John Leven

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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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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GUEST REVIEW: Europe – War of Kings (2015) by Jesse A. Jones

For Tommy Morais’ excellent 4/5 star review of this album, click here, and to skip directly to the comment that started it all, click here!

GUEST REVIEW by academic and rock fan “Jesse A. Jones”*

WAR OF KINGSEUROPE – War of Kings (2015 UDR)

The Swedish rock band Europe stormed onto the charts in the mid 1980’s with uplifting keyboard oriented pop rock, written by singer and founder Joey Tempest, a golden fluffy-haired gifted soul.  Then their slide down the charts began.  Albums like Out of This World sold fewer and fewer copies and the band finally broke up in the early 90’s, amid rumours that even their own mothers now preferred The Hives.

Unfortunately for fans and the band, these would be the last great albums Europe would make!  The fact that mainstream rock magazines still praise Europe is shocking nonsense.  It’s hard to believe anyone buys that stupidity!  There has not been a real “Europe” in 26 years!  It’s a conspiracy involving many producers, record label execs, musicians, writers, FIFA and the worldwide media cartel as a whole.  The Bilberbergers know but say nothing, while the Rothschilds remain silent.  I have proof written on the back of a beer mat that in 1994 Matt Groening was forced to rewrite a Futurama episode that obliquely referenced the scandal.  Shadowy elements of the secret world government have stifled independent thought and critical opinions, ensuring we will all remain unquestioning and loyal, to both our governments and rock bands alike!

Well, ladies and gentlemen it is my sworn duty to tell you the truth and I will not be silenced, or my integrity bought for 30 pieces of record company silver!

The problem is the Europe of today has nothing in common with the real group Europe that topped the charts in 1987.  Literally. Committing a conspiracy of great scale, they have been secretly and knowingly touring with an imposter singer since 1989!  Their last horrible and fake albums (lifeless and without soul) were not written by the real Joey Tempest.  Without Joey’s talent and unique abilities, the band is a lost joke; twisted and sad – imagine, it would be like Deep Purple without Nick Simper – just unthinkable!

The truth remains shrouded in mystery.  The only details now known, thanks to a covert informant “C.A.”, is that the imposter Joey forced out the real Joey sometime in 1989, using a complex web of lies and half-truths. Plastic surgeons and vocal coaches helped the fake Joey in his goals, and were paid off for their silence, or disappeared.  Some say that the real reason that the late celebrity plastic surgeon Dr. Fredric Brandt suffered from depression was keeping this whole thing secret.  Then, having successfully replaced Joey without anyone noticing, Europe continued to tour with a new voice and face fronting the band, raking in millions.  It is quite remarkable that very few fans have noticed this imposter.  “Joey’s” voice changed on 1991’s Prisoner’s in Paradise album but the complicit media have either ignorantly or purposely covered it up.  Fans have wondered why Joey’s hair style and hair colour changed on that album, assuming it was just a superficial change.  Little did they know that the head and face behind the hair had also changed! Joey would NEVER let his hair go flat like that! Wake up people!

JOEY THEN NOW

Europe with the imposter have made a semi-successful go of it, edging themselves towards world domination, even placing third in Sweden’s Got Talent in 2013, but for an unknown, sinister purpose.  True fans, distinguishable from the herd by their password ‘Cherokee – marching on the trail of tears’, who know and appreciate the talents of the real Joey, have wondered what happened, but no-one listens.  As for the fake fans, how could YOU do this to the real Joey?  How could YOU not even notice this shadow of a Joey up there on stage singing fake odes to “Carrie”?  Shame on the fans, and most of all shame on the band for not stopping this charade 26 years ago!

Just look at the songs here!  “Children of the Night”.  The real Joey would never have written a song about “children of the night”,  “California 405” is the highway that O.J. Simpson was chased down – a definite clue that there was something more going on here than meets the eye!  Why would Europe specifically reference that notorious highway unless they were implying some sort of wrongdoing behind the scenes?

