Although to most they will be forever associated with that one international hit from over 25 years ago, more observant rock aficionados will know that Europe’s second crack at the whip has seen them evolve into one of the most consistently entertaining heavy rock bands on the planet.
Their fourth album since reforming in 2003, Bag Of Bones signals the completion of an extraordinary transformation that has enabled the Swedes to win a fervent new audience and to claim a credibility that The Final Countdown had previously denied them.
This new album exists in a musical universe many light years away from that song’s cheddar-coated gleam, with strident blues rock and hulking grunge grooves replacing the overwrought keyboard fanfares of old. More importantly, these songs provide a showcase for Europe’s two not-so-secret weapons: frontman Joey Tempest’s vital vocals and the gloriously fluid guitars of John Norum.
On the opening Riches To Rags, which rides into view on the kind of insistent riff that most stoner rock bands would cheerfully donate their bongs for, both Tempest and Norum are on blazing form, the former’s trademark blend of earthy grit and slick pizzazz melding brilliantly with the latter’s soul-drenched fret acrobatics. The album’s first single, Not Supposed To Sing The Blues, is another tour de force of melodic heft and rootsy swagger, a wry dig at those who would question Europe’s credentials as purveyors of swamp-born pathos, and a subtly exhilarating anthem to boot.
The tempo rises for the bullish Firebox, wherein Norum unleashes another of those adrenalin-sodden blues metal riffs as his comrades whip up a precise and invigorating rhythmic storm behind him, while the title track combines grandiose Zep-tinged strut, a sublime chorus hook, slide guitar from Joe Bonamassa and a tangible air of morning-after resignation to scintillating effect.
Echoing his work with Black Country Communion, producer Kevin Shirley has brought authenticity and injected a laudable amount of dirt under these songs’ fingernails: the rueful urgency of Demon Head and the fragile grace of the closing Bring It All Home are as powerful and affecting as anything in the band’s catalogue.
Forget what you think you know: Europe are one of the greatest rock bands on the planet right now, and Bag Of Bones is an outright joy.