Europe: The Final Countdown - Album Of The Week Club review

In which we discuss communal music youth programs in a social democracy, and what they meant for Europe's album The Final Countdown

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Europe - The Final Countdown

The Final Countdown
Rock The Night
Carrie
Danger On The Track
Ninja
Cherokee
Time Has Come
Heart Of Stone
On The Loose
Love Chaser

Who would have thought five Deep Purple-obsessed Swedes would go some way to stealing Jon Bon Jovi’s thunder in his year of ascension to the hair-metal crown? 

But Joey Tempest and the rest of Europe (the band, that is) went one better than Jon by scoring a No.1 single, with The Final Countdown

The title track of Europe’s third album is over 30 years old now, but it’s still among the most celebrated run of notes in popular music – so ubiquitous that the Queen could most likely hum it upon request.  

“It was the opening for us to go on our journey," Tempest told Classic Rock in 2015. "It gave us that chance to be a touring band, and it gave us an opening to be here today. It’s been an interesting journey, and it’s still with us. We play it live, and we love playing it live… because that’s where it belongs. It’s a part of our history.”

Although that title song would top the charts in 18 different countries, the Swedish band’s third album is far more than a one-trick pony. Rock The Night and Cherokee kicked like the proverbial mule, Danger On The Tracks was a fine slice of serrated-edged pomp, and Carrie was a top-notch ballad.

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Background

Back in 1986, the amount of hairspray in the atmosphere (particularly 6,000 miles away in the City of Angels) was causing untold damage to the Earth’s ozone layer. 

Bon Jovi had put a disappointing second album, 7800° Fahrenheit, behind them with the release of their next one, the remarkable Slippery When Wet, and were about to be drenched in success. 

And although Def Leppard were still laboriously piecing together what would become their rocket ship to the stratosphere, Hysteria, the impetus the Sheffield band had enjoyed in the US with Pyromania kept the name alive. There was a strange electricity in the air, and a rumble underfoot.

“You could feel that something was about to happen,” Tempest insists in retrospect. “In some ways, when you consider the fact that classic hard rock is becoming so popular again, it feels a bit like that today. Back then, radio had been afraid to touch hard rock, but that all changed when they heard Photograph [by Def Leppard] or Livin’ On A Prayer. We were ready to be part of that.”

Other albums released in May 1986

  • Secret Dreams and Forbidden Fire - Bonnie Tyler
  • Animal Boy - The Ramones
  • So - Peter Gabriel
  • Who Made Who - AC/DC
  • Raised on Radio - Journey
  • Evol - Sonic Youth
  • Mistrial - Lou Reed
  • Moonlight Shadows - The Shadows

What they said...

"One of the most glorious launches in history, the title track for the thrice-platinum The Final Countdown is so bombastically brilliant, such glorious garbage, that this nuclear hair assault could only spew from the vacuous '80s. But the full-tilt follow-up Rock the Night rules also: 'You know it ain't easy/Running out of thrills.' Carrie comes off a consummate butane ballad. Meanwhile, the rest of the disc packs so much power that Swedish superheroes Europe get away with all the processed pretension." (AllMusic)

"Unfortunately, The Final Countdown sounds very much of its era, synth heavy, crisp drums and reverb drenched vocals and when compared to their earlier work or their releases since Europe’s reformation in 2003, the album does not give a fair representation of their true sound. However, it is full of every bit of 80’s fun that anyone could ever want, and it is in every way as enjoyable now as it was in 1986. It will always stand as a testament to their career and be a chapter in the bands history which attracted more fans than they can ever imagine and made them global superstars." (Metal Heroes Forever)

"It may amount to little more than a master-class in cheesiness, but I’ll be a dog’s rear end if it doesn’t make for a pleasant listen. It’s not high art by any means – and most metalheads wouldn’t touch it with a two-hundred-foot pole – but it may be a worthy buy or download for the more open-minded rockers out there." (Sputnik Music)

What you said...

Mike Knoop: Generic rock competently played by mostly anonymous musicians. Singer Joey Tempest is the only one recognisable by name & face, even though keyboardist Mic Michaeli – thanks, Wikipedia - does most of the musical heavy lifting. Sometimes I can fool myself into thinking he sounds like Jon Lord (Danger On The Track), but mostly it’s that overstuffed keyboard sound that dominated the 80s. 

