kee marcello

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: Eric Carr – Unfinished Business (2011)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 42:  Eric Carr solo #2.

EC_Unfinished_Business_2011ERIC CARR – Unfinished Business (2011 Auto Rock Records)

Even though 2000’s Rockology compilation released a treasure trove of unheard goodies for the fans, there is always more to sell.  For the 20th anniversary of Eric’s passing, another batch of tracks were unearthed.  Some are mere filler, some are pretty decent.  Fans of the beloved  drummer will have to sift through the bad to get to the good.

There are a couple Kiss songs here for the diehard fans.  “No One’s Messin’ With You” is yet another demo of what would become “Little Caesar” from Hot in the Shade.  A third called “Ain’t That Peculiar” was released on the 2001 Kiss Box Set.  This is an almost completely different set of lyrics, although it does have the “Hey Little Caesar” chorus.  In chronological terms, this version probably falls between the other two, with lyrics still a work in progress and a different verse melody.  Then there’s “Shandi”, from Eric’s Kiss audition tape, with brand new acoustic backing music.  Unfortunately, Eric’s shaky voice (or a warbly tape) makes this totally unlistenable.

One of Rockology‘s highlights was “Just Can’t Wait” which was crying out for a lead vocal to finish it off.  This was completed by Ted Poley of Danger Danger.  Though the backing track lacks the fidelity of a proper Kiss recording, the song has taken shape as the shoulda-coulda-been hit that it is.  Eric would have been proud and very happy to hear it as a finished song.

The unfinished “Troubles Inside You” is a demo with regular Kiss collaborator and Beatlemania member Mitch Weissman.  It was recorded at Gene Simmons’ house, but the old cassette must have deteriorated pretty badly.  The music is barely audible, though hints of a good song shine through.  Two more Kiss outtakes include the legendary “Dial L For Love” and “Elephant Man”.  These were written for Crazy Nights and Revenge, respectively.  Neither were finished by Carr.  “Dial L For Love” has the bones of a good song with a unique riff.  Eric only managed to finish the lyrics for “Elephant Man”, but here it is given music and life by a group of musicians including the late A.J. Pero of Twisted Sister, and ex-Europe guitarist Kee Marcello.  Singer Bob Gilmartin did a great job of it, turning “Elephant Man” into a cross between ballad and rocker, and something Kiss totally could have done on Revenge.  “Midnight Stranger” is another unfinished riff.  Ex-Kiss guitarist Mark St. John was slated to overdub brand new solos for this instrumental, but he too passed before he could finish.  This is the original cassette demo.  The riff sounds like a brother to “Carr Jam”.  They are definitely related.

“Carr Jam 1981” is, unfortunately, not the original unaltered Elder demo.  It is a cover by drummer Joey Cassata, and a very authentic one at that.  Same with “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”.  Just a cover, not a demo, by Cassata’s band Z02. Pretty good stuff, at least.  New backing music was recorded for “Eyes of Love”, a song previously released on Rockology.  The Rockology version with Bruce Kulick on guitar is superior.

Finally, some real serious archival treasures:  an Eric Carr drum solo basement tape (same as his live Kiss solo), and a 1967 recording by Eric’s first band The Cellarmen!  That’s Eric on lead vocals too.  It definitely sounds of its time. Added filler include a few interview bits and clips, including one with former Kiss manager Bill Aucoin about Eric.

If the first Eric Carr CD release was best left to hardcore fans, it’s doubly true of the second one.  This is a fans-only release, period.  It is highly unlikely anyone else would get much enjoyment from this low-fi set.

2/5 stars

Although Carr’s loss was devastating to both fans and the band, there was no question Kiss would carry on with imminent Revenge….

 

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: Europe – Out of this World (1988)

This one comes to you by request of Jompa Wilmenius!

EUROPE – Out of this World (1988 Epic)

So here I am, in the same place that I was 26 years ago when I first heard Out of this World, by a band I just loved:  Europe.  It was late August of 1988.  The location is a quaint wooden cottage north of Kincardine, Ontario.  I bought this album at the local records & tapes store while on summer vacation.  The problem with August in Kincardine is that it was a crummy time to be on vacation.  It started to get cool in late August, dark and rainy.  That August was a damp one, and I have lots of memories of being in this exact same location trying to wrap my head around Europe’s then-latest.

From the first single, it was obvious to my friends and I that Europe had mellowed somewhat.  It seemed odd to me that a band of Europe’s stature would release something mid-tempo and softer as a first single.  But there was no questioning the quality of “Superstitious”. It remains one of Joey Tempest’s greatest compositions.  This song has it all:  A soulful vibe, anthemic Europe keyboards, an absolutely blazing guitar solo by Kee Marcello, and plenty of organ to go with this darker mellow vibe.

