I recently read Joey Tempest's comments that he never thought that Europe could ever record an album like 'Bag Of Bones' and, to be fair, hardcore fans of the band aside, he wouldn't be the only one having such thoughts.
For so long the punchline to every pomp rock joke due to the phenomenal success of THAT SONG - surely both a blessing and a curse - Europe blurred the imprisoning lines of genre labelling with their 2009 album 'Last Look At Eden', an impressive collection of songs that was less of a re-birthing for the band, more of a respect refresher to the minds, and ears, of others. Its follow-up, however, mixes things up even further; the epic scope and tone of '...Eden' replaced with a bluesy, retro rock sound that consumes the entirety of the project.
With uber rock producer Kevin 'The Caveman' Shirley at the controls - producing, mixing and engineering - and Black Country Communion's six string maestro Joe Bonamassa guesting with some slide guitar (and former Frehley's Comet/secret Kiss drummer Anton Fig providing percussive overdubs too, fact fans), 'Bag Of Bones' is fully committed to ridding Europe of their parptastic AOR tag and, instead, cementing the band's footing in classic rock territory.
Still not sure? The first minute of album opener 'Riches To Rags' should convince you, John Norum's fat riff, Tempest's classy vocals and a typically intrusive hook all over your stereo like a dirty rock rash. 'Not Supposed To Sing The Blues', the album's first single, wastes no time (coming in at track number two) in pinning the band's influences to the rehearsal room corkboard. With lyrical references to AC/DC's 'Back In Black' and the like, the song is a love letter to a place where the band ideally see themselves residing, the destination seemingly set to be arrived at during the course of this, the Swedish band's ninth studio album.
'Firebox', with its swathes of keyboards - generally replaced, Praise the (Jon) Lord, throughout the duration of this album with gorgeous Hammond organ from Mic Michaeli - and Eastern-themed midsection, is possibly closer to the band's shackle-breaker of a previous album than anything else on offer here, but the sunbleaching of the band's sound is quickly restored with this album's title track, 'Bag Of Bones', a fine example of how to transform a standard slow verse/massive chorus tune into something memorable. 'Requiem', a twenty seven second instrumental piece, seems oddly placed between the album's fourth and fifth tracks - and would possibly have been earmarked as an opening intro if the band didn't appear to be so adamant on coming so quickly out of the gates with their rejuvenated retro rock sound - but its moodiness does put you in the zone to fully appreciate the song that follows; 'My Woman, My Friend' opens darkly and seductively before unfurling into a massive brawl of riff, hook and organ that combine to form the album's stand out track.
'Demon Head' is the kind of song that will adhere itself to the band's long-term fans, perfectly colouring the massively catchy choruses of the band's former guise with broad strokes of the blues that they now find themselves coated in, while 'Drink And A Smile' impresses with its rootsy charm and subtlety. 'Doghouse', however, is the closest that the album gets to papering over the cracks of the running time with formulaic filler, rehashing a Thunder/Havana Black piece of guitar work that roots the song in the past for all the wrong reasons; this song and the album's cover, a clichéd piece of rock cover art that replaces the modern art punch of its predecessor, threaten to make things appear dated rather than a paean to musical days gone by, but, thankfully, these appear to be a couple of blots on the landscape.
'Mercy You, Mercy Me' revolves around a riff so big that you can just imagine it rattling bones in a live setting, its chorus chanted back at the stage by the legion of committed fans in attendance. Final song 'Bring It All Home' is a slow burner, the nearest the album gets to a power ballad, I guess. It's a spirited, polished affair nonetheless, although its medium pace means that the record does limp over the finishing line somewhat, rather than bursting through the tape with a lung-busting final push.
The production, as you would imagine given Shirley's track record, hits home with every swing. It might not break any new ground but it manages to expertly combine the punch of a modern rock record with the warmth of vintage equipment and that, I'm sure, is all that the band would have wanted from the knob-twiddling legend nodding in approval through the studio glass.
John Norum's playing will no doubt please the aural anoraks who indulge in such curious pleasures, while Joey Tempest's vocals again confirm that he is one of the finest singers in the classic rock realms; his winning smile assuring female fans of the band that the man with whom they have dreamt of rocking the night alongside, or underneath, since the '80s still has it.
Further distancing themselves from the ties that bind them to their past, Europe have looked to the past of others while moulding 'Bag Of Bones' into the success that it will surely be. David Coverdale, for example, upon hearing this album, will probably put his feet up on his mountain of home perm kit packaging and mutter "my work here is done."
That this new work will resonate favourably with Europe fans is an understatement: in fact, I can imagine, come year end, the majority of classic rock aficionados naming 'Bag Of Bones' as their album of the year because there is high quality, not danger, on the tracks.
01 - Riches to Rags
02 - Not Supposed to Sing the Blues
03 - Firebox
04 - Bag of Bones
05 - Requiem
06 - My Woman My Friend
07 - Demon Head
08 - Drink and A Smile
09 - Doghouse
10 - Mercy You Mercy Me
11 - Bring It All Home
12 - Beautiful Disaster (Japan bonus track)