Guitarist John Norum gets a few squealy solos (Heart of Stone, On the Loose), but he’s generally overwhelmed by the glossy production. Not enough punch for power metal, too much flair for hair metal, yet the sound seemed to work stateside – for a couple of albums anyway. I realise that Gothenburg is about 400 km from Stockholm, but in my heart or hearts, I hope that the melodic death metal that became known as the “Gothenburg sound” was in response to flaccid bands like Europe.

James Praesto: I am not going to write a review on The Final Countdown this week. You guys have said it all in spades: it didn’t age well, the production is horrid, there are glimmers of instrumental quality and we all know the pretty man can sing. I offer nothing more.

Something Mike Knoop said in his comment, though, made me realise I will always come from a different perspective when looking at this band, just by virtue of being Swedish. His question was whether the death metal pioneers of “The Gothenburg Sound” did so in response to the “flaccid” music of Europe. Them being worlds apart, musically, and everything.

It is much more complicated than that.

Without writing a psycho-analytical piece on the collective musical mind of Swedes in general, let me just try to explain what Europe meant back then, and still means today, and hopefully provide some context.

Music is a major part of Swedish kids’ upbringing. I guess it comes with the territory of a social democracy: communal music youth programs ensured that every single Swedish kid could learn, for free, after school, any instrument of their choice. As many as they wanted. I, myself, went from flute, to Hammond organ, to classical guitar and finally to electric guitar. I had friends who played drums, bass, trumpet, xylophone or whatever they wanted, from the ages of elementary school through high school. 

By the time I was in my teens, and rocking out my black Explorer knockoff (with the snazzy spiderwebs), everybody I knew was in a band, or wanted to be in one. It was normal to rehearse with your buddies, right after school, and then go to soccer or hockey practice. The culture was geared towards having tons of room to express yourself musically, in any form or shape you wanted. It was pretty awesome, looking back at it, but it was just the norm to us. We all did it.

Europe started out just like all bands in Sweden started up: 4-5 guys that grew up together, went to school together, got a free rehearsal room from the county together and spent every day of every week playing and talking about music together. However, one thing they did better than others, was the drive that fuelled them throughout their early metal stages, throughout their career. 

They won the Swedish Championship in Rock (yes, because there was such a thing – go figure) and won a record deal. The first few albums were a bit schizo, representing everything from their Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy influences, to darker heavier metal as well. It was with The Final Countdown that everything changed. That one silly annoying fucking infectious melody kicked down the doors to the world stage for all Swedish bands that followed.

Before Europe, there was Abba. After Europe, there was everything: In Flames, Opeth, Meshuggah, Candlemass, Evergrey, Arch Enemy, Hardcore Superstar, Hammerfall, Ghost and Shotgun Messiah… All these bands developed their career as much because of Europe, as despite of Europe. 

Back then, no self-respecting Swedish metal head would want to be caught dead humming The Final Countdown, but we all took a page out of their book, studying their live shows, tracking their success, and realising how incredibly professional and solid they were in all aspects of performing their music. They didn’t overdose on heroin, or show up late for gigs. They weren’t in the newspapers with some dead hooker on the pillow next to them, or forgot their lyrics or solos live. 

As a matter of fact, Europe always sounded better live than in studio. The light poppy sound on record, was always replaced by a much heavier bluesier sound live, with guitars more in the foreground and keyboard more appropriately balanced with the other instruments. They were consummate professionals, and they set the bar for the bands that followed – whether they were in the same genre or not. 

Whether Europe is everybody’s cup of tea or not, is besides the point. We all have different tastes, and we all hear different things. But where some of you may hear a dated soft rock band, drowning in kazoo keyboards and sugary smiles – I hear a piece of my childhood, and a piece of my musical identity. Europe may not be a Swedish national treasure, but they probably evoke some reaction in all of us who ever lived there, whether we want to or not. The Final Countdown is a song we love to hate - but we will still lose our shit to it, if we hear it live (and feel dirty afterwards, hoping nobody saw). 

