in, so there will always be more….

 

 

 

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

REVIEW: Glenn Hughes – From Now On… (1994 inc. 2 bonus tracks)

scan_20170122GLENN HUGHES – From Now On… (originally 1994, 1996 Explorer records reissue)

Glenn Hughes had his struggles, from being kicked out of Black Sabbath in 1986 to a long coked-out period of inactivity.  He began making waves again in 1992, but it was 1994’s From Now On… solo CD that really inaugurated the lean, clean & mean Glenn Hughes that still dominates today.  He has continued to release powerful soulful rock music under his own name and with supergroups such as Black Country Communion and California Breed.  The critics can’t stop raving about Glenn Hughes today, but in 1994 he wasn’t getting the attention deserved.

From Now On… features a Swedish band including two members of Europe: John Levén (bass) and Mic Michaeli (keys).  Comparing this album to the music that Levén and Michaeli make today, you can hear their influence.  There is the soul but also big big hooks.  The first opening track however is wide open and takes no prisoners.  “Picking up the Pieces” probably had an autobiographical meaning for Glenn, but the track is fast-forward bluesy metal as his old band Deep Purple have been known to do.  His voice is enviable, powerful and clean.  John Levén is a superb musician, but one only wishes it was Glenn on bass too, since he is the original maestro.  He takes it to a slower, sexier groove on “Lay My Body Down”, with big soul vocals.

Epic melodic rock diamonds begin to take shape with “The Only One”.  This epic track echoes some of the big choruses Glenn did with the supergroup Phenomena.  Think old tracks like “Kiss of Fire” and “Still the Night” from 1985.  “The Only One” is a successor to those tracks, with a big melodic chorus and a killer performance from Glenn.  “Why Don’t You Stay” is a soul ballad, but still in gear with the big 80s-style Glenn Hughes choruses.  It is closest in direction to Europe (a-la Prisoners in Paradise).  Hold on tight because that chorus crashes in like a tidal wave.

Back in the Deep Purple days, Glenn was the funky one.  “Walkin’ on the Water” brings a little bit of that funk vibe, but the focus is Glenn’s slinky vocalizin’.  A little bit of the Sabbath chug emerges on “The Liar” which acts as a natural side closer.  Rainbow’s 1995 album Stranger in Us All has a song with similar hooks called “Cold Hearted Woman”, but this is probably just coincidence.  Wicked guitars dart across the speakers as Glenn protests, “You’re the one they call the liar!”

There is a subtle progressive vibe to “Into the Void”.  Glenn sings it soft on the verses, and with power on the choruses.  You can hear the spooky keyboard influence of Mic Michaeli who co-wrote the song.  An unreleased Hughes/Thrall song finally emerged on “You Were Always There”, a funky little 80s number.  Re-recorded for 1994, it nonetheless sounds like period in which it was written.  Unfortunately “You Were Always There” begins a sluggish patch midway through the second side.  Rolling into the ballad “If You Don’t Want Me To”, nothing stands out like the previous songs.  “Devil in You”, another unreleased Hughes/Thrall song, begins to get things on track.  “Homeland” really delivers and it’s back to the soaring power choruses.  (And no, it’s not the same song as Europe’s “Homeland” on Prisoners in Paradise.  This one is co-written by Mel Galley.)  It’s bright days indeed, and “Homeland” is a beacon.  This builds up to the original CD closer and title track “From Now On…”.  This track pulses with understated power, and the incredible “voice of rock”, as Glenn is called.

The 1996 Explorer records reiusse adds two bonus tracks:  remakes of Deep Purple’s “Burn” (from Burn, 1974) and “You Keep on Moving” (from Come Taste the Band, 1975).  While Deep Purple re-recordings are numerous (hello Joe Lynn Turner and David Coverdale!), these two by Glenn Hughes are among the best you will find.  It is true that Whitesnake’s The Purple Album also has re-recordings of these two songs.  Glenn’s versions get the edge, due to the sheer power of the man’s vocal performance.  He didn’t have to downtune the songs as David did.

No album by Glenn Hughes will lead you astray, but From Now On… (with or without bonus tracks) is easy and cheap to find used.  Why not make it your first solo purchase from the man that the Japanese call “The God of Voice”?

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Don Dokken – Up From the Ashes (1990)

scan_20161027DON DOKKEN – Up From the Ashes (1990 Geffen)

“The best revenge is to live well.” — Don Dokken’s liner notes.  Passive aggressive much?

Dokken imploded in 1989 not with a bang but a whimper.  Rather than remembering the live album they finished with (Beast From the East), people recall the animosity and bitter attacks in the rock press.  George Lynch and Mick Brown began Lynch Mob, while Jeff Pilson formed War & Peace. Don Dokken meanwhile was cooking up a hot new band.  The only issue was the name.  The ex-members, who owned a stake in the Dokken name, refused to let Don use it.  They also shot down the names “Dokken II” and “DKN”.  (Reportedly Dokken was told if he wanted to just use the vowels “OE” for his new band, that would be fine with the others!)  Don was understandably upset that he couldn’t use his own last name for his name, so he opted to bill himself as Don Dokken the solo artist.

