This is a reunion I didn’t see coming. I doubt that any one outside of Sweden have a single clue who Universe were and truth be told, they never made that big a fuss over here either. Universe were formed in Upplands-Väsby, a suburb outside of Stockholm and the home of Europe and H.E.A.T., in 1982 so even though they played the same style of music as Europe, they never tried to copy them as they got started around the same time. As a matter of fact, Europe keyboardsman Mic Michaeli was a member of Universe when Europe stole him away from them in 1985. The band’s self titled debut album, released in 1985, didn’t exactly set the world on fire when it came out but today it’s looked upon as a cult-classic in Melodic Hard Rock circles. That album has been given a rerelease at the same time as they put out their reunion album. And as a reunion, this really is a reunion. The band have managed to recruit 5/6 of the original line-up, which is more than most “reunited” bands can brag with.
When neither original singer Kjell Wallén or Janne Åström who replaced Wallén in 1986, could participate the band – guitarists Michael Kling and Per Nilsson, bassist Hasse Hagman, drummer Anders Wetterström and keyboarder Freddy Kriström – went to former House Of Shakira singer Andreas Eklund to see if he might be interested to step in and luckily for the band, he was. Everyone who has ever heard Andreas sing knows that Universe Infinity hit the jackpot there. Universe Infinity, yes. Why add Infinity to the name then? Well, apparently the name Universe have been registered since the band called it quits and to avoid any lawsuits, they decided it was the best thing to do. Also, it marks the fact that this is a new-start. Their brand new album is made up mostly of new written material but also a few old demos have been given a new, updated look and are rerecorded on this album.
The album opens with leading single, the Swenglish titled “Start Give All Your Love”, a pretty smooth 80’s sounding Hard Rock tune that holds a huge AOR vibe. Or maybe it’s vice versa? Be that as it may, it’s a Melodic Rock tune with a gorgeous arrangement and a catchy and hit-friendly refrain. Very good. “Catch Of My Life” is a Melodic Rock tune with some meaty, early 80’s Hard Rock riffing, not a far cry from Europe’s first couple of albums in style where a slight 70’s vibe meets AOR-ish melodies. The refrain is pretty catchy and it is a good song albeit a bit standard. “Company’s Coming” is a bit rougher around the edge, heavier and with a more Rainbow / Deep Purple influence than an AOR one but still with a huge Melodic Rock vibe all over the track. A highly memorable chorus makes this tune a winner and the best track so far. “She Can’t Get Enough” is Melodic Rock on the heavier side that mixes 70’s Hard Rock influences with 80’s dito and the meaty guitar sound and the fat organ is the icing on the cake. Not very radio-friendly but still very memorable.
I remember hearing a demo of “Red Submarines” on Rock Box, a Swedish Rock radio show back in the mid 80’s and I liked it instantly. I actually still have it on a cassette somewhere. This is a rerecording, of course, but it really doesn’t sound that much different. This tune goes in an early Rising Force meets early Europe style, faster in pace and doesn’t hold any AOR twists. It’s a memorable tune but isn’t really single material. It’s a great song and I’m glad they finally put it out. “Born In Flames” is another mid 80’s Universe demo that have been rerecorded. This one is even sniffing around Heavy Metal, like Rainbow meets Iron Maiden, but I wouldn’t call it a Metal track. No, this is Hard Rock without any AOR vibes at all – a good song. The title track is also an old demo and this one’s not only rerecorded, it’s also slightly rewritten. It’s an in-your-face Hard Rock tune, pretty rough and kicking and it sounds very early 80’s. There’s a crowd roar put on the track for good measure as well. As a song, it’s ok but really nothing special.
“We Were Just Dancing” holds a drum intro similar to Europe’s “Cherokee” and fact is, this AOR influenced Melodic Rock tune is very reminiscent of Europe’s mid 80’s. But the tune do rock, hold some very memorable melodies and a great refrain. This is the best track so far. “Lady Luck” holds a big groove and a steady rhythm and the the whole tune is pretty ballsy. Style wise this is a 70’s influenced 80’s Hard Rock stomper and on top of that it ends with a kicking Metal jam – very good. Closing track “Streets Of Hate” begins with a “Smoke On The Water”-like riff and the whole tune really breathes Deep Purple. It holds a pumping and distinct rhythm and the whole thing is both melodic and very catchy – a very good closer.
Song wise, I think this is a really good album but style wise it sometimes feels like they don’t know which foot to stand upon. AOR? Melodic Rock? Hard Rock? 70’s? 80’s? Don’t get me wrong, I love it when bands tries to vary themselves but this album haven’t got a thread to bind everything together. Also, at times the record sounds somewhat dated and I get the feeling that some songs – and parts of others – maybe should have been touched up some more. I can’t say it annoys me much though. On the good side, this record doesn’t contain any bad tracks even though there are too few of them that really grabs me. After giving the debut another spin for the first time since it came out, I can easily say that I like this record better – and Andreas Eklund really is a great singer!
1. Start Give All Your Love
2. Catch Of My Life
3. Company’s Coming
4. She Can’t Get Enough
5. Red Submarines
6. Born In Flames
7. Rock Is Alive
8. We Were Just Dancing
9. Lady Luck
10. Streets Of Hate