A sign of how ingrained Europe is in Swedish music was proven when the Swedish government forgave them their millions in outstanding tax debts, if they played the 2000 New Year’s show for free. They had been living abroad for ages, to evade the insane taxes (that pays for those free rehearsal rooms and music programs), and took the IRS up on their offer. That was the re-launch of their career, and they have kept it up ever since, finding their way back to a much darker and heavier sound – miles and miles away from the teen pop tears of Carrie or the silly nonsense of Ninja.

Sure, the songs they had back in the 80’s were not the stuff legends are made of, but when I watch a video like the one below, I realise how much what I have experienced musically in my life, has been intrinsically intertwined with the life and death (and life again) of this damn band. I could be any of the people in this crowd.

Horia Maties The whole album is amazing. I still give the CD a spin fairly regularly and I'm always happy when a song from it pops up on my shuffle list. Being a rock fan born in the 90's, I must admit that it took me a while to get myself to purchase the album a few years back because I only knew that song, but it's been growing on me over time. John Norum's playing is insane!

Neil Wilson: It's a good album for it's time and there were some very cool and catchy tunes on board and the title track was their only hit 'down under' in Australia and went to # 1! While I liked that era of the band, I'm more fond of their music since reforming around 2003 and their more blues based style nowadays is excellent!

Eric Hall: I like everything except the title track. Heart of Stone is among the best but nobody ever mentions it

Bill Griffin: The title song reminded me of GTR, a band a like (but mostly because of the two guitarists involved). Like GTR though, the vocals are generic 80's rock. I have the distinct impression that I would like this better if Tempest had a more distinctive voice. As it is, I find this album to be consistently mediocre. If this is, as many say, their best album, there is no reason for me to go any deeper into the catalogue. Edit: The words progressive rock are used a lot to describe Europe and I wanted to like this for that reason but I just don't hear anything progressive on this record. Countdown came closest (my reference to GTR) but still not prog.

Brett Deighton: Do I think of this album when I think of the truly great albums? No, but there are many reasons why music is so amazing. This album instantly transports me to a time in my life when I lived for Saturday morning video shows, waiting for film clips from Bon Jovi, Europe, Motley Crüe... you get the idea. Happy days! I feel for Europe too. I think they got pegged as one of those bands that jumped on the Bon Jovi bandwagon and then vanished. The reality is they are still slogging away and making some pretty cool music.

Hugh Lynch: I am listening to the album for the first time, only ever having heard the single. From this perspective,it sounds like a sampler album of out takes by lots of other bands: some moments Queen-like, then Toto-lite, then Styx, then Tubes. Magnum... god, I am hearing loads of other bands here! Did it feel as 'familiar' in 1991? Hard to say: One cannot question the enthusiasm with which the band tackle the material and the polish with which the whole thing is presented. However, I myself would go to many other bands, some I have mentioned, for music like this rather than return to this particular record. They had their 15 minutes and grabbed it fiercely: good on 'em!

David Jones: I think the best description for this album is “nice”. Every track is OK but very generic. There is nothing new or challenging. As an album it’s just “there”. It exists , doesn’t offend , doesn’t challenge , its nice.

Steve Norton: Love every track on this album. The title track is very poppy, but so was Jump by Van Halen, so no surprise they were both huge hits. It's great 80s rock, and they can still cut it live as well.

Uli Hassinger: In these days I was always a little bit ashamed of myself because of not hating the band. But the songs are still pretty nice and the singer is awesome. Sometimes a little bit cheesy (Carrie) but excellent soft rock. My favourites are Cherokee and Ninja. I still like the album.

Jochen Scholl: It's predecessor Wings Of Tomorrow is a real masterpiece. ...Countdown was somewhat different in production, but of the same quality in songwriting.... at first glance. The problem was because of the massive airplay and the mainstream compositions I got tired of listening to it soon and never played it ever since. The group itself is great: live as well as on the later albums - pure progressive rock!

Phil Yates: Great tunes and some wonderfully cheesy old lyrics make this an enjoyable listen. Tend to think that without the opening fanfare of that immortal title track it wouldn't be receiving the attention it's getting now. Having said that, Europe were way more fun than Bon Jovi and have gone from strength to strength. Great band!

