Self-awareness is a rarity in rock’n’roll. And while that is arguably the natural order of things – and hurrah for that – the ongoing assimilation of Europe into a more earthy and credible realm than the one that spawned them speaks volumes about how a little perspective and wisdom, not to mention hard work, can be a wonderful thing.
By the time Europe released 2012’s Bag Of Bones their transformation from loved but occasionally mocked denizens of bombastic hair metal to widely revered hard rock diehards (with a pocketful of blues) was complete.
Above all else, new album War Of Kings oozes those happy homecoming vibes, as Joey Tempest and his loyal comrades plunder their youthful inspirations and rediscover the joy of making music. Produced by Dave Cobb (who has worked with Rival Sons recently), this is a warm, gritty and vibrant record throughout. At times you can almost hear the band grinning as they revel in their mastery of the form and its rendering in welcoming, analogue tones.
The very best songs here – the simmering grooves of The Second Day, the Zeppelin-ish swirl of Rainbow Bridge, the Hammond-drenched stomp of California 405 – are so beautifully played and sung that you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be swept along for the ride.
However, there are a few moments when the celebratory vibe becomes a little overwhelmed by the sheer weight of vocalist/mainman Joey Tempest’s desire to gatecrash the grand pantheon of classic rock bands. Despite the best of intentions, a handful of riffs hover perilously close to being washed away by the inevitable result of familiarity, but the band’s intuitively soulful execution saves the day each time, their singer’s unerringly disarming delivery ensuring that every note rings true, even when it has clearly fallen off the back of a lorry driven by Ritchie Blackmore.
Europe clearly feel so comfortable in this territory that they’re unlikely to abandon it any time soon. That’s good news for fans who have enjoyed watching the band blossom anew over the last decade, but for fans of that 80s metal gloss and pomp – or indeed the snappy modernity of 2006’s overlooked Secret Society – War Of Kings may feel more like a stroll in the park than like a wide-eyed bid for glory. Either way, Europe are having the time of their lives./o:p