Marcel Jacob

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: Yngwie J. Malmsteen – Inspiration (2 CD reissue)

FLAMING TURDS

“Flaming Turds” artwork courtesy of SARCA at CAUGHT ME GAMING.  Thanks Sarca!

What better way to end the WEEK OF FLAMING TURDS than with a covers album?!  Thanks for joining us this week for some very questionable music!

Scan_20160317YNGWIE MALMSTEEN – Inspiration (1998, 2000 Spitfire 2 CD reissue)

“Woah!” said I upon spying this album for the first time, back in 1998 at the big HMV on Yonge St.  “Yngwie did a covers album!  Scorpions, Rainbow, Rush, lots of Purple…I’m in!”  For some reason, I thought that updated versions of some of my favourite songs redone by Yngwie Malmsteen would be something I’d want to hear all the time.  Eagle Rock did a reissue of Inspiration a couple years later with some bonus tracks out of the Yngwie archives, so when that one came in used at the Record Store, I swapped up for it.

Now, you might think that with such vocal luminaries as Jeff Scott Soto, Joe Lynn Turner, and Mark Boals, it would be hard to miss.  You would be wrong.  It’s impressive that all three guys served as lead vocalist for Yngwie in the early years, and returned for the covers album.  Beyond that, this album is still a turd.  Right from the orange-skinned Yngwie turd cover art, to the ghastly version of “Manic Depression” that Yngwie sings himself, this album is dreadful.  Just a real haul to try and listen to in one sitting.

Yngwie insists on producing all his music, and he has managed to make Jeff Scott Soto sound dull, sterile and boring.  No mean feat.  “Carry On Wayward Son” (Kansas) is an excuse for Malmsteen to over-shred, but Soto is not given a chance to do anything.  Even though Yngwie’s version of the song is actually shorter, it sounds way longer.  A simply atrocious “Pictures of Home” is given to Joe Lynn Turner to sing; kind of obvious since he was actually in Deep Purple for a few minutes.  How did they get drums to sound this bad?  The Blackmore obsession continues with “Gates of Babylon” (Rainbow) and even more Purple:  “Mistreated”, “Demon’s Eye”, and “Child in Time”.  Yes, that makes half of this covers album a Ritchie Blackmore covers album.  “Gates of Babylon” is pretty good, Soto finally unleashed, but then Yngwie shits all over it with a guitar solo that is way louder than the lead vocals!

Gates of Babylon

Gates of Babylon

The best things about these remakes could be the keyboard of Jens Johansson: not trying to copy Jon Lord in any way, but certainly a fun player to listen to if you’re into the neo-classical.  Unfortunately even he can’t save some of these tracks.  “Child in Time” is truly awful, simply not worth listening to.  Why waste eight minutes on this when you can play the original?  On the brighter side, a heavy version of “In the Dead of Night” by the progressive rock supergroup, U.K. is pretty good.  It’s a song you may recognize (I knew it from somewhere), but perhaps the reason I dig Yngwie’s version is that the original isn’t ingrained in my mind.    Mark Boals sings it, and his voice is strong and ripping!

Then we have the bonus CD.  (The Japanese version of the CD has a bonus track, Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic”, but I don’t care.)  The best track on this disc is the song “Voodoo” from Yngwie’s album Magnum Opus.  Mike Vescera was the singer, and I always liked his era in Malmsteen.  It’s a heavy original tune with buckets of drama.

The balance of the bonus CD is a mixture of early Yngwie rarities and interviews…mixed together.  Meaning you don’t get actual full songs.  You get bits of songs and then Yngwie talking about the album and the music that inspired him, including Paganini.  I really hate when songs are chopped up like this.  The interview is not riveting but is good.  Childhood musical memories, early bands, and influences are notable topics.  Yngwie’s preoccupation with his own playing is fascinating.  He calls it an “obsession” and it’s clear from his work that he plays only to please himself.  And that’s just dandy.

Inspiration as a whole is overplayed, sonically sterile, and comes across as completely uninspired.  When Yngwie overplays on his own originals, that’s OK.  That’s the way the songs were written.  When you go nuts soloing all over “Sails of Charon” (Scorpions), all the listener really wants is to hear the sultry, original tones of Uli Jon Roth.  Inspiration is still a chore to finish, and it’s now going back on the shelf for a very long time.

1/5 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