Review Summary: A masterclass in cheesiness.
A helicopter sweeps over the Swedish fjords. Some hovering sound effects are heard, and after a few seconds a keyboard line comes in. Thus beginneth one of the most infamous videos of all time, and thus a promising career was forever destroyed.
The song in question is of course The Final Countdown
, title track and lead single of rockers Europe’s sophomore effort. What was supposed to be a mere presentation for an upcoming album quickly turned into legendary cheese, turning up to this day whenever VH1 cranks out a “Worst Of…” list. And still, Europe didn’t deserve it…maybe.
The truth was, the band just didn’t lend itself to much credibility. Maybe it was the poodle haircuts, the over-pompous keyboards of Mic Michaeli, or the falsetto voice of singer Joey Tempest, but the truth was that it was easy to laugh at Europe. However, behind all the cheesiness lurked a good rock band, capable of good hooks and above-average musicianship.
And notice that I said rock, not hard rock. This may, in fact, be one of the problems of The Final Countdown
: the mislabelling of the band’s genre. Europe weren’t a hard rock band, and this wasn’t a hard rock album. Later on in their career, the band would make a straightforward hard rock album (1991’s Prisoners in Paradise
), but here, they were little more than a typical radio pop-rock band from the period. Sure, you do get heavy riffs and technical solos on Rock The Night
and On The Loose
, and Carrie
is the epitome of the 80’s hair ballad; but tracks such as Ninja
, Time Has Come
or the title track itself are closer to the synthesised pop that invaded the airwaves during that entire decade.
That’s not to say this is a bad record. Cheesy as they may be, the compositions here are nearly all top-notch. In fact – and ironically enough – The Final Countdown
itself is one of the weaker tracks on here. It is also a sort of odd-man-out, having very little in common with the remaining nine tracks on the album. It’s as though once you pass the first track you are listening to an entirely different album - and a better one as well. Sure, reviewing The Final Countdown
without recommending its title track may be like reviewing frank'n'beans and leaving out the beans. But believe me - if you skip the first track, you'll enjoy the album a whole lot more.
Europe’s influences aren't hard to peg – think Bon Jovi with a gay singer, and you’d be pretty close. However, the band do not limit themselves to the softer side of glam rock – the keyboards intro on Cherokee
owes as much to Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days
as it does to Van Halen’s Jump
. On The Loose
, on the other hand, could have been a fluffy piece of light heavy metal were it not for the over-processed vocals and keyboard on the chorus. However, these more than respectable influences are weighed down by a dose of cheese that would shame even Styx.
Most of the cheesiness comes from the keyboards, as stated above; however, some of the responsibility must be attributed to singer Joey Tempest. The man is, pure and simply, one of the gayest vocalists ever to walk the Earth. His constant falsettos are entertaining at first, but become grating in the long run. Plus, the abundant quality of “ooooh’s” and “yeah-heahs” contained in these ten songs indicate a significant amount of vocal wankery, matched only by Michaeli’s cheese-fest.
The rest of the band is just fine – poor Ian Hauglund and Jón Léven barely get a chance to shine, but guitarist Kee Marcello shows off his chops on every song, without ever overdoing it. In fact, every track on here is graced with a technical, shredding solo, befitting of a heavier album than this one. For rock/metal fans, Marcello will undoubtedly be the high point of The Final Countdown
Less demanding fans may enjoy the songwriting, too. There aren’t any openly offensive tracks on here, apart from plodding quasi-ballad Time Has Come
. However, there aren’t that many standout moments, either. The more obvious choices would be Cherokee
– a whopper of a radio-rock track, where even the cheese is irresistible – and Rock The Night
, which may be the most enjoyable song for hard-rock fans. Heart of Stone
– a glam-rock track with radio pretensions – may also make for an interesting listen for casual rock fans.
However, even these two songs suffer from one major problem: chorus over-usage. Basically, Europe don’t have a whole lot to say in these songs, so they resort to repeating the chorus over and over. Even storytelling tracks like Cherokee
and Danger on The Track
do not escape this evil; and while this may be beneficial for Europe’s radio exposure, it’s annoying for someone looking for meaningful lyrics. Declared, unabashed fillers like Time Has Come
and Love Chaser
don’t help matters any, either.
Still, don’t get me wrong – this album has its charms. It may amount to little more than a master-class in cheesiness, but I’ll be a dog’s rear end if it doesn’t make for a pleasant listen. It’s not high art by any means – and most metalheads wouldn’t touch it with a two-hundred-foot pole – but it may be a worthy buy or download for the more open-minded rockers out there.
Just to finish this off, let me add that this was the hardest rating I ever gave. Normally, an album with this rate of good-to-bad songs would be an easy 4. Still, the degree of cheesiness brings this one down a notch. Somehow, I just cannot bring myself to rate this higher than a 3.5. So there.
Rock The Night
Heart of Stone