Reynolds From: Kerrang
Swedish strutters EUROPE are set to return with
their first album for three long years - the "bastard-good"
"Prisoners in Paradise" - and an avowed intention not to be regarded
as pouting poodle permed pop rockers any more. Dave Reynolds talks to guitarist
Kee Marcello about the forthcoming record, "the finest the qunitet has ever
made"... and only manages to mention the dreaded three words "(The
Final Countdown") once!
If you're one of those people who see EUROPE as nothing more than a bunch of poodle permed pop stars who have nothing more to give the world than "The Final Countdown", then it really is time to think again.
The Swedes - vocalist Joey Tempest, guitarist Kee Marcello, bassist John Levén, drummer Ian Haugland and keyboard player Mic Michaeli, described by a raving Derek Oliver as being "louder than Motörhead" - are about to unleash their first album in three years. Titled "Prisoners in Paradise", I reckon it's the best album the quintet has ever made... even though I only had an advance cassette for a mere five days before some bastard stole it, along with the BMW belonging to Nottingham Rock City DJ Andy Copping that it was in at the time!
But five days' worth of playing time was enough to convince me that the album is quite frankly a bit of a masterpiece - and Kee Marcello obviously agrees.
"We're very proud of the record," he tells me from the New York offices of Sony Music (once known as CBS / Epic). "But we felt that it took much too long to put together. We were writing songs for two years - even before we played at Milton Keynes with Bon Jovi, Skid Row and Vixen in the summer of 1989 - because we really wanted to put together something very special. Funnily enough, we spent very little time in the studio. The record was done in under three months even though it was actually mixed twice."
Why? Weren't you happy with it the first time?
"Not really. What happened was that we had originally recorded 14 songs before going on a tour of Asia late last year. When we came back we decided to record four more songs. Out of the total of 18 songs we had the hard task of choosing the 12 to go on the finished product. When we'd chosen the 12, we decided to mix them again to bring them all up to the same standard in quality."
"Prisoners in Paradise" was produced by the now legendary Beau Hill, a man responsible for the likes of Ratt, Winger and Streets, to name just three. Hill was previously a band member himself with Airborne and then Shanghai, before taking up a more lucrative career behind the desk. When I spoke to Euro-frontman Joey Tempest for a "Kerrang! Mayhem" piece last October, the popular frontman remarked how happy he was to be working with Hill. Almost a year on, had such feelings changed?
"Not at all!" laughs Kee. "It was fantastic to work with Beau. I'd be lying if I said we hadn't been warned about him by other people beforehand. We'd been told that he cut down on guitar on the records he worked on, that he was in absolute radio heaven and that he must be in charge the whole time - but he wasn't like that at all with us. In effect he became the sixth member of the band. I think it was to our credit that we had the advantage of being a successful band already, but it was clear early on that Beau felt the same vibes as us. And he's very perceptive. He knew that we needed more guitars and that we didn't want to be pushed around. And he knew too that we certainly don't want to be this pop band everybody seems to think we are."
"We talked to a lot of producers, Terry Thomas and Bob Rock included, but the reason we went with Beau was because he really wanted the job. We knew he was the guy for us when he made a point of coming down to see us play a 'secret' gig at the Whiskey in Hollywood, because he's a guy who really doesn't need to work at all now. But he was really into working with us and it worked out really well."
As I stated earlier in this piece, "Prisoners..." is the best album EUROPE have ever made, so the decision to take so long in putting the songs together has paid off big time. The title track, for example (the first single in America), has a real Queen feel about it, while others, such as the bastard-good "Halfway to Heaven", come across like Van Halen jamming with Styx. Meanwhile, Mic Michaeli comes up with all sorts of fiddly bits to keep interest at a constant high.
"The Queen comparison with regard to the single has come up an awful lot with the people who've heard it so far," admits Kee. "But we didn't do it on purpose. That's where our influences come from, I guess, with the three harmony guitar parts. It's actually the song we spent the most time on. A lot of Mic's work on the record reminds me of old Emerson, Lake And Palmer, but I can see the Styx angle."
"Overall I think the record is really clear and well defined, and I just love the real rockers like 'All or Nothing'. The funny thing is that doing that album has given us tremendous inspiration to write more songs. We're already putting new material together, so I can guarantee that it won't take us three years to record the next album!"
To hear Kee talk about things at the moment is a far cry from the days when I used to encounter him in the ultra-Glam times of 1984 when Hanoi Rocks were doing their thing in the clubs and Wrathchild looked like becoming the biggest thing in British rock music for years.
Kee was a member of Swedish Glam tarts East Action, who had relocated to London in the wake of the Hanoi buzz and the cult success of their first (and best) album. Kee, like the rest of EUROPE, now lives in the Caribbean, but in 1984 he had no money and was living in a sleazy one-room apartment in Bayswater and hanging out in such long-lost dives as the Valley of the Dolls just off Carnaby Street with members of Specimen.
"You remember those days well! Yeah, I didn't have a penny! When Easy Action first came over to London, we stayed at Ultravox' Rusty Egan's place, but we ended up having to leave. Those days were tough but kinda fun to look back on."
Did you ever get any joy from the law suit Easy Action made against Poison for ripping off the chorus of the ES song "We Go Rockin'" to make "I Want Action", a track off "Look What the Cat Dragged in"?
"Yeah, we got some money as it was decided in our favor that they had ripped off 'We Go Rockin'' when they wrote 'I Want Action'. If you listen to the songs back to back, you'll see that we had a point to make."
One to try at home there, kids!
But back to EUROPE. The quintet plan to visit the UK in the next couple of months for a serious bout of promotional work before returning in December or January '92 for live dates. And Kee informs me into the bargain that they'd love to do the odd club gig, so don't rule out the Marquee yet. EUROPE are back on song.