Ever since I first laid my eyes (and ears) on Kee Marcello and his then band, the glam rocking Easy Action, in an obscure documentary that featured a concert with the band some 30+ years ago that Swedish television broadcasted for some weird reason, I have been a huge fan of his guitar playing. Why they showed that documentary is still not clear because back in 1984, Swedish television wasn’t that big on viewing hard rock at all, but they did. Me, I wasn’t an Easy Action before that, quite the contrary. I knew about them because they had been featured quite heavily in Sweden’s biggest youth magazine (a mag that wrote about all kinds of music, TV series and movies) and some of the members came from a very big pop band called Noice (yes, that’s how they spelled it) and I hated Noice, so I didn’t care for Easy Action one bit. But that changed after said documentary – I became a major fan right there and then. Easy Action later turned from a glam rock band with big Sweet, Bowie and Alice Cooper influences into an AOR band where the influences were more Journey and Toto (and a change of singer from Zinny Zan (later Shotgun Messiah) to Tommy Nilsson) and that version released the very underrated second album That Makes One in 1986. But by then, John Norum had left Europe and that band hired Marcello just weeks before the release of That Makes One. They way I see it, Europe became a better band with Marcello and if Kee had been showing off his guitar playing skills pre-Europe, the two albums he released with the band – Out Of This World (1988) and Prisoners In Paradise (1991, an album we’ll get back to in this review) – really put him on the map as a world-class player among the greats. But Europe split when grunge came knocking and Kee went back to Sweden with a cocaine habit and a new band, Red Fun, that bombed completely. A bit unfair, since Red Fun were a really good band.
Since then, Kee is working as a solo artist and has released four solo albums prior to this one, all different to each other. The first one, Shine On (1995) was a more stripped, singer/song writer type of album with some pop and rock influences, sound wise a sign of the times. I think it’s a great album although it wasn’t what I had expected. The second one, Melon Demon Divine (2004) – released under the moniker Kee Marcello’s K2 – was a more heavy and aggressive give and there were even some alternative vibes present. But he also managed to squeeze in both blues and AOR in that album, making it diverse and interesting and unpredictable, never letting the listener know what to expect – a killer record! After that Kee went on a seven-year hiatus, cleaning up his act before releasing the somewhat confused and disoriented Redux: Europe, an album full of re-recorded Europe tracks (and one Easy Action song) as his come back in 2011, when he also released his biography “The Rock Star God Forgot”. I wasn’t sure what to think when he released it, but three years later let us all know that he was back for real with the great Judas Kiss record leaving the unfocused Europe debacle in the shadows. Judas Kiss is a really heavy album that leant more towards metal than the usual melodic hard rock he usually plays, but still with enough catchiness to make melodic rock fans at least somewhat happy. But when Kee started to work on this album, he signed with Frontiers Records and revealed that he would go back to a more melodic rock style and picking up some really interesting stuff prom his past. Intriguing, to say they least.
The album opens with “Black Hole Star”, a great classic rock groover that mixes some down n’ dirty AC/DC riffing with an arrangement that reminds me somewhat of Europe’s “Seventh Sign” (Prisoners In Paradise). The sweaty, kick-ass groove combined a killer melody that leaves a mark right away – a great opener that leaves me wanting more. “On The Radio” changes the direction as it is a southern rock flavored pop song with a sticky chorus that could / should grant Kee a hit. Lyrically, it feels very autobiographical and he describes his childhood / youth in a way that reminds me of some of Kid Rock’s later songs. I dug it right away. “Don’t Miss You Much” is a very AOR laden rocker with a nice touch of Journey. At times I get the feeling that the backbone of the song has been found in the vaults where he has kept unused material from the That Makes One sessions. It’s a magnificent tune and to these ears, this tune is a hit. The verse of “Fix Me” has a really cool and groovy hard rock swagger but it turns around for the chorus which has this more keyboard laden AOR vibe, very catchy and it’s pretty close to the way mid / late 80’s Van Halen arranged their more poppy material. Marcello and his band Ken Sandin – bass and Darby Todd – drums) nails it and the hit feel is obvious. I do love the contrast between the hard rocking verses and the more pop chorus. Europe fans with a really good memory will probably recognize the name “Wild Child”. Yes, this is THAT track that is on Europe’s Prisoners In Paradise demo. The song has a sleazy hard rock twang with a big 70’s based hard rock groove. I have heard this song before, but it sure feels nice to finally see it released because it is a fantastic tune, a lot better than many of the songs that actually ended up on Prisoners In Paradise. It’s really beyond me that Europe never used this track – or many other of the songs on “The Le Baron Boys Demo”. It’s also worth mentioning that Michele Luppi (Whitesnake, Secret Sphere) is guesting the track on keyboards. “Finger On The Trigger” is a blues based ballad – more a powerful ballad than a power ballad! It has a big sound complete with (keyboard) strings and a magnificent, heartfelt solo from Kee – a winner!
