Like most people, when I hear the name Europe, I think of “The Final Countdown”. It's a song that has become so ubiquitous that it's hard for any band to escape that kind of legacy. Some will try, most will fail, and the public consciousness will never be altered. “The Final Countdown” would not be a bad legacy; having a hit rarely is. The problem comes that if you are a certain age, which I am, the sitcom “Arrested Development” has ruined that song forever. It became such an integral part to the running joke that hearing the song now brings back more memories of the show and the comedy than anything Europe ever did.
Europe has always soldiered on, however, and they return this time with “War Of Kings”, an album that will completely overturn everything you think you know about the band. The days of being a cheesy, synth-driven, unbelievably dated 80s band are long since gone. “War Of Kings”, if you didn't see the name on the cover, would easily be confused for a Deep Purple album. I say that with the highest of compliments.
Europe has abandoned any pretense of their past here, digging deeper into the bands that inspired them to play in the first place. There is more than a heavy dose of Deep Purple in these songs, both in the way the riffs recall Ritchie Blackmore's signature style, and in the lush sound of the Hammond organ that dominates these songs. If you're going to have keyboards in hard rock, this is how you do it. The Hammond is such a powerful instrument that it instantly makes these songs sound both heavier and more timeless than they could on their own.
Speaking of the songs, Europe delivers in spades. The title track kicks things off with a slinky riff, a wash of organs, and Joey Tempest's gravelly vocals delivering a hard rock chorus straight out of the late 70s. You just don't hear this kind of music being made anymore, and when bands try it, they can't pull it off. Europe can, and that is what makes this album something special.
There are a handful of songs here that are extraordinary, including the title track, “Rainbow Bridge”, and “California 405”, which does a striking job of mirroring the feeling of a summer-time drive down the coastline with the top down. They are songs that could get laughed off for being too simple, until you realize an hour later that it's been buried in your head and playing on repeat the whole time. True power lays in simplicity, and Europe doesn't throw more into the mix than necessary.
Sure, there are a few songs here that don't work quite as well, but even they still bristle with the power of classic rock. The band says that they have finally made the Europe album they have always wanted to, and if that is indeed true, I want to know what took them so long?
Europe has had a nice career, that's for sure, but they've never made an album that sounds like this. It was hard in the 80s to escape the reverb-drenched tones that guaranteed hits, but in the years since there must have been opportunities to reinvent themselves like this. All I know is that if Europe had been making records like this all along, people wouldn't still be flocking to see Deep Purple play the same hits for the umpteenth time (no disrespect intended), and people certainly wouldn't treat Europe with a bit of comedic derision.
An album like “War Of Kings” is classic rock through and through, and it's a damn good one. Forget about whatever bands are on the radio now and listen to Europe. Seriously. This is the future of hard rock.