It was back in the late 80’s / early 90’s that us Swedes first heard of blonde bombshell Erika, then with Norberg as her last name. She had become Yngwie Malmsteen’s new girlfriend and since everybody and their mother in Sweden knows who Yngwie Malmsteen is, Erika’s face was pretty much everywhere as well. But Erika wasn’t just a someone’s girlfriend or wife – she did marry Yngwie later on – she was also a singer. In 1990 she was all over the radio with her AOR song “Together We Lost”, a single that outsold Yngwie by far. The song was an enormous hit and so was the follow-up “Hurting So Bad”, which made her debut album Cold Winter Night go platinum and Erika went from Yngwie’s wife to superstar in her own right. Because even though Erika wasn’t (and still isn’t) Ann Wilson or Robin Beck as a vocalist, she had (and still has) a good voice with a very personal sound – you can hear that it’s Erika singing by the first word – and the album is actually really good. Yes, I write is because even though the production might be somewhat dated, the music still holds up. The follow-up album was called In The Arms Of A Stranger and came out in 1991. The title track became a hit – rightfully so because it’s a great song – but the album didn’t sell as well as its predecessor and again, rightfully so, because it’s just not as strong. After that, the Swedish audience lost interest in Erika and since there never was a world-wide launch of her, she pretty much faded away. Also, grunge had become the new hip and Erika’s music was totally out of date. In 1992 she divorced Yngwie after only one year of marriage and she later married singer / songwriter / producer Richard Evenlind and stayed so for the better part of the 90’s. But she didn’t stop making records – in 1993 came Lady Luck, in 1997 came Planet X and in 1998 came Ripe, but the latter was only released in Japan. However, not many was interested anymore and after 1998, no new music has been released by Erika, only re-releases of her two first records and a compilation album, Super Trax, also in 1998.
But since melodic rock, AOR, glam and sleaze saw a new dawn in the middle of the new millennium after years of grunge and nu-metal domination and since almost every old and classic band reunited, it wasn’t really a shocker that an artist like Erika would come up for air sooner or later as well. Now middle-aged, still a bombshell and now with Wagenius as her last name, Erika decided on a come back and after her last three somewhat musically confused albums, at least I had hoped that she would go back and make the music that once made her popular, although in an updated 2016 version. And judging by the musicians and songwriters involved (Mic Michaeli (Europe), Johan Flodqvist (Poodles), Tommy Denander, Peter Rooth, to name a few), that is what could be expected. But still, the involvement by Jesper Strömblad (In Flames) and Leif Edling (Candlemass, Avatarium, Abstrakt Algebra), spoke of the opposite. Interesting to say the least.
When the heavy riffing that opens the album in “Killer” bursts loose, I start to wonder if I have the right album in my speakers. This I had not expected. But the softer verses and the very catchy chorus tells me that, yes, this is Erika. I recognize her voice instantly and the melody takes me back to her AOR days. But the song is really heavy and the mix of AOR and metal really works. But the sound is horrible, it sounds like a demo. “Heroes Of Heartbreak” is a straight forward hard rocker on the melodic side. Both verses and refrain are really memorable and catchy and this one could very well go down great live. “Suckerpunch” also brings out some heavy metal riffing, but the song’s foundation and arrangements are pure pop. Again, the mix is really cool and the song sticks right of the bat – well done! “Drama” is a dark and heavy ballad, really damn good. But what’s up with the backing vocals here? It sounds horrible. Did they forget about them when the album was mixed? With “Hearts Gone Bad” we’re on a time machine ride right back to 1990 – this song could have been off one of her two first albums, although with a more updated sound. Very good this one and I smell a hit. “Sleeping With A Memory” is clearly single material. It’s a straight forward melodic rock song with a chorus to die for – hit alert once more. Hey, “Once Upon A Time”, 1990 just called and wanted its sound back. Yes, this one really makes me think of those golden days, albeit a bit heavier. Great song, very memorable. On the heavy rocker – yes the metal riffs are back here – “Go Down”, Erika is talking, well down-going, “let me show you how its done”, she smirks and it’s cool that a woman finally is able to get down n’ dirty lyrically. Dirty lyrics are way too male oriented so thumbs up on that. The song itself is ok, but not one of the best tunes on the record. “Us Fools” is a classic power ballad picked up straight out of 1988, but it’s a bit on the dark and heavy side. Still a power ballad – and a really good one too. “One For The Road” is early 90’s melodic pop-rock in a more updated and modern suit and yes, I dig this, I do have a weak spot for this kind of song. “Start Your Engine” is a classic good time early 90’s melodic rocker straight off a wet night at the Sunset Strip – great. Erika closes the album with the record’s real sore thumb – yes, “Warhoney” really is the odd song out – but what a great song it is. Leif Edling of Candlemass wrote it and when Erika put her stamp on it, we got some AOR-doom our way. Those two really shouldn’t mix, but they do here – how cool. It’s my favorite song on the album.
As far as the songs go, so far, so good. If I was to judge this record ONLY by the quality of the tunes, it would probably gotten a high rating, but unfortunately, this album has its problems – some major ones. See, the production here is horrible, a complete mess, on the border to unlistenable. The mixing – if there actually is a mix here – is one big pile of mud. Erika’s vocals is really, really high and sounds unproduced. And so are the drums – way to high in the mix. There are some keyboards that makes themselves audible, but the guitars and the bass sounds like they are fighting each other to be heard. I don’t get it, didn’t anyone listen to the album before it went to the master – again, if there is one? I mean, here’s a bunch of really damn good songs and this album is supposed to be Erika’s come back and they release it like this! Now, it must be said that I am no sound nerd, no audio nazi that put my headphones on and try to find mistakes just to prove how much I know about sound scapes and so on, quite the contrary, I have a tendency to let stuff slide – it doesn’t have to sound perfect for me. But this is just too much. The production has almost ruined this album completely. Someone involved should just take the masters of this album, give it to Chris Laney or Tobias Lindell or some engineer and give it a good re-mix and re-master and re-release the whole thing – quick! This is just too sad – this album had all the chances to become a killer. That said, if this production stuff is overkill for you and stuff like a crap production doesn’t bother you (think about it, Ron Nevison’s productions has sold millions…), then there are some damn good songs here. If the mix of AOR and metal sounds like blast, then don’t hesitate to buy this.
2. Heroes Of Heartbreak
5. Hearts Gone Bad
6. Sleeping With A Memory
7. Once Upon A Time
8. Go Down
9. Us Fools
10. One For The Road
11. Start Your Engine