The Swedish hair-metal/arena rock band Europe were, perfectly, everything that started to go wrong with pop music in the late 1980s. Originally formed as—ptui!—a progressive rock group, they added keyboards to soften their sound in hopes of gaining radio airplay. And they were successful for a couple of songs there. Their best-remembered hit, the title track of this CD, had a keyboard hook so insipid and insidious it made the Fixx sound like an obscure jazz group. Their power ballad (no hair band was allowed into the ‘80s without one) hit, “Carrie” made Loverboy and Heart sound like The Who.
For pop/rock, 1986-87 was a bad time, as singers who previously scorned anything that wasn’t “that old time rock and roll” flocked like seagulls to bread crumbs to the synthesizers that were generating the most interesting, freshest music of the time. But as most of them had no real gift for or love of the instrument, what we got was a lot of records that were either controlled by the producers, laying down complete tracks that the singers came in and laid down vocals for, or those which, like Europe’s, were essentially rock songs with half-assed keyboard lines smeared on them.
The thing is, this approach was only consistently successful for bands that had any knack for writing pop songs (usually, in fact almost always, Def Leppard) or who had a really slick producer (usually, in fact almost always, Mutt Lange) on their side. Europe had none of these things. Their songs aimed at being anthems but succeeded only in being derivative not only of other bands but of themselves. Their production consists of lots of whooshing, “space-age” sounds, synth-horn fanfares, rhythmically challenged synth riffs (sequencing, people, sequencing!), and dense production full of electronic trickery over the typical powerful, loud guitars. And like most hard rock singers, Joey Tempest seemed to be modeling himself after Roger Daltrey. Actually, it was probably the singers who’d already been influenced by Daltrey whom Tempest patterned himself after. His penchant for sticking oohs and ohs into the songs and generally moaning as if in pain make the idea of spending infinity with Steve Perry yelling in my ear seem like almost paradise. Which makes Europe the only band alive that could ever make me miss Journey. In fact, that may be Europe’s greatest virtue: Making other, only marginally more talented bands sound better in comparison.
So you may well be asking yourself (I know I am): Why did I request this album for review? The honest answer is that I couldn’t resist. Constant readers will know of my affection for most things ‘80s and while that doesn’t fully extend to pop-metal, it does allow for some heavy on the pop side. “The Final Countdown” just barely would make it onto the list of one-hit wonders that compilations are made to collect. That is all most of you could ever possibly need and as much attention if not more than Europe deserve.
Note: The “expansion” of this edition refers to the addition of three songs in live versions. These add absolutely nothing to the originals save for the odd “Thank you!” and song announcements.
// Notes from the Road
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