Monday, November 30, 2009

Europe - The Final Countdown / Asia - Only Time Will Tell

Shut up. You love them too. I just have the balls to admit it openly.

It's been postulated that bands with place names make really crappy music, and the larger the place referenced, the worse. Boston. Kansas. America. Europe. Asia. (Hedwig said exhausts her.) For the most part, I agree, although most of these bands have come up with at least one ace up their sleeve. Most Boston fans adore "More Than A Feeling," but "Amanda" is much more my speed. Kansas...meh. America can turn over it its grave for all I care. But these last two? Yowzah.

Back in 1986, yours truly was just officially leaving childhood behind, finishing off 5th grade and becoming an official member of the Boy Scouts, Troop 457. And HO boy...impressionable? Just for starters. At that time, I just craved some sort of Meaningful Anthem to rock out to, and with which I could bond with my new comrades in khaki and olive drab. Enter Europe. And damn, did they deliver. "The Final Countdown" just hit me in the heart and the gut.

The opening synthesizer riff - all 20 notes of it - really could have been all of the song, and I would have loved it forevermore. The minor chords just screamed out valor, bravery, bonding, striving, strength, power. In a rather high and mighty Viking sort of manner. (Makes sense, since these guys hailed from Sweden, right?) And without saying a word.

But then the singer had to open his trap and begin yowling some of the most laughable lyrics imaginable - about leaving an apocalyptic, dying Earth behind and looking for a new planet to live on. In other words, absolutely perfect sci-fi source material for such a ponderous tune. "We're headed for Venus/And still we stand tall..." Let me stop right there. That striving? That bonding? That bravery? Right there, in full effect. "Cause maybe they've seen us/And welcome us all." Oh geez. Botched grammar, even. But you know? The song would be wrong without it, almost as if Elvis back in the day had sung "You aren't anything but a hound dog." It's the absurdity and pompousness that elevates this song to utter classic status.

"The Final Countdown" is among the guiltiest of pleasures ever created, but it owes quite the debt to Asia's "Only Time Will Tell," an insanely addictive slice of prog pop heaven. I mean, that song. That anthemic synth riff. The slamming cowbell. Those soaring, pealing guitars. Those powerful harmonies. And those overly serious lyrics about infidelity that verge on parody. As a kid, I had absolutely no idea what they meant. I just knew that the song resonated in me and turned me to mush - but not before I demanded that the radio be turned up louder. The video wasn't half-bad, either...for pre-Thriller 1982, at least.

Some consider Asia, the album that birthed "Only Time Will Tell," alongside "Heat of the Moment" and "Sole Survivor," the last dying gasp of the AOR movement. Not even close. Europe grabbed the torch from Asia's hands and carried it, if only for one more album. Whitesnake held down the trashy, slutty, but defiantly adult corner of the market; "Is This Love" and "Here I Go Again" were the two must-hears. Queensryche also soldiered on beyond that; Empire and Operation: Mindcrime were damned good albums, and if nothing else, the epic "Silent Lucidity" deserves to be heard by a new generation. I'd argue that any semblance of AOR was killed off - along with the rest of '80s hair metal and happy peppy pop - singlehandedly by Nirvana in late 1991. (Well, maybe not entirely - Rush is still kickin' around somewhere, right?) But man, it'd be great to hear a resurgence of AOR, hair metal, prog rock...whatever you want to call it. Guilty pleasures, all.

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