There’s a plausible – and widely accepted – theory that an artist’s entire career can be defined by their debut album, and that everything that follows is merely a variation on the same theme.
This could well have been argued as the case with Europe, whose 5 albums from 1980 to 1991 were all clearly stamped out from the same template. However, when the band emerged in 2004 from a 13 year sabbatical, holding ‘Start From The Dark’ aloft, claiming to have ditched the keyboards and rediscovered hard rock, there were many doubters. In the event, as many rock aficionados will testify, the album proved to be an audacious, risk taking – and very successful – post modern dive into murky musical waters.
Eight years later, the transition is complete. In order to move forward they’ve tracked back to the infinitely fertile ground of seventies’ rock. The sound, style and passion of ’Bag Of Bones’ echoes the originality of that era, in itself deeply rooted in the Blues. It‘s commanding and convincing, simultaneously mainlining into the hip’n’happenin excitement of contemporary Rock music. No mean feat.
Like a number of today’s young guns, Airbourne, Kissin Dynamite and The Answer for example, Europe delve into classic rock with skill and affection – there are many glittering Led Zeppelin references, some woven through the sturdy fabric of songs like the intense, dancing in the dust ‘Firebox’ and the raggedy acoustic howl of ‘Drink And A Smile’, and others lighting up the sturm and drang of ‘Not Supposed To Sing The Blues’ and ‘Mercy You, Mercy Me’. Kevin Shirley’s edgy, expansive sound defies the straitjacket of the genre, ensuring that these songs are dark and deep, yet gleaming with newly minted urgency. John Norum’s axe work, nimble, powerful, gets in quick, punches hard then gets out again. An object lesson in how to do it and get it right. Leven, Michaeli and Haugland lay down a solid bedrock on which these bluesy, hardrock edifices are erected – milestones leading confidently from the band’s past into an optimistic future.
Highlights elsewhere include ‘Doghouse’, a song that captures that rock / pop crossover magic in much the same way as Pete Townshend and the Who did in the sixties and seventies. Tempest, something of a revelation on this recording, croons with emotional authority on the sweet and soulful ‘Bring It All Home’, a quietly epic piano ballad that cleverly cuts against the album’s grain.
‘Bag Of Bones’ is clearly a look back in rock’s rear view mirror, and that is what will get the attention here, but it is a contemporary spirit, crackling through the music like electricity, that brings it alive. And ultimately, that is what makes it so memorable.
Rated 8 out of 10