Kerrang - 1989
Strange but true... our resident
geomorphological / Wimphem expert Derek Oliver has traveled to Italy with
notepad and seismograph to uncover a remarkable phenomenon: The whole of EUROPE
is on the move. It's not exactly heading "Out of This World", but it
is veering away from the sickly sweet realms of that single towards
(gasp, swoon) heavier rock. Excavate story below or check out any of the band's
current UK dates for the archeological evidence.
"Shit! This hairspray is getting in my mouth."
Kee Marcello, the curly brown-haired lead guitarist with EUROPE, interrupts our conversation to make a curious cussing noise. Moments earlier, not more than four feet away in the same dressing room, bassist John Levén had decided to apply some well deserved hairspray to his barnet. The ensuing cloud has somehow managed to waft its way into Kee Marcello's mouth and he is, apparently, rather distressed. Like a camel's, his lips pucker and purse until all trace of the offending chemical is dispersed.
"Maybe you should keep your mouth shut then," offers keyboard magician Mic Michaeli with a sense of timing that would astound even Robin Williams. Relishing his turn of phrase, Mic beats a hasty retreat to an adjoining room leaving Kee to nurse both his throat and ego.
This incident takes place in a stupefyingly large sports-cum-concert arena called the Palaeur, which is located in the precious city of Rome. EUROPE are booked to play the venue this very evening, and because I am a representative of "Kerrang!" I have been allowed full backstage access. This allows me to stroll at will from dressing room to dressing room while outside at the stagedoor, several very pretty Italian girls would willingly sell their own mothers for just five minutes of such a privilege. What an intriguing concept that is.
EUROPE, for all their faults - and believe me, the are precious few - have always been one of my favorite rock bands. In many ways they have achieved all there is to accomplish: A multi-platinum album, a Number One hit single in virtually every country in the world, and a global concert tour playing to standing room only attendances. In fact, it makes you wonder why on earth they even bothered to record a follow-up album in the wake of "The Final Countdown"'s achievements.
Outside the arena the air rings with a severe chill. In fact, it's so cold that the dressing room windows are dripping wet with condensation. Inside, the band are readying themselves for the evening's performance, each one of them applying various stage costumes chosen with precision from a large flight case that doubles as a portable wardrobe. This is a fascinating sight, and as I undertake my interview with Kee Marcello in one corner of the room, my eyes periodically scrutinize a blonde make-up girl whose job, it seems, is to constantly style and tease every haircut in the room.
Before we consider the interview proper, let us stop to examine what, if any, progress has been made in the EUROPE scheme of things since the rocket ride success of their superlative opus, "The Final Countdown". Most of the late spring / early summer of last year was devoted to the recording of their latest album "Out of This World" in London with producer Ron Nevison. Recording apparently progressed neatly, if somewhat sporadically, and such was the confidence of all concerned the band were pre-booked to undertake a lengthy series of concert appearances supporting Def Leppard in America. Now, I'm not suggesting that matters were eventually rushed, but as the Leppard dates loomed ever closer, it soon became apparent that in order to have some product available beforehand, progress would have to be accelerated.
When the single and album eventually arrived, they attracted mixed reviews. I immediately thought it to be a brilliant stroke of genius, but others contested that it was, on numerous counts, a rather lackluster record - devoid of the special ingredients (something politely termed "magic") that was so evident on "The Final Countdown". As it turned out the band managed to achieve an amount of success, that could neither be termed super sensational or an utter disaster.
On reflection, and we've had at least six solid months to get it right, I'd say that "Out of This World" falls short on just one major count: Ron Nevison should not have produced the record, it's as simple as that. The man may have had enormous success reconstructing the very soul of Heart and sending Ozzy Osbourne into the platinum zone, but for EUROPE he smoothed over the cracks and white washed the walls a little too much. I think they needed a much more raw, less perfect sound.
It is with this one thought in mind that I crouch before Kee Marcello and ask him just what do you think about the album?
"I'm sorry to have to admit it, but perhaps Ron Nevison wasn't the right choice," he drawls in his engaging Swedish accent. "He wimped it out a little bit too much. Y'see, the songs sounded a lot heavier, but Ron came in and took the spontaneity away. But listen, I don't think we can put the entire blame on him - we should have been more aware of what was happening. It's funny, but our rehearsal tapes from that album are great. We only recorded them on a cassette player, but you can easily hear how rough and raw the songs sounded. We've learnt from our mistake and the next time we record, we're thinking of taking the producer out on tour with us, just so that he can hear how rocky we really sound."
"Actually," interrupts bassist John Levén - having freed himself from the blonde with the hairspray - "There is a chance that we might produce the next record ourselves. In fact, we were thinking about doing an album with as few overdubs as possible, just recording it live in the studio and adding a few background vocals."
Why not release a live album instead?
"Yeah, we've been thinking about doing that!" reckons Kee. "The only problem is that the record company would have to agree to it. Our idea was to do maybe a six-song live mini-album and record it on the UK dates. I think we'd really be pleased with something like that, because it would definitely show that the songs have a lot more soul - kind of like the album versions without all the echoes."
So, whilst "Out of This World" in its basic form is actually a first-rate record, the band are clear and honest enough to admit something somewhere went sadly adrift. Personally I would love to hear songs such as "Superstitious" and "Open Your Heart" given rougher, almost bluesier treatments. In concert it is these tracks, together with set opener "Ready or Not" and "Sign of the Times", that pile on the pressure.
