IN an era of pin-up rock stars riding the crest of the MTV wave, two men dominated teen magazines, chart shows and arena stages more than most.
Joey Tempest and Jon Bon Jovi embraced big hair, big choruses and big pay cheques long before the majority of their peers latched on to the value of mixing pop metal with shoulder pads and keyboards with killer riffs.
For several years during the late 80s Tempest’s Europe fought hard for top billing alongside the US big guns Bon Jovi but commercially there was only one winner.
This summer will see the latter play a 12-date residency at London’s o2 Arena while the former will be content securing festival slots as and when they become available.
But Europe are, in their own credible and classy way, back.
Three albums into an astonishingly vibrant rebirth, the Swedes are at the top of their game – and the top of the charts.
Last year’s critically acclaimed Last Look at Eden went straight to number one in their home country and won a new generation of fans too young to remember The Final Countdown and its myriad spin-offs.
“When the new album went to number one back home it was a great feeling,” says Tempest.
“We’d hit number one with The Final Countdown (1986) and Out of This World (1988) albums but to get back to that position 21 years later was a thrill.
“I haven’t lived in Sweden since the band was last at number one but it’s still a special feeling when you top the charts in your home country.
“Both of the previous ‘comeback’ albums went top 10 back home and we came very close with Secret Society (2006) when it charted at number two. But I suppose we’d accepted our days as a chart-topping band were over.”
Despite the private jet, 24-7 bodyguards, gallons of hairspray and layers of spandex, Tempest insists neither he nor his band mates are embarrassed about their position at the heart of hair metal’s 80s excess.
“We were always able to laugh at ourselves and we never did anything too outrageous,” he adds. “We accepted the image was part of the whole package but these days we are known more for our music than our make-up. I hope.”
It’s true. All three of Europe’s post-reformation records ooze confidence and quality and all three are rooted in Tempest’s love for British blues rock.
A natural Anglophile, he lives in London and is married to a Teesside lass.
“When I was growing up I always looked to the British rock scene for inspiration and as a teenager I travelled to London from Sweden with my best friend to watch Thin Lizzy in Hammersmith,” he explains.
Those who still dismiss Europe as cheesy pop – and die-hard rock fans are among some of the band’s harshest critics – really do miss the point.
Building on the success of 1988’s standout track Superstitious, often cited as Tempest’s crowning glory, the Scandinavians have honed an emotive blues rock sound all of their own with Last Look at Eden the triumphant culmination of three decades of hard graft and determination.
Where Bon Jovi’s 2009 effort, The Circle, confirmed a band stuck in a rut, the old enemy has emerged as an act which still has plenty to say 25 years after one of rock’s greatest rivalries took shape.
They might not be saying it over three weeks in the biggest indoor arena the UK has to offer but they’re saying it with meaning, and Newcastle fans can expect one of the live highlights of the year later this month.
“Some people still only know us for one song and that’s fine,” added Tempest. “But we were never really a poster band and The Final Countdown was never meant to be a pop song.
“It was the song we used to open our shows with and now it’s the song we play last. I hope people will see many different sides to Europe and I hope they like what they see.”
Europe play Newcastle’s 02 Academy on February 27. Simon Rushworth is editor of Newcastle-based website www.rushonrock.com
We were never really a poster band and The Final Countdown was never meant to be a pop song