I don’t think this video did them any favors.

That considered, I expected the next song “Let the Good Times Rock” to sound more like upbeat, “old” Europe (which to me was The Final Countdown).  Although it has some cool guitar hooks and fun lyrics, it’s more of a laid back dark n’ dirty grind.  This furthered the feeling that Europe were softening a bit.

None of us were then aware that “Open Your Heart” was a remake of a song from 1984’s Wings of Tomorrow. Kee didn’t play on the orginal, so it’s cool to hear his take on it.  Even though this song was a ballad, it was undoubtedly hit single quality.  When this song failed to get any airplay here, I began to worry that Europe’s fortunes in this country were over.  I could not fathom how the song had not become a massive hit.  Europe were being ignored by the mainstream.  It was a shame.  I still think the re-recorded version is great.  As I said in my review for Wings of Tomorrow, “I prefer the re-recorded version, because it includes an additional guitar part, really cool and catchy, immediately after the acoustic intro.”


“More Than Meets the Eye” has nothing to do with the Transformers, but it does consist of more dark, keyboard-oriented radio rock.  It’s a very good song, but again, I was craving something more upbeat.  There was still hit single potential here.  “Coast to Coast” is equally good, but very soft.  This is a mournful organ-backed anthem. It’s peaceful, just like this cottage by the lake.  Quality-wise, this is top-notch.  However we are now five songs into the A-side, without a really truly upbeat sounding rock song.  The young me found this all a bit too depressing, though today I don’t mind the laid back vibes.

Then, finally!  “Ready or Not”!  A smoking rock song.  Everything the album needed.  When Joey sings, “Then rock me just a little more,” that’s exactly how I felt!  Coming from Canada, I often wonder how Europe’s Swedish fans, who had been on board much longer, felt about Europe’s new musical direction.

Side B commenced with the elegant keyboards of “Sign of the Times”.  The song feels highbrow, and perhaps musically it was too sophisticated for the tastes at the time.  It’s an excellent song, another keyboard-drenched anthem.  The shame of it is, the production (by Ron Nevison) robs the song of so much power.  Some things he captures quite well, such as Mic Michaeli’s organ.  Other things are weak by comparison.  Kee’s lead tone sounds cold…just like this cottage used to be in late August…and the rhythm guitars are not present enough.  The song could have had much more dynamics, heavy and soft, if the instruments were just recorded a little differently.

“Just the Beginning” isn’t anything special to me, a chorus without a song.  This one you can skip, there are better songs to be had.  “Never Say Die” is pretty good.  It too lacks that upbeat feel that I’m craving on a Europe album, but it’s good enough for me.  It has some great parts even if the whole isn’t all it should be.  The organ and guitar solos, for example, are a lot of fun.  Unfortunately “Lights and Shadows”, which follows, is just filler.

“Tower’s Callin'”, the penultimate song, is back to quality songwriting.  Even though the song has a cool groove (badly recorded once again) and a killer chorus, the lyrics are completely incongruous to the mood of the music!  The songs seem to be about an air disaster:

All set ready to go but little does he know
He ain’t comin’ back no more, no
All set ready to fly into that deep blue sky
Like so many times before
Now the tower’s callin’, there’s no reply
And there’s nothin’ they can do
Now the night is fallin’ before their eyes
Still no one’s comin’ through, callin’ F12

Or am I reading this with too much 2014 perspective? Perhaps the song is supposed to be more Twilight Zone in nature, a disappearing plane?

The final track is “Tomorrow”, a Joey Tempest piano piece that once again has to be one of his best compositions. It does close the album on a sad, rainy note…much like that August in ’88.

It’s obvious that I can’t separate my listening to Out of this World from feelings of nostalgia. For that reason, take my rating with a grain of salt. Although many may feel differently, I like this album. It has a weaker second side and way too many ballads, but Ron Nevison robbed the guitars of their thunder. The songwriting shines through on many tracks, as does the talent of the players. For those reasons:

4/5 stars

OUT OF THIS WORLD_0003

REVIEW: Europe – Rock the Night: The Very Best of Europe

EUROPE – Rock the Night: The Very Best of Europe (2004)

Europe’s successful reunion was one of the most unexpected of the last decade, but thus far four awesome studio albums have been the result. A tougher more rock-oriented Europe emerged with Start From The Dark, but not before this appropriate retrospective was released. Containing music from the first era of Europe, from their debut album to their fifth, Prisoners In Paradise, this compilation is the ideal summary of the 80’s and 90’s era of the band.

