Sound — 8
Since their comeback to the show business in 2003, the Swedish band Europe has been putting new material steadily, for the happiness of it's old fans and the new ones who started to listen to them now in their new phase. In a sense, it's strange to call this a “new phase” because, by now, they have been together for more years than in their first incarnation responsible for 80's classics like “The Final Countdown”, “Rock the Night” or “Carrie”. With that in mind, we are presented with their new effort, “Walk the Earth”, released in October 20th. After five full lengths released since the return of the band, what could this new album offer to us by now?
Well, if you could summarize this review with only one word, that word would be “refined”. Europe has been continuously refining their sound and their craft, with small improvements over the last five LP's. For those that are only familiar with their 80's material, ever since their comeback, the Swedish gang has took a different direction: Gone are the cheesy and keyboards and the guitars have been brought to the main conductor of most of the songs. The guitars are different from before as well, being down-tuned(sometimes we get some Baritone Guitar action) and more inspired by blues/classic rock instead of the glam/hair metal from before. This helps the band to achieve a distinct sound without feeling like a parody act from their 'hey day'. With that in mind, the first song and tittle-track “Walk the Earth” starts the album on a high note, presenting an epic chorus thanks to Joey Tempest's vocals and Mic Michaeli keyboards. The keyboards may not be the main focus of these songs anymore, but they are still a vital part of Europe's sound, and in this record they have finally acquired the perfect balance with Norum's guitars, utilizing more Hammond and piano sounds, helping the band in achieving a more classic rock feel. “The Siege” starts with some groovy riffs inspired by eastern music, showcasing a strong early Rainbow influence, other recurrent trait in the full length. One of the highlights of the album comes right after, in the song “Kingdom United” and it's epic chorus with “ooooh's” in the background together with the keyboards. John Norum also delivers a short guitar solo in the end, serving the music without any excess.
The ballad “Pictures” starts with Tempest and acoustic guitars before the piano and delicate strings come along, giving the ballad a sophisticated feel, very different from the cheesiness of “Carrie”, for example. However, besides the slow-groovy start, most of this album is fast paced, with high energy songs like “Election Day”, “GTO” and “Whenever You're Ready”. The album closes with the ballad “Turn to Dust”, that in comparison with the first ballad “Pictures” feels a little bland and overlong. The only fun surprise is on the end of the song, when we hear a short hidden passage reminding us of 40's cartoon music.
The only complaint I have with the overall album is directed towards Norum's leads. Although his riffs and melodies are top notch, his leads are pretty much basic in this record. Anyone who's heard what the man is capable of doing in the past – and I am not referring to the 80's era – knows the man is a complete beast and capable of much more than showcased here. Any guitarist would benefit greatly from studying his style and licks. Hope he goes a little crazier next time.
Lyrics — 8
In the lyrics department, Joey Tempest never got much into the “sex drugs and Rock'n'Roll” triad like his peers, singing more about love, personal issues and social/political commentary, like in the song “Kingdom United”, where he makes reference even to North Korea's Kim Jong Un. Other subjects he likes to touch is the uplifting aspect of one's life, and how we must fight to achieve what we want, like in the tittle-track:
“And we walk the earth
With our heads held high
For the life we want
Yeah, we've got to fight
Yeah, we walk the earth
With heart and soul
Speaking of Tempest's vocals, the guy surely has aged well. He does not have the high notes from his 'hey day' but he can still deliver a strong performance. Just check the song “GTO” and you will see the man can still sing high and powerful, unlike many of his peers from that period (I'm looking at you, Don Dokken).
Overall Impression — 8
Europe has sure come a long way in their career. They surely have been really brave to still walk different paths of what people thought they would walk when they returned to play together, and managed to improve their sound into a new and fresh way. Some complaints remain, like John Norum's solos could be much better, and some songs that could be left out, like the closer “Turn to Dust”. Overall this is a great effort by the band, filled with fast paced songs and great choruses. Those who enjoyed the band for their keyboard filled sound should give them a listen here. Those who already like the new direction will be very pleased as well. And those who don't like it, there's nothing in this album that will change your mind.