Just listen to the song “Praise You” on this album.  As if the real Joey would have written “Praise You”!  This rude, obscene imposter has terrible lyrics and evil facial expressions.   He is a demonic devil from hell who only cares for himself, not the fans and certainly not the spirit of the original Joey – with the voice, face and hair of an angel.  The real Joey gave the fans everything he had.  His reward was being ousted by an imposter who now receives all the love and praise from ignorant and deceived “fans” who are too stupid to notice the difference.  His only goal in this world is to lie and fool as many fans as possible while he laughs raking in the money!  No talent, no soul, no voice!  That’s the fake Joey right there.  Just listen to War Of Kings, it’s as if he and the whole band are actively setting out to destroy the affection of the fans and ruin the legacy of the band as a whole.  Well I won’t sit idly by and let this happen! No sir!

Some will say, “Well you are wrong.  His hair and voice change with style and age.”  No.  Look at his eyes.  They are not the same eyes, you can see the yawning chasms of hellfire deep in those pupils.  Joey tried to warn you what was happening.  Read the lyrics to “Stranger on the Track”!  Make sense now?  Joey was warning you that “danger” was on his back and nobody listened.  Joey stood for love and the truth!  Long live love!  Long live the truth!  One day Joey will return and prove this all to be true, with the original angelic voice of Europe!

It is hard though to bear this burden, sometimes even I start to doubt, but then I only have to look down at the words tattooed on my thigh; words of inspiration, words of power, the real Joey’s words and I find the strength to go on, in his name.

Rock now, rock the night
‘Til early in the morning light
Rock now, rock the night
You’d better believe it’s right.

No rating

* Professor Emeritus of Applied Conspiracy at the University of Punkeydoodles Corners and author of ‘Paul Is Dead: The Amazing Beatles Conspiracy’, ‘Lennon Lives! Why John Isn’t Dead’ and ‘George! Satan’s Favorite Beatle’.

GUEST REVIEW: Europe – War of Kings (2015) by Tommy Morais

It’s been two years since Tommy Morais contributed a review here.  It is with great joy that I celebrate Tommy’s return, and that of the rock band Europe!  Please join me in welcoming back Tommy, a great reviewer originally from the province of New Brunswick, Canada.

NEW RELEASE review by TOMMY MORAIS

 

“Europe establishes itself as a modern classic rock band”

WAR OF KINGSEUROPE – War of Kings (2015 UDR)

After the bluesy affair that was Bag of Bones, the band Europe returns to a heavier sound and approach on War of Kings and ultimately, a more Europe-sounding album. The band has essentially transformed itself from its glam metal roots to essentially become a modern classic rock band. I’ve always been a fan of albums like Wings of Tomorrow and Out of This World, just as l am a fan of Last Look At Eden and their recent albums. If anyone cares to listen there’s more to this band than “The Final Countdown”, the occasional hit song and power ballads. For anyone who’s been keeping track, they know that the last few Europe albums have been very enjoyable and saw them release some of their best music thus far in their career (Last Look At Eden, Start From The Dark, Secret Society).

The title track opens up, and it’s every bit as epic sounding as you expect it to be.  It’s a raunchy, slow down and dirty metallic number. Europe makes it clear from the get-go that they’re going in a heavy direction. “Hole in my Pocket” is a more light and upbeat track, and whereas the first track sounded more metal this one is more energetic AOR rock (with a blistering John Norum solo). “Second Day” is one of the highlights for me: the lyrics and the feel of the song are inspiring and Joey Tempest’s voice sounds like some part deep on him is aching and it’s brilliant. “Praise You” is a slow tempo rocker, not-quite ballad with a bluesy feel (Norum’s playing is just magnificent here) with hard rock tempo changes… this track really surprised me! “Nothin’ To Ya” is in a similar vein as the title track in that it goes for an epic feel but there’s orchestration on in the background that makes it interesting.

