Sound — 8
One of the most influential classic rock bands of all time, Swedish supergroup Europe has dominated the world for over 30 years with their signature, futuristic, and experimentally unique music. Europe became internationally infamous for their synth-dominated sound, groundbreaking guitar playing, and the unrivaled vocals from frontman Joey Tempest, which ruled superhits "The Final Countdown", "Carrie", and "Rock The Night". Every classic Europe album was packed to the brim with fast paced, great hard rock hits dominated by keyboards and the terrific backup vocals. After worldwide recognition, 5 bestselling albums and countless radio singles, Europe did the unexpected and went on an 11 year hiatus. And then like a dying sun, exploded into a supernova that belted out the hard and heavy influences that formed the band they are today.
When the Swedish powerhouse finally returned to the music world in 2004 with "Start From The Dark", longtime fans were ecstatic to hear the news, but were generally disappointed in what they heard. That classic 80's sounding Europe was long gone, and replaced with a symbolically heavier, modern sound. As the title indicated, Europe decided to start anew and become a completely different band. With Europe's latest constantly experimental and much heavier sounding albums, the news of another studio album didn't bring much excitement to classic fans. But as soon as you begin to listen to "Bag Of Bones", you're immediately brought back to that classic Europe sound that longtime fans have been waiting too long to hear. Europe frontman Joey Tempest himself believes that "Bag Of Bones" marks a return to their classic sound, and "feels like the 'prequel' to our first album, with a 2012 punch".
The first track off the album, "Riches To Rags", is also easily my favorite off the album, as lead vocalist Joey Tempest brings back his signature, higher pitched vocals to help turn this song and the entire album into an instant masterpiece. Those classic, defining backup vocals that commanded the band's earlier efforts return to reign over the chorus of this song, as well as help set the sound for the entire album. "Not Supposed To Sing The Blues" is another instant classic that will have you chanting the chorus in your head for days. This song most powerfully marks the brief but perfectly implemented keyboards that have been absent for the past 21 years. As the title implies, this song as well as most of the album has a clear, heavy blues rock influence, which may be resulting from guest blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa's contributes to the album. Other essential tracks off "Bag Of Bones" include "Firebox", which features a terrific chorus and haunting guitar playing; "Drink And A Smile", which features an incredibly significant Led Zeppelin influence; and the title track, which features a flawless tempo change and a great blues rock, foot-tapping beat. It's tracks like these that help make "Bag Of Bones" one of the greatest surprises of the year so far.
Lyrics — 9
"Bag Of Bones" features a flawless effort from every member of Europe, but one of the most notable improvements has to be Joey Temptest's dynamic vocals. This album shows Tempest hitting those lung-bursting high notes that have been vacant from Europe's past few studio releases. "Bag Of Bones" also marks the return of those distinctive synthesizers superiorly played by Mic Michaeli, which reminds listeners of the vintage sound that coated the band's earliest albums. One more excellent contribution to the album's sound is a significant blues rock influence, which I'm sure is thanks to the guest blues guitarist, Joe Bonansa. Joe adds that bluesy punch which helps place "Bag Of Bones" above and beyond expectations. The cultivating rhythm work of Ian Haugland and John Leven, and the astonishing lead guitar performance given by John Norum all take part in making this album a force to be reckoned with.
A massive contributing factor to the perfection simmering throughout every song is the appearance of one of the world's most prestigious hard-rock producers, Kevin Shirley. Definitely no stranger to the world of hard rock, Kevin Shirley has worked with such bands as Aerosmith, Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, and Rush, and you can immediately tell that he helped give "Bag Of Bones" a superior, compilation of classic hard rock and modern diverse influences. The bewildering execution given by Europe and Kevin Shirley you'll find prominently slathered throughout this nonstop 40 minute thrill ride is no doubt due to a sum of all its parts.
Overall Impression — 9
"Bag Of Bones" marks a vigorous return to the classic Europe sound the world has been eagerly awaiting for, but this time it dominantly boasts a heavy, blues rock flavor. The entire album is packed with instant classics and choruses that will be stuck in your head for days, but the tracks that stand out the most are:
1. Riches To Rags
2. Drink And A Smile
3. Bag Of Bones
4. Not Supposed To Sing The Blues
"Bag Of Bones" is a truly terrific album from beginning to end, and has more than enough great material to make it a worthy fit into your music collection. As lead vocalist Joey Tempest best put it, "It took some time but WE HAVE ARRIVED!".