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Nearly three years since Europe's critically acclaimed 'Last Look at Eden' album arrives its successor, 'Bag of Bones'. One could be forgiven for believing they've turned towards Stephen King for thematic inspiration judging by the cover art which seems to depict an author in turmoil, surely a reference to his novel of the same name where its protagonist is suffering from writer's block. Apparently not though, this is but mere coincidence (or a misjudgement on the part of the artist who's brief might only have been to design artwork based on the 'Bag of Bones' title so erroneously believed it to be a King reference). So, King-inspired it is not but the album delves head-on into the bluesier/classic rock territory hinted at on Europe's previous full length. Whereas its predecessor balanced out the modern with the retro, this time around the bias is most definitely weighted towards the retro but with minor contemporary infusions. So, in one sense, this is something of a progression and regression for the Swedes. They've gone back to their roots - not of their own albums but classic rock of yore and the bands who provided them with inspiration in the first place. However, 'Bag of Bones' is far from plagiaristic, and it's beyond mere pastiche too, as songs are skilfully crafted compositions in their own right with a sonically autonomous identity that's instantly recognisable as Europe. I guess that's largely to do with Joey Tempest's inimitable rock voice which has never sounded better, and guitarist John Norum's distinctive fretboard work. Apart from the high standard of songwriting and its execution, most impressive is the raw, energetic vibe that drives each track, almost as if songs have been written with the live performance in mind. I guess this is explicable by the fact the album was recorded mainly live in the studio and this has indubitably worked in its favour. And produced/mixed by famed knob twiddler Kevin Shirley, it sounds fantastic. One bizarre, random thing though is the almost misplaced half a minute long orchestrated instrumention that is 'Requiem' at track five. A great piece of music but it does temporarily and unnecessarily break the flow of the songs. I gather it was composed in the studio during recording down-time and its inclusion on the album was at Shirley's insistence so what can you say? Overall, though, 'Bag of Bones' is a fine slab of modern-edged, blues-tinged classic rock.
Review by Mark Holmes
30th April 2012
1) Riches To Rags
2) Not Supposed to Sing the Blues
3) Firebox
4) Bag of Bones
5) Requiem
6) My Woman My Friend
7) Demon Head
8) Drink and a Smile
9) Doghouse
10) Mercy You Mercy Me
11) Bring It All Home
"...this is something of a progression and regression for the Swedes. They've gone back to their roots - not of their own albums but classic rock of yore..."