Released: 2005, Mascot Records
Reviewer: Anders Sandvall
I’m guessing that most of you know who John Norum is by now. This Swedish guitar legend was a part of the band ‘Europe’; the best selling melodic, hard rock band in the world, from Sweden, during the 80’s. John left the band after the album “THE FINAL COUNTDOWN”, (Europe’s big break) and focused on a solo career, replacing him with Kee Marcello. Personally, I think that John’s solo albums have kept a varied standard, all from exquisite to ordinary. The first two solo albums have been the strongest. John also played for a short time with Don Dokken.
On New Years Eve 99/00, Europe reunited in Stockholm, playing a show that consisted of two songs. This show brought rumors of Europe doing a real reunite and record album, and going out on the road. In '04, the rumors became true. Europe did a summer tour, than released “START FROM THE DARK”, which also was followed by another winter tour. John’s solo career was not put on ice because of Europe reuniting.
Now it’s time for John to release “OPTIMUS”, with John himself behind the mic. John is not a great singer, but his voice kind of works with the music either way. Personally, I believe that he should stick to just playing the guitar and not singing whatsoever. He should leave the mic work to people who know what they are doing, such as Glenn Hughes, Göran Edman and Kelly Keeling; guys that have been working with John on his other solo albums.
The bio I’ve received doesn’t contain any information whatsoever about this album; it’s just about Johns career. The only thing the bio says about the album is this, “I’m happier than ever with Europe and it was a bit hard to choose which songs to pick for which album: the Europé one or my own. It won’t keep me releasing solo albums like “OPTIMUS”. Working on my own thin, without having to make any compromise is just too much fun”.
Whoever did the production really knew what they were doing. A lot of space is left for John’s stunning guitar play and less for his vocals. Even though it’s a 21st century production it has a distinct -70’s feel to it as well.
“OPTIMUS” consists of 10 tracks, and as usual, he has added two instrumental songs as well; “Optimus” and “Solitude”. This time, he has done a cover different from any other. John has made four of the songs by himself, and the rest he has had some help by his wife, amongst others.
Something he did stick to, this time included, are ballads. This time the up tempo is represented on, “One More Time”, where John shows that he really is a great guitar player. Another pure ballad is “Change Will Come”; a song that has tendencies to run away and become an up tempo ballad. “Chase Down the Moon” and “Better Day”, are two retro –70’s hard rock tracks, with John’s guitar work dominating the sound picture. John takes the lead while all other musicians tag along. The songs are greatly influenced by Thin Lizzy, and you can definitely draw comparison between John’s guitar work and Gary Moore’s. “Nailed to the Cross”, “Time to Run”, “Take the Blame”, and “Forced” are a few somewhat heavier –70’s hard rock tracks. Said songs have a lot of tempo and also have an enormous flow in them; anyone who has doubted John’s guitar playing capacity should listen to these songs.
So in the end, I have nothing really to complain about regarding John Norums sixth solo album. It sounds like he has found the joy to play again, and even though John is not much of a singer his voice works pretty well on this album. On top of that, he shows why he’s called a guitar legend, just listen to his guitar play and you’ll understand why.
His latest albums haven’t been so much to cheer for, and I think that “OPTIMUS” must be considered being one of his greater solo albums so far. I think that John should put Europe aside and focus on his solo career instead; he has done hardly any touring during the later years under his own name, so maybe it’s time now. This album is for all of you John Norum fans, fans of well played –70’s hard rock, or if you want to listen to one of the greatest guitar players today.