Released: 2012, Earmusic
It must be very hard for any band that has an utterly massive global hit. Forever that band will be linked with ‘that’ song, a hit that hangs around their neck like a golden albatross, bring fame and fortune and people who want to hear nothing but ‘the song’. In the case of the band Europe we all know what ‘the song’ was for them! However, that was over 25 years ago since ‘that song’ and Europe are still going well into the third phase of their career. Conventional wisdom would suggest the band has two phases of their career, the 80’s and the reformation years, (2003 to today) and we are already ten years into and four albums deep into the reformation years. Think about it. The bands (so-called) second phase has last longer than most band entire careers! I say ‘so-called’ because, the two-phase career theory doesn’t do the band justice.
I personally subscribe to the three-phase theory of Europe’s career. The first pair of under-rated albums on the Hot Records label are pure Metal through and through. Epic/CBS picked up on the buzz and the band was transformed overnight to a more melodic affair and the resulting trio of major label albums resulted in 16 singles, 10 videos, bigger hair, bigger keyboards, lots of posters of Joey Tempest on people walls and about 18 million in sales and of course ‘the song’. Eventually, everything imploded, defections, compilations, live albums and the band decided to take a break for about ten years. Enter phase three and a ‘Start From The Dark’. Another trio of darker, heavier, more mature albums bring pretty universal praise from those who still care which brings us to today and the brand new, 9th Europe album BAG OF BONES.
I would suggest that BAG OF BONES is their most varied and mature effort to date. This compact album clocks in at 40 minutes spanning 11 songs and not a wasted second. The production is full and warm courtesy of Kevin Shirley and the cover is pretty cool. It is a scene, a desktop littered with various items but if you look closely many of the items tie in with the titles of the songs. It’s like a mystery puzzle…find all eleven clues! Overall the cover art has a darker motif than other Europe album covers.
As I suggested earlier, for the past several Europe has distanced itself from the Melodic feel and sound of their 80’s albums but I do hear some similarities to the 1991 album PRISONERS IN PARADISE. On that album the band started to stretch out in the song-writing department with songs like ‘Seventh Sign’ and especially ‘Girl From Lebanon’. That tradition and/or style has carried over onto BAG OF BONES. It’s a really well-rounded album with many facets. There is a bit of a bluesy, Aerosmith vibe on several of the songs with the acoustic guitar. I think the title track ‘Bag Of Bones’ would fit nicely on a Tyketto or Aerosmith album with it’s warm camp-fire feel and acoustic, electric interplay. The southern acoustic blues sound also really comes to the fore on the song ‘Drink And A Smile’. I really enjoy this new direction of the band. Don’t worry, there is lots of grit and crunch elsewhere like on the song ‘Firebox and the opening cut, ‘Rags To Riches’. John Norums’ solos are soulful and passionate as are Joey’s distinct vocals both combing depth and texture to a simple mid-tempo song like ‘My Woman, My Friend’, highlighted by some piano and just a hint of orchestration. Joey really shows some range…not octave range as in highs and lows but using his voice more as an instrument. There are parts on this album where I wasn’t even sure it was Tempest singing because he is really singing in alternate styles and tones that will challenge perceptions of his ability and impress those who felt he was ‘just’ a rock singer. An excellent performance on his part.
If you are familiar with your Hard Rock history there were a number of bands in the late 80’s and early 90’s that dabbled in the southern bluesy style from Cinderella to Junkyard, Southgang, Tora Tora, Blackfish, The Hangmen, Law And Order, Little Caeser, and a handful more. Europe has presented the world, a new(ish) face with a fantastic album drawing on a wealth of styles and influences from across Rocks’ rich history. Topped off by great performances and tremendous production work, BAG OF BONES is an elegant, if somewhat laid-back, confident, mature and sophisticated Hard Rock album.