[9/10] Since reuniting in 2003, Sweden’s Europe have gone from strength to strength with each one of their three comeback releases garnishing more critical acclaim than its predecessor - enjoying a success beyond what many would have expected from the group given that most considered the band as nothing more than a hair band riding on the coattails of late ‘80’s hair band scene.
Following on from their stunning Last Look At Eden release from 2009, Europe are back once again with their latest effort Bag Of Bones. And much like the three albums released since their return to the scene; their latest sees the band making an effort to push their sound into new territory, without losing any of their signature melodic rock sound.
“Riches To Rags,” opens the album, which unveils a rich ‘70’s hard rock sound at its core, but with a distinctly modern edge. Kevin Shirley’s production has given the band an earthy and heavy sound, which sounds like a natural fit for Europe’s current direction, while the song is an absolute rocker, with the performances from Joey Tempest and John Norum really standing out. The album’s semi-autobiographical first single “Not Supposed To Sing the Blues” is as the title would suggest, a smouldering slower paced blues/rock effort that proves beyond any doubt that the band are in their prime both as musicians and songwriters. The subtle Led Zeppelin keyboards and percussion (courtesy of Anton Fig) are also a welcome addition, adding to the authentic classic ‘70’s hard rock sound the band was aiming for.
Much like the orchestral elements that featured on their last album, Bag of Bones showcases a greater blues influence on a number of the album’s tracks. “My Woman My Friend”, which is preceded by the Michaeli penned/performed short orchestral instrumental piece “Requiem”, is a good example of the band’s foray into blues influenced rock with its soulful piano intro, heavy blues rock middle section (Norum definitely adds plenty of weight on the guitar front here) and overall melodic sensibilities throughout. Elsewhere, the energetic punchy slow paced rocker “Doghouse” and the classic title track “Bag Of Bones” (which features Black Country Communion guitarist Joe Bonamassa on slide guitar) are further examples of Europe’s foray into blues infused hard rock.
Norum’s Led Zeppelin influence on the acoustic rocker “Drink And A Smile” is undeniable, but works nonetheless, while on tracks such as “Firebox” (one of the few tracks to feature a touch of orchestration), “Demon Head” and “Mercy You Mercy Me”, Europe crank up the volume and rock out in classic hard rock fashion. Finishing up the album is “Bring It All Home”, which is the only real ballad on the album. While ballads rarely work as closers, Tempest’s emotive vocals, Michaeli’s piano work and Norum’s blues tinged tones work perfectly with the lyrical prose, and provide the album to a perfect close.
Comparing Europe’s latest effort with Last Look At Eden is near impossible given the album’s opposing directions and influences. But if there’s one thing that can be said about Bag of Bones after living with Last Look At Eden for the last three years – Europe has definitely hit a creative streak, and is sounding better than ever.