Dominic Grierson: I have heard the title track, Danger On The Track and Carrie a gazillion times but I never bought the record. On balance if they came on the radio I would get a wee smile on my face and be back in primary school. I listened to the album today for the first time all the way through. The 80s sheen on the production loses the rhythm section too often under multi-tracked keyboards. The playing is great in parts but would have been nice to hear some more of the band in the mix. 

The songwriting seldom surprises and lyrics are not a highlight - songs about Ninjas and Cherokees may have appealed to the ten year old version of myself who would have rather liked this album. The guitar playing is good, would have been nice to hear more of it though. The singer is the star of the band but his voice seems generic at times and could be any Coverdale-esque 80s poodle permed pretender. 

Blandly competent and so predictable I'm afraid. On the whole it is pretty inoffensive stuff and I guess for some people with an emotional attachment to the album it could be seen as a classic. Not sure I could imagine this being anyone's favourite record. Not awful, just limited in terms of song writing and blighted by the production ageing really badly. The live extras on the Spotify version I heard seemed to have a bass guitarist. There are tracks on the album that he might as well have just stayed at home for considering his place in the final mix.

David Cox: Europe and Bon Jovi were about as heavy as my musical preferences went. This album I played non-stop. Probably haven't listened for 20 years but played it on the way home last night. It's full of great memories. It's a harmless album. Cheesy but they were always a bit more fun weren't they!

John Atkin: Puppy dog looks, cheesy grins and an ear for a Eurovision-style pop hook took Europe out of the rock world and into the mainstream in the same way as that wah-oo-wah vocoder line in Livin' On A Prayer did for Bon Jovi. Never as dangerous as Crue, or as sleazy as Ratt, they were the hard rock bands you could play at the end of a wedding disco. Few albums can go wrong when they follow the 'two-bangers-and-a-ballad' formula for the opening three tracks. Who knew they secretly hankered after being Deep Purple.

Andrew Johnston: I can't claim to be a fan of Europe (Hanoi Rocks, Georgia Satellites, Faster Pussycat being more my bag, then and now), but I do remember how thrilling it was to see a rock band at number one on TOTP back in the day. The music was a bit derivative, the lyrics hackneyed even then, and, yes, they are let down by the production, but there's a real joy to the songs and looking back it seems so obvious that they could mature into the band that recorded albums like of Bag Of Bones. But then hindsight's a wonderful thing.

Daniel Jago Edmonds: Ach, it’s alright. I was a big fan of hair metal back in the day so naturally purchased this on the day of release. The title track, Rock The Night, Danger On The Track and Cherokee are all decent, the rest is a bit too bland and vanilla. It’s like it’s afraid to actually rock. As has been mentioned, the previous album Wings Of Tomorrow is a better album with far more riffs and guitars. The Final Countdown just kind of blips along and never fully gets boiling. 6/10.

John Davidson: Although released when Bon Jovi's ascent to stardom was assured and Whitesnake had reinvented themselves as poodle rockers for MTV, Europe brought some continental cheese to the Headbanger's Ball.

It's not awful, in fact if you strip away the over produced keyboards, some of the songs wouldn't sound out of place on Rainbow's Down To Earth, or similar commercial rock from MSG, Scorpions or UFO.  But it's not great either, and there's no virtuoso guitarist to lift the the album out of solid mediocrity. 5/10

Thore Vollert: This is a great piece of 80s zeitgeist and testament to Europe's (not just the band - the continent) contribution to Arena Rock: big curly hairspray, airplay anthems and just flat-out great Hard Rock. 

I remember falling for this über-cheesy album art when browsing through my dad's LP collection in early 90s Germany. Personally, I recommend checking out Europe's earlier work, like their 1983 debut Europe or 1984's follow-up Wings Of Tomorrow.

Carl Black: The title track is banger, a stonewall banger, I can remember waiting for Sum 41 to come on at the Reading Festival. They were all set up, the sun was setting, I had a full pint and all my mates were around me. The stage was set, and then... The final countdown rang over Richmond Avenue. It's was perfect, it put everyone in the best mood. You just couldn't help but smile. The song did it again for me when I listened to it this week, all the components are right. 