All the casual fans need to know is that all the hits are here, in their original studio versions: “The Final Countdown”, “Cherokee”, “Superstitious”, “Carrie”, and the title track. That’s enough to make this worth buying for many. But also included are great lesser known tracks, many of which were also singles: “Open Your Heart” (the original version from Wings of Tomorrow), “Dreamer”, “Sign Of The Times”, “Heart of Stone”, “The King Will Return”, and many more. Two of my personal favourites are included: The rhythmically powerful “Girl From Lebanon” and the pop yet inspiring “Prisoners In Paradise”.

The diehards are also baited with B-sides and rare tracks. Many of these such as “On Broken Wings” and “Mr. Government Man” have since been issued on Europe remasters and other compilations, but there were a couple I never had before: live takes of “Time Has Come” and “Let The Good Times Rock” from the 1980’s. There’s also a studio track that I’m unfamiliar with called “Here Comes the Night”. This appears to be from the Prisoners In Paradise sessions, previously unreleased, and it’s a decent track. Best for me was a later B-side version of “Seven Doors Hotel”, with Joey Tempest enunciating a lot more clearly.

For my personal tastes, I didn’t like Prisoners In Paradise much. I found it overproduced and way too commercial and American-sounding. Europe were always much more European sounding, like a more radio-friendly Deep Purple or UFO. So there are too many tracks here from Prisoners for me, including a few that I just hate: “Got Your Mind In The Gutter” (dull blooze-rock) and “Seventh Sign” are not that great. But, it is what it is. I preferred a lot of the songs from Out Of This World and previous albums. I would have preferred to hear “Tomorrow”, “Ninja”, or “Paradize Bay”.

But hey, it’s two CDs of Europe, right?  And Europe were and are a good band.  In North America, I don’t think they ever got any respect.  They are remembered here for the big hair, and the big anthem.  That’s too bad.  As this collection demonstrates, Europe had a lot more to offer then.  There are ballads indeed, but there is also mighty heavy metal, many grand melodies, and hard rock performed with precision.

Good liner notes, decent photos.  Good comp.

 

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Europe – The Final Countdown (1986)

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EUROPE – The Final Countdown (1986, 2001 Epic remaster)

I remember back in 1986/1987, all the rock magazines were playing on the same angle: Who’s better, Europe or Bon Jovi? Hard to believe that the two bands were once considered on the same playing field, now that Bon Jovi are permanent megastars. Not to mention their music sounds nothing alike!

Everybody knows “The Final Countdown” which received a new life thanks to TV shows shows like Arrested Development. (Gob Bluth uses it as his theme song during his ill-fated magic acts.)  What you may not know is that this album had three other classic singles (“Rock the Night”, “Carrie”, “Cherokee”) and 6 great album tracks with no duds. As an added bonus, this remaster also includes three live tracks from 1987’s Final Countdown World Tour.  These may in fact be the same tracks as the Extended Versions release, but I don’t have that one to verify.

The synth-y title track kicks off the proceedings, its regal anthemic melody setting the mood. A science fiction themed song, the people of Earth have departed for Venus (let’s ignore that Venus is 460 °C). The lyrics…not super great on this album, but let’s not forget that English was their second language and they were still kids at the time. Regardless, “The Final Countdown” is a complete success as a song, from insanely catchy verses to chorus to intricate guitar solo courtesy of John Norum.

“Rock The Night” follows, another catchy song, this time with the guitar handling the meat of the tune. Then, the hit ballad “Carrie”. It’s a bit soft by today’s standards but is still a well written keyboard ballad with a great melody. This is followed by another great rock song, “Danger on the Track”. Vocalist Joey Tempest tells us of a journey followed by “strangers on my back”.  (See, because “back” rhymes with “track”.)  Again, not a great lyric, but it is a great song. Side One of the original LP was finished with the fantastic “Ninja”, which in my own personal world was a single in its own right. The lyrics: “If I were a noble ancient knight, I’d stand by your side to rule and fight.” OK then.

PHANTOM ZONE

Apparently the phantom zone wasn’t just for General Zod.

Side Two kicked off with a riff and a smile, and probably the best tune: “Cherokee”.  The lyrics here are not bad, a tale of the demise of the American Indian. However it is the riff that holds the song down, a typical Norum burner of great integrity. Still can’t tell what that voice says at the beginning of the song, though! The next track is “Time Has Come”, a mid-tempo soft one that I considered filler back then but like quite a lot now. “Heart Of Stone” has a bit more meat to it. This is followed by the fastest and heaviest song on the album, “On The Loose”, which has some of Norum’s best playing. In fact it was this song that brought Norum to my attention as a monster shredder in the first place. After hearing this song, I continued to watch his career with great interest, from solo albums to Don Dokken back to Europe. The album closed with another mid-tempo soft song, “Love Chaser”, which has a keyboard melody reminiscent of “The Final Countdown” itself, bringing us full circle. It is another great tune with killer melody and vocals from Joey Tempest.

