Elliott From: Kerrang
That's the predictably lightweight new EUROPE single
"I'll Cry for You". But what's all this... A bassist who can sink a
pint in three seconds? Mysterious sleeping arrangements in a West Indian island
tax haven? A singer who "cops off" with a gorgeous waitress? And an
album, "Prisoners in Paradise", with a sound tailored to fit "the
way your earlobe is constructed"?!? Paul Elliot flies to the frozen wastes
of Sweden to learn of this strangeness and assess its significance in EUROPE's
latest bid for hard rock credibility.
John Levén, EUROPE's rangy bass player, is sick of Sweden's national newspapers comparing the band to Guns N' Roses. "They say we're not as tough as Guns N' Roses," John smarts as he enters a hotel bar in the northern Swedish town on Umeĺ. To prove that EUROPE are not soft, he drinks a glass of beer in just three seconds. Some of the beer goes up his nose, some dribbles down his shirt, but it is a remarkable feat nonetheless, and one which takes its grim toll on John with frightening speed. Within an hour, after a couple more beers and a draught of Jägermeister (a syrupy European spirit colored like ruby port and flavored like cough mixture), John bares his ass to assorted gentlemen of the press and record company staff. Soon after, he attempts to leave the bar, but the curtain he walks through hides a wall, which John smacks into before reeling backwards. He is helped away by Bo, the band's tour manager, an ex-marine. It is the last we see of John Levén.
"The town of the birch trees," Umeĺ is where EUROPE's guitarist Kee Marcello was born and raised. On the first of two nights here, Kee goes drinking with his old bandmates from school days. He also receives a phone call from his father, a local politician, who's checking about tickets for the show. In Umeĺ, 1992 has begun as most years do. Snow lies in huge drifts and is packed hard on streets and pavements. Temperatures are around minus 15 Celsius. It's a quiet town. Beer costs five pounds per glass and reindeer is a staple dish. Nothing much has happened here since the entire township burnt to the ground in 1888.
EUROPE are here to play the third gig of their latest world tour, the first of 10 dates in their homeland. By singer Joey Tempest's reckoning, EUROPE are currently the seconds biggest band in Sweden after Roxette, an opinion seconded in the hotel bar by a Swedish TV reporter. EUROPE's new album "Prisoners in Paradise" is at Number Two in the Swedish charts, having sold 90 000 units, 10 000 short of a Platinum award. Denying them a Number One is Eva Dahlgren, "Sweden's answer to Suzanne Vega" according to Hans of Sony Music, Stockholm. Initially released in October 1991, "Prisoners in Paradise" is being re-promoted in the UK and in America in the first quarter of this year. "The period last Autumn was a bit tough," Joey shrugs, "with Michael Jackson and Bryan Adams albums coming out, so the record company decided to wait and push again in January and February."
EUROPE's breakthrough album "The Final Countdown" sold over a quarter of a million copies in Sweden, and over over five million worldwide. Its title track, built on a blaring, maddening keyboard riff, headed the singles charts all over the Continent in 1986, but brought with it problems. "It's both the best and the worst thing that ever happened to the band," Joey reflects. "Everything we do is compared to it. 'The Final Countdown' was called a pop thing but it's not, it's a rock song. When I wrote it, it was just a pure feeling from the soul. We didn't know that it was gonna become such a big hit. It's hard to establish credibility after a thing like that, because there were a lot of people buying that record who'd forget about us when the next new band came along. And after a hit like that, everything changes."
By 1988, when the next album, "Out of This World", was released, EUROPE were tax exiles. "I think 50 per cent tax is about right," argues keyboard player Mic Michaeli. "Sweden needs a good health and education program, so 50 per cent tax is okay, but we were being asked to pay 80 or 90 per cent, and still the health service is going down." Sounds familiar, EUROPE left Stockholm for the West Indies and have lived there for the past four years. "It's kind of an experiment," Joey explains. "I don't particularly like to stay there too long at one time. We live on the same island in two houses."
"We have the two houses and, uh... it's kinda hard to explain really," says a sheepish Kee. "We each have our own space there."
"Three guys live in one house and two live in the other, but we're not gonna tell you who lives in what house," Joey grins.
"Two of the guys are in love," chuckles drummer Ian Haugland.