But what of the rest of the album? My sister had this on a dodgy cassette, so I've only heard this through the bedroom wall, drowned out by my AC/DC records. It's sugary and very sweet. A doughnut dipped in chocolate and covered in sugar. Heavy processed guitar drowned out by 80's synth, (some of which reminded me of the music used during the Rocky IV montages. Not an unpleasant experience for most of the other songs, with the exception of Carrie, that's was dreadful. I almost got caught out with the last song. For a second it sounds like a reprise of The Final Countdown, but then changes. Most of the marks I'll give are for the title track, the rest is not for me, I'm off to brush my teeth and go online and try and find some footage of Sum 41 at Reading.

Iain Macaulay: Wo - oh, yeah - eh - eh!’ 

‘Hey Joey, that sounds great. How many songs could we get away with putting that at the start? Try it again on this one. Now, make it sound earnest and heart felt. Clench your fist and punch the air.’ 

No, no, no! This was everything I hated when I was in school. Duff production. Duff lyrics. Duff keyboards hiding... actually, not bad guitars now I’ve heard the whole album through for the first time since it came out. But it still sounds to me the same as it did back then. Lifeless, processed and manufactured. Which, to be fair, is all down to the production and not the band or their playing and songwriting skills. However, it still strikes me as pomp rock. Style over substance. Middle of the road for mass appeal. Not for me, I’m afraid.

Mark Burd: What a dated album! Europe’s The Final Countdown is a supreme example of 80s cheese. Often we’ll hear an album that’s a sign of the times, but it doesn’t age awkwardly. The same can’t be said of The Final Countdown

The opening title track is an epic synth-heavy rock anthem. What could/should set the stage for an amazing album instead opens the gates to a set of substandard, unexciting trope of overproduced swoon songs. 

Musically, the album is very basic. Sometimes minimalism speaks volumes, but some of these songs just feel lazily safe. The highlight of the album is John Norum’s guitar work - specifically the solos, which far dominate the riffs. Mic Michaeli’s keyboard/synth sounds are painfully outdated - it’s amazing that in ‘86 these sounds were revolutionary and became commonplace for a bit. I have to imagine they sounded cool at the time. Joey Tempest’s vocals are clean and safe, but his melodies are never challenging or brazen. That said, the harmonies are beautifully recorded and produced; they just sound as dated as the synth. 

A few tracks are fist-bumpers like Danger On The Track, Ninja and Cherokee, but there is an album full of duds that can best be used as background noise. Carrie is a nice ballad that shows the band has some decent songwriting chops, but just like The Final Countdown it can’t carry the weight of the duller tunes. 

33 years later, The Final Countdown is almost satirically 80s. About 50% of this album is decent and worth a few listens, but the remainder is simply forgettable. For this reason, I give The Final Countdown a 5/10.

Hai Kixmiller: I remember when this "stuff" came out. I held the album in my hands, looking at it and studying the album cover. Bon Jovi music playing on the store's overhead speakers. My thoughts immediately went to a comparison of the looks and sounds of both Bon Jovi and Europe. Not a fan of Bon Jovi (at the time) I thought this Europe(an) band was just an over seas version of an "All-Filler" "No-Killer", and "All-Looks" "No-Hooks" poser hard rock band. My 19-year-old self had no time for these cheesy, wimpy, wanna-be bands. So I put Europe back in the bin, walked by SIippery When Wet with just a casual glance at it, and left Licorice Pizza music store with the Night Songs album by Cinderella. 

Boy was I wrong about Europe. 

I've been listening to this weeks selection for a while now. I'm very surprised that it has all the qualities that I personally require to be something that I would buy.

Does it make me clinch my fist, and raise that fist to about face level, and then gyrate that fist forward, backwards, sidewards, all sorts of omni-directional?... check! Oh yeah, someone has to see you doing this in your vehicle... and you don't give a damn... double check!

Also, the lyrics, harmonies, and melodies all make you want to sing along. Check! This band is definitely not "All-Looks" "No-Hooks". I think the Germans call it "HookLaden". (Is that a collective groan I just heard?) Can I get a: Rock now, Rock the Night.. WHOA-OH... WHOA-OH!