“California 405” is a cool mellow, almost easy-listening song. “Days of Rock ‘N’ Roll” is probably the closest sounding thing to a “The Final Countdown” here, and that is based on the joyous riff it possesses. Another solid rocker.  “Children of the Night” is a dark sounding tune with some excelling guitar playing, something almost fit for the late great Ronnie James Dio. “Rainbow Bridge” has an exotic sound; it makes me feel like l’m about to enter some place like Morocco.  It’s this album’s “Kashmir”, very different and very cool.  “Angels (With Broken Hearts”) could almost be considered a ballad but it’s really a slow, here-comes-the-heartache piece with the music doing the biggest talking. “Light Me Up” is not bad at all, but it’s my least favourite song on War of Kings and not the best way to end the album.

For what it is I quite enjoy War of Kings, and it offers a solid collection of songs. Joey Tempest’s voice has aged like a fine wine where you can tell he’s comfortable and confident in his abilities, and this is possibly the best he’s ever sounded in all honesty. John Norum is a very talented guitar player and he has his shining moments in his riffs and solos, and puts a little blues out there as well. Europe are competent musicians and it certainly comes across as such, and maybe even more so now that they have moved past the “glam” and “hair” metal tags. I feel like since their comeback in the early 2000’s they’ve truly become a modern classic rock band in sound and spirit (don’t worry they still love and play the classics and hits live).

While it’s true that you only get one first impression, l wish more people would give Europe a chance, because they’re not the same band they were during the 80’s and they’ve become better musicians as time passed by. I think a lot of classic rock fans who didn’t like Europe during their most successful years especially might enjoy this a lot more than they’d ever think. Maybe some were hoping for a nostalgia trip but the keyboards and power ballads are not to be found here, this is a more mature Europe and a very fine one at that. For that reason l think some would like this a lot more. And if you were a fan all along then what are you waiting for? Pick this up and give it a spin. I praise Europe for giving us a true great hard rock record in 2015.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Europe – Europe (1983)

EUROPE_0001EUROPE – Europe (1983 CBS)

Summer 1989.  My buddy Bob showed up at the door.

“Mike!” he began.  “They have a Europe album you don’t have down at Sam the Record Man.  You should get it, but it’s only on record.”

I knew Europe had albums prior to The Final Countdown, but I had never seen nor heard them.  Since my primary format was cassette back then, I passed on the vinyl version.  A few weeks later, Europe the album showed up in the new Columbia House catalog, so I ordered it on tape.  I had reasoned out that this was their first album, but the 1989 date on the back made it look like a new release.  In fact Martin Popoff even reviewed it as such in Riff Kills Man!, stating that the poodle hair and keyboards were “gone” and replaced by sheer heavy metal.  He’s right about the heavy metal, even if he had the order of the albums wrong.  Europe resembles the band of “Carrie” and “Rock the Night” only superficially.  This is a metal album, and a damn fine one at that.

The regal, thunderous riff of “In the Future to Come” should warn away anyone expecting power ballads.  This speedy UFO/Priest hybrid certainly took me by surprise.  Singer Joey Tempest’s voice was not the soulful powerhouse it would later become, but he was just a kid at the time.   The metal here is pure: no frills, no excesses, just steamhammer rhythm and a howling lead singer.  Throw in some ace John Norum guitar work and you have something to talk about.  His double-tracked solo might be reminiscent of Thin Lizzy.

“Farewell” is straightforward heavy metal, on the hard rock side of things.  Some may be off-put by the flat lead vocals, but I say, “Hey, it’s rock n’ roll.”  The song slams and the chorus is memorable enough for me.  Then “Seven Doors Hotel” changes the scene with a haunting piano opening…but it’s merely a fake out.  The speed metal riffing and wailing Norum are back.  Norum makes his Les Paul howl like Joey does at the microphone.  Even though there’s some neoclassical finesse to some of the music, I hear a bit of Phil Lynott in there too.

My favourite song then and now is probably “The King Will Return”.  The lyrics aren’t very good, but English wasn’t Joey’s first language.  I still enjoy the words, as it’s one of those medieval story-telling songs that I’m a sucker for.  This softer song is still pretty epic and wouldn’t be considered wimpy by anyone.  Side one was closed by the Norum instrumental song “Boyazont”.  I don’t know what a “boyazont” is, but who cares?  Norum instrumentals are usually ballsy and catchy, and this is no exception.