His solo band was a killer.  Fresh out of Europe with a smash hit album under his belt, John Norum joined on guitar.  Billy White from the thrash metal band Watchtower was the second guitar player, giving Dokken a double guitar lineup (or three if you count Don himself).  King Diamond’s Mikkey Dee was aboard on drums, several years away from joining Motorhead (and now Scorpions).  Rounding out the band was veteran Accept bassist Peter Baltes, who played with Dokken in their earliest days.

With all this burning anger coupled with tremendous instrumental firepower, one might expect Don to come back rockin’ harder than ever.  His solo album Up From the Ashes was a down-ratchet from Dokken, slightly, with an emphasis on melodic rock.  It did however continue the core Dokken sound, with some biting and very Lynch-like guitar riffs.

Entering with the kind of jagged riffs that made Dokken famous, “Crash ‘N Burn” sounds almost exactly like Don’s old band.  Hard rock, smooth vocals, and six-string acrobatics.  There is no familiar Jeff Pilson backing vocal, but Peter Baltes and John Norum get the job done.  The incredibly impressive guitar histrionics are clearly not George Lynch, but fans will love what John and Billy White cooked up.  A strong follow-up called “1000 Miles Away” sits in a comfortable mid-tempo rock zone.  It’s not a ballad, it’s not a rocker, but it’s somewhere in between.  Hit material.  The album’s single was a track called “Mirror Mirror”, with a stuttery Van Halen riff.  The lyrics are very telling:

“Mirror mirror, on the wall,
Seven years, I survived them all,
Mirror mirror, tell me more,
If that was love, then love is war.”

Dokken had a roughly seven-year long life as a recording band, so think what you will.

A lot of Up From the Ashes fits into a nice little hard rock box, a little smoother around than edges than classic Dokken, but strong as ever.  “When Some Nights” has a similar vibe to “1000 Miles Away”, and there are many others.  No real weak songs abide within.  There are only a few that are head and shoulders standouts.  Among these is “Living a Lie”, a sharp Norum co-write with a Europe-like sound.  Also up there, “Give It Up” is a brief blast of rock.  “Stay” leans in a slightly more pop direction, successfully so.

Drony ballads are less impressive.  “When Love Finds a Fool” is fortunately the only one, which does at least boast some impressive musical contributions from all the players.  The momentum is killed by starting side two with this slow Scorpions-wannabe.  Another issue is a slightly damp production, which makes the drums sound woefully underpowered.  This is a shame since Mikkey Dee is such a drum demon.

With Up From the Ashes, Don re-established himself.  Nobody could accuse him of leaning on George Lynch.  With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, this band really should have been called Dokken.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Europe – Almost Unplugged (2009)

scan_20161012EUROPE – Almost Unplugged (2009 MVD Audio)

Almost Unplugged“?  The devil is this?

This was a special show in Sweden, with Europe playing some of their best material (with a few covers) in a largely acoustic setting.  There are strings, but there are also keyboards and electric guitar.  The best of both worlds!

The band were riding a high wave then, which has really not dissipated since.  They had done a couple well received reunion albums (Start From the Dark and Secret Society) and were working on music that many fans consider a peak (Last Look at Eden).  Europe have long been an under appreciated band, but Almost Unplugged should win over even the staunchest critic.

“Got to Have Faith” opened Europe’s reunion album Start From the Dark, so it works triumphantly as a concert opener.  Here, it is laid back, bluesy with slippery guitars.  “Forever Travelling” from Secret Society follows hot on its heels.  The string quartet adds drama to this song, which works naturally in the acoustic setting.  From the same album is the killer track “Devil Sings the Blues”, highlighted by some splendid John Norum electric guitar noodling.

Every time Europe does a cover, it becomes an album highlight.  The acoustic “Wish You Were Here” is beautiful and not at all overdone.  Thin Lizzy’s “Suicide” is full on electric, and pretty spot-on, especially considering that Lizzy were a two-guitar band while Europe has a guitar and a keyboard.  Covering Led Zeppelin is always risky but “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is surprisingly great.  Joey doesn’t try to copy Robert Plant, but he certainly can sing the blues just fine.  (Hey!  Maybe the devil really does sing the blues!  Oh, you devil you!)  Just as importantly, Norum plays some electrifying guitar blues over this monster of a cover.  The most brilliant cover however is a UFO song:  “Love to Love”.  More than any other, this one sounds like Europe owned it.  It’s very well suited to their dramatic rock stylings, and they absolutely kill it.  If there was one track worth buying the CD for, you just found it.

The Europe originals that make up the bulk of the album span the entire history of the band.  From the first LP is “Memories”, which in its original version was a brutally heavy stampede.  Here, it is an acoustic gallop, just as aggressive, but with subtlety.  The piano ballad “Dreamer” comes from the second album, an unsung classic that was a few years shy of fame.  The fame and fortune finally came on 1986’s The Final Countdown, and of course the title track is played.  In its acoustic version there is no synth hook; it instead played by the string quartet.  It’s trippy to hear it done like this; a little strangeness for fun.  “Superstitious” (from 1988’s Out of This World) sounds more natural in this format.  It’s also refreshing to hear Joey’s voice crack in a couple places.  That means this is really truly live.

One should always familiarize with the originals first, but even if you don’t have them, Almost Unplugged should be well enjoyed by any discerning rock fan who doesn’t mind when the acoustics come out.

4.5/5 stars

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