Of course, there is the question of success. In terms of units, "Out of This World" has failed to emulate the glory of "The Final Countdown". A not uncommon myth, perpetuated by the music industry, is that when sales do not exceed a previous release then the group are obviously over and out. Ratt and AC / DC in particular have fallen foul of this hypocrisy, but both have continued to achieve significant live attendances and garner platinum albums.
For EUROPE, a band whose success seemed to occur almost overnight, there is in my experience an almost disproportionate number of folk who rub their hands in glee at the very notion of EUROPE falling by the wayside.
"When 'The Final Countdown' became a hit single, it definitely presented us with a few problems," admits Kee, the man who joined the band on the eve of their chart success replacing original guitarist John Norum, who had played on the first LP sessions. "We had to present a pretty boy image, and in retrospect I think we did far too many of the wrong kind of photo sessions. Y'know the sort of thing, the ones where we're all smiling..."
"It's very noticeable that this tour has attracted a great deal more rock fans than the last one. You can hear a difference in the pitch of the crowds' roar. The tone is a lot lower, which I guess goes to prove that we've lost a lot of those screaming girls and there are definitely a lot more guys in the audience."
Will "The Final Countdown" be a cross you'll have to bear forever?
"Oh, it's not that bad. I mean we like the song, but yeah, I know what you mean about us having to perform it wherever we go. I guess it's the same kind of thing for Deep Purple, they must be fed up playing 'Smoke on the Water', but it's what people want to hear. We have to come to terms with the fact that it's our biggest hit so far and that it's the first song people associate with us. Actually, on the last tour we opened and closed the show with it, these days it's just one of the encores."
I have been told that EUROPE's tour of, natch, Europe has not been without its fair share of disappointment. There was a suggestion that several shows had been less than bursting at the seams with paying punters and, specifically, in Germany a handful of dates had to be canceled because of a distinct lack of ticket sales. Yes, the band do admit that in certain countries they have been booked into rather ambitious venues. And, just to set record straight, only one show was actually canceled. That was in Germany, but as they are quick to point out, at least another seven shows went ahead without much embarrassment whatsoever.
"The fact that we haven't attracted hordes of screaming little girls is undoubtedly why we haven't sold as many concert tickets as last time," Kee is honest enough to admit. "Mind you, the response from the audience has been better than ever, they really are into us."
Having toured selectively in America supporting Def Leppard (they didn't, however, share Leppard's infamous round stage) the band had been booked to play dates in Australia, which mysteriously fell through, Japan and a few key shows in such curiously un-rock 'n' roll territories as Taiwan and India. The two Taiwan gigs were performed in cricket stadiums and attracted 30 000 cheering youngsters apiece. The Indian show was an even more exciting affair. Held in Bombay and supported by ageing Scottish rockers Nazareth, the band played to an estimated 80 000 raving mad Indian rockers.
"It was weird looking out from the stage," remembers Kee. "Everyone had black hair and there wasn't a blonde in sight!"
"We saw some awful things," adds bassist John Levén. "Conditions were absolutely terrible. There are nine million people in Bombay and five million live on the street, people literally dying in the gutter and endless miles of slums. When we drove from the airport and pulled up at traffic lights, the bus was besieged by beggars. I remember seeing this emaciated lady holding her baby up the window crying for money. The baby only had a stump for an arm - she probably cut it off to get more sympathy. That's what they do, you know, they cut off the arm or maim every third child. Sometimes they put their children into pots so they can't grow straight, and they end up terribly deformed. And do you know what the worst thing about it all is? It's all because of the caste system. Even if you gave them money and a house to live in, they wouldn't take it. They were born in the street, and according to them, that's where they're supposed to live and die."
How did you feel about John Norum recording an almost identical song to "The Final Countdown", called "Love Is Meant to Last Forever" on his debut solo album and then claiming it was written before yours?
"Well, it wasn't. 'The Final Countdown' was written long before that," answers Joey Tempest who had just joined our conversation. "I don't like the song and he shouldn't have done it. One of the things you should know about John is that he doesn't write very much himself. Most of the songs on his album were written by the bass player Marcel Jacob. So for him to do something like that is kind of foolish."
"The funny thing," interrupts John Levén, "is that he left the band saying that he didn't want to play our kind of music any more, and the first thing he does is record a song that sounds almost exactly the same as 'The Final Countdown'. That doesn't make sense!"
Do you all still live in Sweden?
"Since we had the hits, we've been constantly on the move, either touring or recording. We bought a house in the British West Indies. It's not extravagant and I don't think we've actually spent more than a few weeks there in total. The thing is we had to buy it because even if you became a tax exile, you have to have a permanent address. Actually we could spend a lot more time in Sweden but because of all the touring, we haven't been able to. We're living out of our suitcases at the moment."
Strangely the future for EUROPE is not mapped out with the precision you may have expected. Following their European dates they will play several shows in South America, but from then on they are not sure what will be their best move. Touring America again would be the logical step but this, according to them, is very much dependent on hooking up with a compatible headline act. EUROPE are, even with their healthy sales figures, still only capable of playing small theatres and that, they are keen to point out, is financially restrictive. Alternatively, they may rent apartments in America, probably Los Angeles, and set about writing material for a new studio album.
"The writing is going through a different stage now," Joey informs me. "The songs are going to be much heavier and more spontaneous, not as studied as before. Also I've been more open to writing with the other guys rather than keeping everything to myself. But that doesn't mean to say I would use a song by an outside writer. Maybe we'd cover an old song, but I would never consider bringing in, say Desmond Child, to co-write. I want to stand or fall by my own actions."