Hell & Back Recordings [Release date 20.10.17]
Europe returned to our shores, and our record racks, in 2005 on the back of an excellent comeback album. During the last decade they’ve consolidated their revival with a succession of generally well-received albums and also with a selection of different producers.
You could deduce that for some of the time they were trying to overcome the perception that at the height of their late-eighties popularity they were a bit cheesy and their credentials have been bolstered by their professed love for bands such as Deep Purple and Rainbow . This was also reflected in albums like ‘Bag Of Bones’.
2015′s ‘War Of Kings’ was patchy, the keyboards surprisingly buried for the most part, Norum neutered, and with only a handful of really standout tracks. In the meantime, the band have been touring their 30th anniversary celebration of the Final Countdown album in its entirety.
The lead single and title track of ‘Walk The Earth’ shows that it is business as usual and the band continue the orchestrated pomp and eastern overtones that was first really evident on ‘Last Look At Eden’. But by the third track the plot is unravelling. ‘Kingdom United’ sounds like something Uriah Heep might have released in their prog heyday with allusions to “Runnymede” and “Waterloo”. Even a Schenker-esque Norum solo cannot save this one.
The ballad ‘Pictures’ is turgid, with a melancholic mellotron-esque undertow – and not a match for earlier balladic glories whilst ‘Election Day’ is nothing that hasn’t been done before (and better) by Deep Purple and ditto the song ‘GTO’.
There’s been a trend, especially with “heritage” bands, to put out new albums merely to top up their core repertoire rather then break new ground. It gives them an excuse to go out on tour. The brave and enlightened play these new albums in their entirety but many ignore them, or play a few tracks and merely regurgitate the safe setlist. I’ve never understood this.
The sad thing here is that – compared to the core offering – most of ‘Walk The Earth’ wouldn’t merit inclusion in a setlist. And the 40 minutes playing time still seems economical even in this new age of vinyl.
Europe might have been spoilt in their revival by those punters baying for ‘Carrie’ and ‘Rock The Night’ and this might explain the generally warm reception to the revival of an album that received mixed reviews back in 1986. It was much more visceral and unalloyed when they reappeared in 2004-7.
Kevin Shirley came along and then Dave Cobb who has simply allowed the band to have their head of steam with seemingly no intervention. The production values are contemporary but I would love to hear this album in the hands of somebody like Chris Tsangerides or Ron Nevison. But maybe even they couldn’t save it.
Individually the band performances are of a high standard as you would expect but John Norum’s guitar work (a highlight of their comeback) still seems somewhat perfunctory and, to be frank, lazy.
The album only slightly redeems itself with the final salvos of ‘Whenever You’re Ready’ and the longest track ‘Turn To Dust’ . The latter’s play-out recalls The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” maybe reflecting the band’s recording residency at Abbey Road. So – after forty minutes – you will still be saying “I’ve heard all this before”.
You may not like Glenn and the crew but compare and contrast with the energy and power that is present on the latest Black Country Communion offering where even Joe Bonamassa lets rip like his life depended on it. And don’t get me started on Sons of Apollo (“Divine Addiction” is amongst the very best tracks of 2017). I can only think a certain complacency or lack of direction has taken hold in the Europe camp.
This is the third Europe album with their current label – about whom there is nothing on the web and no website – and the only available edition (on Amazon) seems to be a deluxe version with DVD at a rather extortionate price. Am I being cynical, but a seasoned reviewer in a prominent classic rock magazine salivates over the album calling it the best thing since their return in 2003 in an issue which features a prominent two page promotional spread?
As someone who has actually followed the band’s millennium renaissance with some excitement, engagement, and occasionally with bated breath I really hoped they’d move things up a notch with this album. Sadly, not. Europe may walk the earth, but in boots weighed down in mire. ***
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 20 September 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 22 September 2020.
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