November 2, 2006

CD Review: Europe - Secret Society

I have not listened to anything Europe related in a long time, but do I have some memories of the band. They were one of the first bands that I listened to when I got into music so many years ago. My attraction to their tunes was due in no small favor to their radio staples like "Rock the Night," "Carrie," and the anthemic "The Final Countdown." They epitomized the pop rock era of the 80's, complete with the melodic guitarwork, catchy hooks, and strong singing. In the 1990's I moved on to heavier and grungier fare, leaving Europe and many of the other children of the 80s. Over the past few years, I have reconnected with some of those early favorites. This new release from the recently reunited original lineup is bringing me back to the fold.

Secret Society displays a new Europe. They are still the band that I knew so many years ago, but there is something different. There is a more mature sound to the new songs, and I am not quite sure that I really like it. There are some good songs, but nothing strikes me as being as instantly catchy and memorable as tracks from Wings of Tomorrow, The Final Countdown, and Europe were.

Then....This new millenium finds the band with downtuned guitars and radio ready singles. There is a much more serious aura surrounding these new songs, at times bordering on the somber. The tracks grow on you, but I did not find any of them sticking around long enough me to start singing on my own.

I like the heavier riffs that are scattered around, but it strikes me that they are replacing some of the great leadwork that John Norum displayed on those early albums. I admit to not being impressed with much of the leads played. I always liked those old Norum solos, and while there are a few that sound decent, nothing like the old days. Also, Joey Tempest's range seems to be much more limited now. That is to be expected, it has been over twenty years since their first release, he isn't a teenager anymore. Still, while he still possesses a good voice, he does not seem to be as invested this time around. The overall dramatics that the band used seem to be gone, in favor of the straight up mature rock sound.

.....NowThe good thing is that Europe is not just trying to recapture the past by producing an album that sounds like a Europe cover band. That also happens to be a bad thing. The trademark hooks and melodies that played an integral part to their popularity are absent here. Perhaps my problem is that I am clinging to those early songs too much, looking for an album that is modern sounding while retaining the 80's staples. You can't have it both ways, and I think that is why many of these older bands have a hard time trying to find their way back into the modern scene. They are so strongly associated with the bygone era that it is near impossible to break through those expectations. Europe has succeeded in crafting a good album, but will it be able to find an audience?

The first single is "Always Pretending," a song that features an upbeat rocking sound that does a good job of introducing you to their new sound. Other highlights include the somber "Wish I Could Believe," the epic "Let the Children Play" with its Pink Floyd-esque touches, and the rock groove of "Human After All."

Bottomline. This isn't the same Europe, it is the grown up Europe for a new millenium. While not quite as memorable as the songs of old, it is a solid collection of music for a band that is showing that they still have something left. I, for one, am glad to know they are still around.

Mildly Recommended.
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