Tony Reno

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: 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