The second side is commenced by “Children of this Time”, which continues much in the vein of songs like “In the Future to Come”.  Then for a respite, “Words of Wisdom” has an acoustic verse.  That doesn’t make it a ballad!  No, this picks up speed for the chorus and continues to storm the gates of Valhalla like the rest of the album.  It’s a bit slower in pace, but the drums still hit like hammers while Joey howls at the thunder.  I think I can even hear timpani.  “Paradize Bay” (not sure why they spelled it with a z) is one of the album’s strongest cuts.  It’s a relentless battering ram with a chorus that hints at the grandness of Europe in the future.  Norum’s solo is sloppy but delicious.  “Memories” then closes the album on a frenetic note.  There are plenty of  “woah woah” vocals to go around, and drummer Tony Reno seemingly pulverizes his kit.  There’s another voice singing with Joey on the outro of the song; is this John Norum?

This album was self produced, and as such it sounds very raw.  But heavy!  Not all bands who self produced early in their careers managed to get results as good as those on Europe.   For 1983 and just a bunch of kids, this is damn fine work!  And it holds up.  It’s a headbanger.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Europe – Wings of Tomorrow (1984)

By request of the Heavy Metal OverloRd.

WOT_0001EUROPE – Wings of Tomorrow (1984 Epic)

In many ways, Wings of Tomorrow is the perfect Europe album.  It combines their early grand metallic leanings with the keyboards and anthemic sheen they would later become known for.   Like the first Europe album, it’s loaded with hard rockers, the odd ballad, and an instrumental guitar workout.  The same lineup from the last album was intact, with the major difference being Joey Tempest adding more keyboards to the mix.

The opener “Stormwind” is a great hard rock/metal tune, with a memorable chorus, riff, plus a tricky sounding solo from virtuoso John Norum.   Second up is the ferocious “Scream of Anger”, featuring Norum playing the heavily distorted riff through a talk box.  This is a solid burner, scorched-Earth policy firmly in place, taking no prisoners.  Tempest wrote this song with Yngwie Malmsteen bassist Marcel Jacob.

The best known song on the album is “Open Your Heart”, which a later lineup of the band re-recorded for the underrated Out of This World record.  I prefer the re-recorded version, because it includes an additional guitar part, really cool and catchy, immediately after the acoustic intro.  The original version is still a great song though, a power ballad, and probably the first great Europe power ballad.

The angry prowler, “Treated Bad Again”, takes us back into metal territory.  This predatory number would have fit in perfectly on something like a mid-period Judas Priest album.  Then, as on the debut album, John Norum ends Side 1 with an instrumental.  This one is called “Aphasia”, which refers to a medical condition that can render sufferers unable to speak.  Get it?

Side 2 opened with an assaulting metal riff, on the album’s title track.  It’s a jagged riff that juxtaposes nicely with Joey’s smooth voice.  “Wasted Time” sounds like the aforementioned Yngwie at first, just because of the riff, but then it begins to gallop into Diamond Head style chorus.  The guitar solo is shredder’s envy.   “Lyin’ Eyes” maintains the momentum.

All this sets the stage for the penultimate song, and possibly the best ballad Europe ever recorded:  “Dreamer”.  It’s a piano power ballad, without the saccharine overload of songs like “Carrie”.  This one’s just a classic ballad, much like you’d find on the first Europe album, but refined a bit.

Wings of Tomorrow closes with the reckless pace of “Dance the Night Away”, which sounds nothing like what its title implies.  It’s a simple metal song, fast burning riff, and plenty of solos.  It’s a shame the guitar wasn’t mixed in heavier.  You get the impression that this album would have sounded so much harder live.

I don’t know if anybody could have predicted the massive success of the next album, The Final Countdown, after labouring in obscurity for two records.  But success did come, and these early albums are a memento of a time before Joey Tempest wrote “hits”.

4.5/5 stars