Released: May 26, 1986 by Epic Records
Time can do funny things to music. The Final Countdown was a big fat hit when it was released worldwide in 1986, the third album overall but first outside of their homeland for a band of Swedish hard rockers who were, by their own admission, still figuring out their own sound. The album charted four singles on the Billboard Hot 100, including two in the top 10, and produced a verified smash with the keyboard heavy anthem that was the title track. But that was 1986.
After the departure of guitarist John Norum during the tour to support the album the band slipped farther away from their Eurometal routes and saw increasingly diminished returns. They broke up in 1992 before resurrecting themselves back in Europe in 2003. In that regard their career is similar to that of dozens of other bands of their era: brief success, loss of credibility, new life as a niche act. What makes Europe a little different than the others is that aforementioned thing called “time”. You see, while they’ve been enjoying the fruits of new labors in lands far away from America, “The Final Countdown” has received a resurgence of its own, although it’s difficult to say whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. (Okay, from a sales standpoint it’s a good thing). Because while it was an honest-to-God hit in its original run, its return to mainstream acceptance has been clouded by that dreaded thing called “ironic appreciation”. Call it The Curse of The Hipster Generation if you will. Pro wrestler Bryan Danielson began using the song as his entrance theme back in 2005, but while in truth it is a song absolutely tailor-made for that purpose, Danielson himself was seen as somewhat of a nerd within the macho confines of wrestling. It didn’t help that his choice of song was seen as a dorky nod to former rival CM Punk’s use of another 80’s anthem – Living Colour’s “Cult Of Personality” – a few months earlier. Around the same time the song was given new life courtesy of the TV show Arrested Development when magician and perennial fuck-up GOB Bluth used it as part of his act. Again, given the character’s treatment as little more than a clueless putz, it’s hard to tell whether the song was being used with any sort of reverence or more with an air of, “can you believe people liked this?”. All of which clouds the mind when trying to evaluate the song, the album and indeed the band itself when it comes to The Final Countdown.
For my own part, I still find it to be a solid if even under-appreciated album of radio-friendly but surprisingly muscular rock. Sure, the keyboards play a bigger role than the band’s previous two albums (a fact which is more than a little responsible for Norum’s leaving the band soon after its release), but the guitars are still there and when given the room, really shine. The song-writing can feel a little basic at times too, but in 1986 this kind of hard rock was still coming into its own, so it’s not like Europe was pumping out unoriginal filler. “Rock The Night” may not be the work of lyrical poets, but it does in fact rock pretty hard, and “Carrie” is a perfect template for power ballads everywhere, relying on emotion to take it soaring well above its rather pedestrian song structure. For what the band lacks in originality it makes up for in skill. Vocalist Joey Tempest has a voice that might suit him well on Broadway, but he manages to keep it rocking in ways where others like him fail. Too often guys with operatic voices get overly showy and try to prove something that needn’t be proved. Tempest is a rock singer who wants to be a rock singer, regardless of how many octaves he can hit. Sure, his voice is a little too pretty at times for some of the songs (“Danger On The Track” springs to mind), but that’s something that can’t really be helped. He gives it a hint of grit without trying to force it and he never does disservice to the song.
Then there’s guitarist John Norum, a man without a lot of name recognition outside of ardent hard rock circles who deserves more attention than he gets. He put together a very solid solo career (which I’ll review going forward) and was really the backbone of the first two Europe albums. Here he’s pushed back by the keyboards to much for my taste (and his), but he stills fleshes out some tremendous riffs and burns off more than a few epic solos. His two-part lead break on “The Time Has Come” is something right out the Neal Schon playbook (the first half Neal would have built a whole song around had he written it).
Europe was a very talented band who hit it big at just the right time and faded away with equally good timing. Their possibly ironic revival casts a weird shadow over their most successful album, but it doesn’t diminish what a tremendous record it was. And in the end, even to be appreciated ironically necessitates being remembered and appreciated enough to be brought back, and that’s the best that any musician can hope for.
ALBUM RATING: 7
4) Danger On The Tracks
8) Heart Of Stone
9) On The Loose
10) Love Chaser
Joey Tempest (V), John Norum (G), John Leven (B), Mic Michaeli (K), Ian Haugland (D)
Produced by Kevin Elson.