The three bonus tracks are live takes of “The Final Countdown,” “Danger on the Track” and “Carrie”. Clearly, Europe could always cut it live.  These are from the Hammersmith Odeon in 1987, and feature Norum’s replacement Kee Marcello on guitar.  Marcello is no slouch, and had a different style to Norum’s, therefore adding another element to the songs.

The Final Countdown is the kind of album that I think should be owned, rather than just pick up a hits disc. You won’t go wrong with any of these ten tracks. The live stuff is just an added bonus.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Europe – Prisoners In Paradise (1991, 2001 reissue)

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a8/Europe-prisoners_in_paradise.jpg

EUROPE – Prisoners In Paradise (1991, 2001 reissue)

Ugh.

I know people who love this album, and admittedly it has a couple good songs on it. However, by this time Europe had lost their identity. They were now openly pursuing a commercial American sound, and it shows. The regality of old Europe was now only audible on a handful of tracks. On some, they were attempting to milk the ZZ Top cow. This is by their own admission. On other songs, you can mistake them for Roxette!

I had always loved Europe, and could not wait for the fifth album. Three years in the waiting, when Prisoners of Paradise finally dropped I snapped it up. Produced by Beau Hill (one of my least favourite metal producers of all time, ruining almost every band he touched, hello Twisted Sister!) and mixed in “Q Sound” (remember that?) I was immediately taken aback. Europe did promise a “heavier” album, and in a sense, this has more guitars. However, heavy is not the word I would have chosen. The album is overproduced, overpolished, and contrived. With a few notable exceptions, the riffs don’t stand out and the songs just drown in a morass of gang vocals courtesy of Hill’s horrendous production.

“All Or Nothing” (co-written by Mr. Big’s Eric Martin), the opening track, is a great example of this. Yeah, sure, it’s based on guitars rather than keys. However, this is a pop song!  Track two, “Halfway to Heaven”, co-written by Jim Vallance sounds exactly like Roxette. My Roxette-loving sister adored this song. “I’ll Cry For You” is a way, way, way overproduced ballad. No wonder the band preferred their later acoustic rendering of it. “Little Bit Of Loving” is just a bad song, too American sounding for this band, not worthy of the name Europe. “Talk To Me” isn’t bad, and “The Seventh Sign” is at least heavier, but not a particularly memorable song.

That ended side one of the original album. Side two began with the first really good song, “Prisoners in Paradise”. This ballad-like anthem is still overproduced, but it at least breathes and is irresistibly catchy. I just don’t get that dumb, spoken word opening. “Man, I just wanna be somebody!” Come on, guys. Let’s not write down to “the kids”. (Why did bands always refer to their fans as “the kids”?)

“Bad Blood” sucks. “Homeland” is not bad, and could have fit in on the previous album Out Of This World. It’s a decent song, and the lyrics at least sound heartfelt rather than contrived. This however is followed by the absolute worst song on an already dreadful album: The ZZ Top inspired “Got Your Mind In The Gutter”. The lyrics: dumb. The riff: stale. The chorus: awful. Terrible song. We’re almost near the end, and “Til My Heart Beats Down Your Door”, although a bit too soft, has a pulse.

Europe at least had the class to write one classic great song and end the album with it: “Girl From Lebanon”. It grooves, but not in a cheesy contrived way like the rest of the album. The chorus is irresistible  It’s a great song, and the only truly 100% great song on the album.  This one has the regal Europe sound that I missed. They still play it live.

Remastered versions of the album throw on two bonus tracks, both nondescript and not memorable: “Mr. Government Man” and “Long Time Comin'”. No matter how many times I’ve played the CD, these two songs refuse to stick to my brain.

Commercially, Europe’s fifth album was a complete dud, and sounded that much more stupid in the wake of its competition. Not that Europe could have foreseen this, but Nevermind, Ten, and Badmotorfinger drove this album into the dirt. Fans were eager to soak up something more heavy, heartfelt and real. While Europe’s goal here was to “heavy up” their sound (this is the direction that metal was going in previous months anyway) they were completely lapped by the new kids on the block. And then came a decade-long hiatus.

The good news is that Europe came back with original member John Norum on guitar for 2003’s excellent Start From The Dark, one of their best records.

2/5 stars


Lineup – Joey Tempest, vocals. Kee Marcello, guitars. Mic Michaeli, keys. Ian Haughland, drums. John Levin, bass.