UDR [Release date 02.03.15]
I am a renascent Europe fan. I loved the band as they catapulted themselves back into modern civilisation but I was never a big fan in their late-eighties heyday. However, increasingly, I think their upward trajectory has unravelled. I think they have been spoilt as they achieved more widespread acceptance from lapsed fans who – in truth – want to hear endless crowd-centred renditions of ‘Carrie’ and ‘The Final Countdown’ as much as those who enjoyed ‘Bag Of Bones’.
I fully understand that in recent albums they have been revisiting their roots, essentially classic seventies rock as purveyed by Purple, Zeppelin and Lizzy, and they suggest that ‘War Of Kings’ is a natural extension of that journey; in fact “the album we always wanted to make.” Didn’t they say that about the last one?
In 2014 they toured with FM and Foreigner but I was surprised (and dismayed) that the American AOR monolith edged the Swedes’ performance by some distance and I am not so sure that it has as much to do with the actual songs as rock and roll attitude and U.S. sheen.
The over-riding aspect of this latest offering is that it is a sterling and energetic performance throughout by Joey Tempest but everything seems to be subjugated to the vocal. John Norum has been one of my favourite guitarists in recent years. Much underrated generally but, on this outing, he‘s simply treading water. In fact, this aspect is only redeemed by his short, attractive, instrumental ‘Vasastan’ but arguably this would belong better on one of his solo albums.
Although we’ve reviewed this from a poor quality stream, as ever I can’t really hear much of Mic Michaeli’s keyboard aside from the odd flourish, and on ‘California 405′ and a semi-eastern/psych vibe to ‘Rainbow Bridge’. What a waste.
Surely some of those influential bands – especially Deep Purple – majored on exciting and extended interplay?
Why, oh why, can’t the band stretch out musically for once? It all seems far too controlled, predictable and formulaic . The band latched on to Kevin Shirley as producer for ‘Bag Of Bones’ and we got a fairly predictable sub-Bonamassa vibe. On ‘War Of Kings’ ‘Hole In My Pocket’ retains that album’s spirit.
I was worried that Europe would end up sounding like a Scandinavian Rival Sons. If anything, producer Dave Cobb has merely maintained an organic, vibrant sound and thankfully the only real hint of RS influence is on ‘Praise You’ and ‘Nothin To Ya’.
But, with bands like UFO – another of Joey Tempest’s and John Norum’s heroes – producing their best work in years with ‘A Conspiracy Of Stars’, there is still all to play for.
Only the title track, ‘The Second Day’ and in particular the superb ‘Children Of The Mind’ really cuts through the average and the latter might sit with ‘Last Look At Eden’ as one of their better set-pieces of the last 5 years. It demonstrates how good this album might have been and even Michaeli gets a look-in with a wonderful synth break counter-balancing Norum’s typically down-tuned riffage.
Unfortunately, the album doesn’t redeem itself with a killer ballad (such as ‘New Love In Town’) They try, on the bluesy ‘Angels (With Broken Hearts)’, but it’s not on the same level. If this was a lesser band, ‘War Of Kings’ might merely be dismissed as ordinary and be forgotten quite quickly. I mean, is ‘California 405′, ‘Light Me Up’ (aside from the Schenker-esque solo) and ‘Days Of Rock n Roll’ the sound of a band going through the motions?
Europe have developed their own boutique beer in recent years but maybe they should concentrate more on a musical brew that makes them a truly great band. I’ve just had a favourite beer from one of my favourite breweries but it seems the recipe has changed and instead of a sweet after-taste it leaves a bitter taint on the tongue, and it’s the same with Europe.
They should simply stop apeing other bands and idioms, old and new, and regain their own voice and – as previously – produce themselves or get Chris Tsangerides. ‘Secret Society’ may remain their finest hour. ***1/2
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
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