With “Soldier Down”, Kee throws a nod back to his last album. It’s a pretty rough rocker with one feet in metal. But that’s not all, I also hear a Deep Purple influence and the song “Stormbringer” pops up in my head – this song is probably the heaviest on the record. “Scandinavia” is lyrically an autobiographical confession, bringing up both good and bad times. Musically, it’s a pretty heavy rocker, yet very melodic and catchy. It’s got an uptempo rhythm and a catchy beat (not a far cry from Europe’s “California 405” style wise, actually). I’d like to refer to this kind of song as “car driving music”. It’s very memorable, driving and catchy and I surrendered to it immediately. “Good Men Gone Bad” – featuring Mathias “IA” Eklundh (Freak Kitchen) on guitar) is a raunchy and raw fat rocker with a punch that got me hooked on the spot. I’m not sure if it’s just by coincidence or intentional, but in certain parts of the song it sounds like he has used parts of Europe’s “Yesterday’s News” (a song written for Prisoners In Paradise but Sony denied it and it later ended up on the best of compilation CD Rock The Night (2004)). If it was intentional, it’s Kee’s right to do so as he co-wrote the track. No matter what, it’s a damn brilliant tune. The title track is bouncy groover with a big 70’s hard rock vibe. The chanting chorus isn’t exactly radio friendly, but it’s still memorable and the li’l fucker really sticks. It’s a great song that will kick your ass! The second and last ballad “I Don’t Know How To Love No More” is up and if the title sounds familiar it’s because this one is also from the Prisoners In Paradise demo. As a ballad, it’s powerful, 70’s smelling and with some meaty Led Zeppelin influenced riffing and not cheesy at all. Still, it would fit a band like Europe like a glove and quality wise, it’s without a doubt superior to the ballads that did end up on Prisoners In Paradise. How this song has been unused for so long, I just can’t get through my skull – it’s a phenomenal ballad! The album closes with “Blow By Blow”, a sleazy rocker that reminds me of a heavier Aerosmith. There is a 70’s vibe present but also quite a lot of early 90’s melodic hard rock. It has a really chunky groove, a mid-tempo pace and it also comes with a chorus that’s impossible to get out of the head – a great way to close the record that makes you wanna start the album over right away.
I know that the high rating I have given this record will be questioned (in fact, every time a melodic rock or AOR album gets a high rating, it’s questioned, for some reason) and I can understand that. I actually question my own objectivity some when it comes to Kee Marcello myself – see, I’m such a huge fan of him as an artist, guitar player, song writer and producer that I might have not seen the forest for all the trees, so to speak. But Kee or no Marcello, this is a bloody awesome record all the way through and it’s by far Marcello’s best solo effort to date – I would even go as far as to say that this is the best album Marcello has been involved in since Europe’s Out Of This World. The more melodic hard rock style of this record also suits him much better than the metal oriented path he has been on on his last records – I certainly hope that he’ll continue on this road in the future. As a guitar player, Kee proves that he still is one of the best players not only in Sweden, but globally and when he manages to come up with songs as great as these, one can’t help to wonder how Europe would have sounded if they had went with Kee instead of John Norum – or with both! It’s only with Kee as a singer that l have some thoughts about because even though he’s not bad in any way, his voice is a bit limited. On the other hand, he has a very personal voice which goes on the plus account. If you think that Europe with Kee Marcello blew, well this is not for you, but if you, like me, loves that era, then this album is a must.
Other Kee Marcello reviews:
1. Black Hole Star
2. On The Radio
3. Don’t Miss You Much
4. Fix Me
5. Wild Child
6. Finger On The Trigger
7. Soldier Down
9. Good Men Gone Bad
10. Scaling Up
11. Don’t Know How To Love No More
12. Blow By Blow