Rock the Night

REVIEW: Europe – Last Look at Eden (2009)

EUROPE – Last Look at Eden (2009 Ear Music)

When it was released on September 9 2009, Joey Tempest and Ian Haughland were quoted talking about how this was the best album Europe had done in the reunion era. I personally don’t agree; I think Start From the Dark is the best. However that’s not a slight against Last Look at Eden, a regal very European platter of great songs.  From rockers, to ballads, to blues (like the closing epic “In My Time”), Last Look at Eden is a well-rounded Europe album.

You can tell what you’re in for right from the opening prelude: Grand arrangements, lush recording. The Europe of old, in the world of today. This goes straight into the title track, a sort of “Final Countdown” for the new era. Indeed, Last Look at Eden combines sounds from Europe’s past, brought sharply into the new millennium. A good example is “New Love in Town”, a great ballad that would go toe-to-toe with the lush landmark ballads this band did in the 80’s.  There’s even a hint of Zeppelin on “Mojito Girl”.  I hear a smidge of Marillion in “No Stone Unturned”.  Elsewhere you will find groove, such as on the driving “Gonna Get Ready”.  “The Beast” is unstoppable!  If it wasn’t for Joey Tempest’s voice and the thick tone of John Norum, you wouldn’t know it was Europe.  But it is, and has the kind of chorus that they do so well.

To me the weakest parts of this album were some of the lyrics, “Catch That Plane” being the worst. It’s not 1986 anymore guys.  “It’s getting hard, so very hard, I’m gonna need some attention.”  What on Earth could Joey be singing about?  “Catch that plane and get your ass, your pretty ass over here.”  Oh.

I also find the album cover to be a poor representation of the music inside.  It’s not bad, with the apple (“Eden”) and the ferrofluid spikes.  Everybody will have their own interpretation, but it just doesn’t do the music justice.

There are two bonus tracks on this edition, more on different editions. Here you get a live version of the old B-side track, “Yesterday’s News”, probably the best version of this song released yet. There is also a live version of “Wake Up Call” from Start From The Dark.

Pretty damn good.  Lots of killer, only a little filler.

4/5 stars

#852: On The Loose

GETTING MORE TALE #852: On The Loose

Though they formed in 1979 and were already on their third album, I didn’t notice Europe until 1986.  Even then, I managed to ignore their first few airings on MuchMusic’s Pepsi Power Hour.  Host J.D. (John) Roberts made a big deal out of the fact that they were from Sweden, which I didn’t understand since Yngwie Malmsteen was also from Sweden and nobody mentioned that as the most interesting thing about him.  Roberts warned us that Europe didn’t really sound like heavy metal but they were playing them anyway.

After the second or third run, the hook to “The Final Countdown” was stuck in my head and I decided that I liked the band.  I asked for their album for Easter of 1987.  What did I think about this new band from Sweden when the Easter bunny granted my wish?

Didn’t care for it much. The title track still had me hooked, and a song on side two called “Cherokee” was a sure-fire hit.  The rest of it sounded like awkward filler.  “Rock, now, rock the night!”  What kind of chorus was that?  I knew English wasn’t their first language but it didn’t hook me. Likewise “Stranger on the Track”, which I still envision as a guy running around on a 400 meter track & field course.  Even the mighty “Ninja” slipped past me with lines like, “If I were a noble ancient knight, I’d stand by your side to rule and fight.”  As for “Carrie”, it was just too soft.

But I was committed now; I had received this cassette tape as a gift and I had to give it a fair chance.  “Ninja” did rock, and so did a song called “On the Loose” on side two.  It was this song that rocked the hardest.  It also featured some amazing shredding by guitarist John Norum, which turned me into a fan.  That and his cool guitar strap.

By summer it was safe to say that I really liked the album.  Once the big singles wore themselves out on me, I found favourites on side two.  “Love Chaser”, “Heart of Stone”, “Time Has Come” and of course “On the Loose” were great songs.  As I learned more about the band, I discovered that John Norum had already departed and been replaced by Kee Marcello, who was in the video for “Rock the Night”.  But all anybody remembers about “Rock the Night” now is Joey singing into a ketchup bottle. the band miming their instruments on silverware in a diner.

Though clearly dated to a specific part of the 80s, The Final Countdown still stands as a thoroughly enjoyable album. Every song is fondly remembered.  It’s brighter and more instantly appealing than its following Out of This World.  Though they burned out by ’92, they have enjoyed a quality second era with Norum back in the fold.  Who could have imagined that back in ’87?

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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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