If I say to you, “Europe, not the continent, the band”, you will probably answer me with, “The Final Countdown”. And you will be right. This song still gets everybody on the dance floor today, but if that is all you know about this fantastic band, then it is a great shame.
Europe started their adventure in 1979 in Upplands Väsby, Sweden. Joey Tempest (vocalist), John Norum (guitarist), Peter Olsson (bassist) and Tony Reno (drummer) had chosen the name Force. The first breakthrough happened in 1982 when they won a rock talent contest in their native country, having changed their name to Europe shortly before. The prize was a record deal with Hot Records and the band released their first album, Europe, the following year. Wings of Tomorrow was their next offering in 1984 before they hit mega stardom with The Final Countdown in 1986. By then, Olsson had left to be replaced by John Levén, keyboardist Mic Michaeli had joined and Tony Reno lost his place to Ian Haugland. Norum decided to pursue a solo career and Kee Marcello stepped in.
The Final Countdown became a multi-platinum album and was followed by Out Of This World and Prisoners Of Paradise, the last one unfortunately eclipsed by the rise of the grunge movement. By then, Europe had been recording and touring together for 10 years and they decided to take a break and go their separate ways. The band briefly reunited to participate in a millennium celebration concert, with the presence of both Norum and Kee Marcello. Nothing else happened until Europe made an official announcement that they were reuniting in 2003. John Norum was keen to come back and Kee Marcello left to do his own projects. This line-up still stands today.
One album more or less every three years has been Europe’s rhythm since their reunion. Start From The Dark (2003), Secret Society (2006), Last Look At Eden (2009), and the freshly released Bag of Bones.
This new album is not a step back to their stadium rock heyday but a very consequent move from Last Look At Eden towards blues-tinted hard rock. Soul-influenced vocals are delivered by Tempest’s distinctive voice, which is still as powerful and melodious as ever. And what can you say about the musicianship except for brilliant? The energy and passion contained in “Not Supposed to Sing the Blues”, the first single, is sustained throughout the whole album, from the mostly pure rock, punchy “Riches to Rags” and “Doghouse”, to the more gentle “Bring It All Home” and “Drink and a Smile”.
Guitar prodigy John Norum once again delivers his magic, with guitar riffs that clearly have their roots in the ’70s. He was joined on slide guitar for the title track by blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa (also of Black Country Communion), which was a dream collaboration.
It is also obvious that Europe did not hold back in any way while recording their ninth studio album, and they achieved a much darker sound due to guitars tuned down, as well as the touch of producer Kevin Shirley, who has worked with iconic bands such as Iron Maiden, Black Country Communion and Journey. I have by now listened to Bag Of Bones several times and pure pleasure comes to mind on every occasion. Europe will not win any prize for innovation, but it is an excellent must-have album for fans of classic hard rock.