EUROPE – 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.