Anyhow, the album holds up quite well. The first three songs are pretty much "manufactured" for American radio. And it worked. With those first three songs, The Final Countdown, Rock the Night, and Carrie, Europe didn't just crack the proverbial door to rock'n'roll stardom, they blew that door off its hinges. But it's the fourth song on the album where the listener really gets to hear and feel the influences of Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore and blues-based rock. These guys are not just a bunch of pretty faces trying to sell rock, they are stellar musicians crafting genuine classic rock songs!

Marco LG: I have always been a little ashamed to admit I love this album, but it is the one that started it all for me. Before I was listening to pop, afterwards I would say I hate pop and listen to heavy metal. This one was bang in the middle, with the added problem of being an absolute screamer for all the girls around me. 

On balance though, it stood the test of time reasonably well. There are some really heavy moments on this album, much heavier than I remembered, and plenty of melodies. The guitar by John Norum is classic.

Brian Carr: My teenage years were mostly in the 80s, and melodic hard rock from that decade was my favourite. Starting with Def Leppard and Quiet Riot, Hit Parader magazine helped it grow like an unchecked fungus. At some point, though, a hazy line formed to where some of the bands were putrid to my Headbangers Ball-fuelled ears, but it’s hard to define. Bon Jovi and Poison were good for me (though I liked many other bands way more), but when we started getting dreck like Warrant and Trixter, well, maybe it’s no wonder people exited stage left.

Even though I bought The Final Countdown on cassette way back in 1986, when it became the choice for this week, I thought it was going to be closer to the dreck than the stuff I liked. I can dig a power ballad, but come on - Carrie is one of the worst. And the title track is firmly in the “PLEASE! NEVER AGAIN!” category. The song I remembered liking the most from the album was Rock The Night, which now sounds fine, but is pretty by the numbers, as is much of the album.

The main drawback I had with The Final Countdown album while listening this week (aside from the overwhelming synths) is the corny lyrics. I’ve figured out (and probably said repeatedly) in this group that I don’t typically pay much attention to song lyrics (which kind of surprised me), but most of these really stuck out to me as pretty hackneyed. On the plus side, John Norum can burn up some fretboard. Maybe at some point I’ll check out some of those other Europe albums everyone suggested, especially since James Praesto recommended them.

Roland Bearne: I was never particularly a Europe fan in their heyday. I had a Best Of which got regular plays but other bands got more of my attention. Since their radical reboot, Start From The Dark I would definitely describe myself as a fan. The albums have power, edge and a give vent unashamedly to their musical heritage. All to the good I say. 

Having seen them several times live over the last few tours it is also my contention that they are one if the very best live rock acts in the world. Joey' s voice is sublime and John Norum's live sound is a monster!!! So to reach back and investigate the album with "that song" was intriguing! TFC still raises a smile and listening more carefully than usual it's far from just fluff. It's a beautifully layered and constructed piece with what us actually a blistering solo from Norum. Deceptively so. 

I thought the whole album was superbly made and played. The sound of a band on an unashamed mission to conquer the stadia of the world and crafted a collection of songs to do just that. Some of the textures do sound a bit "of their time now" but overall I thoroughly enjoyed this week's offering. An album much much smarter that it might often be given credit for. Poodle wigs are go!

Gary Claydon: By-the-numbers commercial rock which is done no favours by a production which allows too much prominence to the keyboards to the particular detriment of the bass and drums. The rhythm section might have well stayed at home for this one. In addition, it contains at least three songs which, personally, I'd be glad If I never heard again, including the monster hit title track. 

Europe are one of those bands who's career is completely defined by a single song to the majority of people. In another respect, they have always reminded me of Nickelback. Now, neither band is to my own tastes but they both produce music that plenty of people find appealing. Both have built up large & loyal followings and are regularly able to sell out decent sized venues when touring. Yet both bands will be routinely panned by the music press and 'serious' rock fans alike. Not that their many fans will care, which is exactly how it should be. It's a shame really ' cos Europe are capable of better than this album. 

A listen to their more recent stuff reveals a slightly heavier, darker sound. Still not entirely to my liking but preferable to the shiny commercial-rock pap on TFC.

Final Score: 5.95 ⁄10 (236 votes cast, with a total score of 1406)

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