mic michaeli

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!

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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: 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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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 – 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

Part 153: Russian Imports

SAM_1771

RECORD STORE TALES Part 153:  Russian Imports

One of the weirder items that we used to see regularly were these Russian import discs.  Their status as official releases was very questionable, the quality was cheap at best, and the guy that sold them wanted top dollar for them all.

His name was Serge, and he was a Russian model.  Seriously.  He gave me his business card one time.  He was a model, and he had the perfect Fabio hair and everything.  On the side, he’d bring CD’s over to Canada from Russia. They would usually come without jewel cases, just the CD and the paper cover art, so he could transport more of them.  The discs often ended up terribly scratched because of this.  He’d bring over “greatest hits” releases from everybody.  Springsteen, Abba, Bon Jovi, even bands that didn’t have greatest hits releases like AC/DC.  Often the Russians would throw on “bonus tracks” from live or solo albums.

The guy was a real pain to deal with, and most of the stuff he brought over was obscure European dance, trance, techno stuff that nobody had heard of over here.  He’d assume he was going to get a lot of money for them, because they were big in Europe.  But if nobody had heard of them in Canada, and they sat on my shelf for a year, no, I’m not paying top dollar for it.   So, eventually Serge stopped coming in.

I bought two albums from him that I’ve never played, but bought just “for the collection”.  One is a Kiss disc called Hit Collection 2000, the other by Europe, called Best Ballads.

Hit Collection 2000 is on a label called “DJ’s Club”.  It does not have the official Kiss logo, just a poor attempt to copy it.  There are some spelling errors on the back — I don’t know where “Detrot Rock City”  is.  The tracklist itself is pretty weird, containing newer songs like “Psycho Circus” and “I Finally Found My Way”, along with one track from each of the four Kiss solo albums.  There are three songs from Dynasty, and three rare live cuts from the Psycho Circus Live Australian disc.  This one came sealed but I didn’t even bother to open it.  Even Serge’s sealed discs often ended up scratched to pieces, I don’t know how that happens because these are clearly factory sealed.

The Europe album, Best Ballads, is notable for not depicting keyboardist Mic Michaeli on the front cover, even though he plays on the majority of songs.  The album contains ballads from Europe’s first monumental self-titled disc through to 1991’s Prisoners In Paradise.  The Russians picked some cool songs this time:  “Words of Wisdom” and “The King Will Return”, from the first album, “Dreamer” from Wings of Tomorrow, and “Coast To Coast” from Out of This World.  As usual there are three “bonus tracks”; “Under the Influence”, “Lord of the Manor”, and “Elsewhere” from Joey Tempest’s 1995 solo album A Place to Call Home.   Not that you would know this from the liner notes, since there are none.  Just a paper sleeve.

In the end I don’t think we missed Serge when he decided not to deal with us anymore.  A lot of his product sat on the shelves.  In fact I tried selling my Kiss Hit Collection CD back to the store last year, and they refused to take it.  Lesson learned!