"We have some recording equipment and guitars on the island," says Joey. "We dive and do some water sports, but, hey, in the long run it's pretty boring. Personally I'm more creative in Europe. Of course we miss Sweden; we lived here till we were about 25 and that has to put a mark in your life. Sweden is where we have our family, friends, roots. That's why we wrote 'Homeland' for the new album. 'Prisoners in Paradise' is about moving away from people you love and then asking yourself if it was worth it." Is it also about people always wanting more, however much they've already got? "Yeah, everybody's like that. If you have a dream, you always want more. And when you look back, you think, hey, maybe it was good the way it was. Somebody told me that 'Prisoners...' sounds like it's been influenced by Queen. If so, it's not deliberate, but of course, we listened to Queen a lot when we were younger. I was a bit angry at my mother recently. She never understood anything about Queen. I love her dearly, but when Freddie died, she started saying: 'Queen are rather good, aren't they?' What the fuck are you talking about?! Everybody starts liking Queen now, and we loved them for years before."
"It's kinda morbid, actually," sighs Kee. "Going back to the lyrics on the new album, I really like 'Girl from Lebanon' because it can be interpreted as both political and humanitarian."
"It could be a sex thing too," Joey winks. There seems to be more sex on the new EUROPE record. "Well, there's more about touring on the record," he smiles as Kee pisses himself laughing, "and, er... you get more encounters on tour." Spoken like a true king birder. Joey is surrounded by girls throughout the band's stay in Umeĺ. He chats politely with a pink-faced schoolgirl on the first night, and cops off with a gorgeous waitress on the second. "The girls in this country are fucking goddesses," drools Benny, a Millwall fan who sells EUROPE's merchandising on the road. Ever the opportunist, Benny is on hand to pull the waitress' friend, the spawny get.
"This is a traveling band, and the lyrics have been inspired by that. On 'The Final Countdown', the lyrics were more psychedelic, I think. The new lyrics are more straightforward. People in America wanted to stop us doing 'Girl from Lebanon', but that made us even more determined to put it on the album." Exactly which people tried to stop "Girl from Lebanon", Joey doesn't say. "It was in a park in Stockholm where a lotta people hang out and I met a girl from Lebanon. The song is mainly just a tribute to her. She explained about some of the problems of her homeland, but the situation is very complicated," he says, signaling the end of that subject.
"Bad Blood" is EUROPE's classic on-the-road song. "Kee and I wrote it in 15 minutes in a hotel room in Hollywood," recalls Joey. "We left the place a few weeks after that. We were sick of the place!" "Hollywood's too crazy!" Kee laughs and shakes his head. "I like the weather and some of the people in Los Angeles," Joey goes on. "I can have a good time there, but for bands it's not a good situation. Everyone's trying to sound like somebody else, but to be unique, you need isolation. In a town like Los Angeles it's very hard to remain isolated. Our producer Beau Hill wanted to record 'Prisoners in Paradise' in Los Angeles, in Burbank, so we paid that respect to him. Burbank is a bit calmer than Hollywood."
The album was mixed in Q-Sound, which creates on a regular stereo hi-fi a deeper perspective of sound; too much perspective, perhaps. "Q-Sound is all to do with the way the earlobe is constructed," Kee explains. "The reason you know where a sound is coming is because of the shape of the ear, it's kind of an out-of-phase thing. Beau knows the guys behind Q-Sound; Bob Ezrin, Bob Clearmountain and Jimmy Iovine. It just makes our album sound broader, puts some air in it."
"We're probably the first rock band to do a whole album in Q-Sound," reckons Joey, "But we didn't use it to the full extent like Madonna or Janet Jackson. They used it completely, full-out, and it's amazing - sounds are flying out from everywhere. We didn't want to scare away the rock audience, so all we did was pull out the guitars a little bit, spread them across a wider area. We didn't wanna make it too fancy. If we were Pink Floyd, it would be nice to use all that stuff, but we want people to be comfortable with the sound of the album. We never touched Q-Sound till the mix and used it mainly for intros. I don't know if Q-Sound's gonna become a big thing or not. I guess we're the guinea pigs," he laughs.
EUROPE began 1992 in the Hard Rock Café in Tokyo, celebrating the New Year with a food fight. On New Year's Eve they played at the Tokyo Dome as part of an annual Metal mini-fest, aptly-titled "The Final Countdown". Metallica headlined the show. EUROPE are a heavy rock band in the Deep Purple tradition, but are still perceived as a soft touch. This problem isn't helped by Epic, who have just released as the first single the lightest track on "Prisoners in Paradise," "I'll Cry for You". Joey smiles half-heartedly. "I would go with something heavier, but what can we do? It's a great song. The first two EUROPE albums are spontaneous hard rock music, very influenced by Rainbow, Thin Lizzy, UFO and MSG. 'The Final Countdown' was broader, and after that, we tried to find our way again. It's an endless search anyway. Sometimes you don't even know what you want."
Do you still want to be louder than Motörhead? "Yeah!" Kee roars. "When we meet Lemmy, we always tell him that. He's like: 'Yes, yes, I know!'"