Album Review: Kee Marcello – “Scaling Up”

Sometimes, having been part of a big band in your career and during a time when they were highly popular isn’t always a sign that people will recognise you. One need only bring up Barry Goudreau from Boston (don’t know who he is? Oh, he only played guitar alongside Tom Scholz on THEIR FIRST TWO RECORDS!) to see that in action. Such is the fate of Kee Marcello, who joined Europe (you know, the guys who did “The Final Countdown”?) in 1986, the same year that their smash hit and accompanying album was released, as a replacement for John Norum and was a member of the band until their 1992 hiatus, playing on the two follow up albums, 1988’s Out of this World and 1991’s Prisoners in Paradise. However, unless you’re a die-hard of Europe, chances are that you probably have never heard of the guy (or even assumed that he completely retired after the band went on hiatus in 1992: certainly, the last performance he did with the band was a one off reunion show that occurred in 1999 and he wasn’t part of the reunited Europe when they officially returned in 2003, so such a conclusion wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable if you weren’t in the know!).

Truthfully, however, Marcello has never retired from performing, having appeared on at least one record every two or three years since his first album (Easy Action’s 1983 self-titled debut album) and is still performing now (as this album MIGHT have given away). While I will admit that this is my first album that I have listened to involving the guy, I can’t help looking at the guy’s career and being impressed that he has done as much as he has.

So, approaching Scaling Up as someone who isn’t that familiar with the guy’s career, what do I make of it? Well…it’s got some really good tracks and I definitely could see people liking it, but I can’t help personally feeling that there was capable of more than it actually demonstrates.

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Let me get my big complaint out of the way now: Kee Marcello’s singing voice isn’t that great. I’ll be fair, he isn’t the worst vocalist I’ve ever heard and he is tolerable enough when singing in his comfortable range, but he doesn’t really have the range to do the harmony lines that he tries very well, his wild screams a la Little Richard just don’t really sound that great and his somewhat bluesy vocal tone is both not all that fitting for the material he is singing and is rather weak, to the extent that I was horribly reminded of modern day Geoff Tate (although this is probably an unfair comment in Marcello’s case: he tended to stick with backing vocals for most of his career, so he’s not really someone who you’d realistically expect to be the strongest of singers with that in mind). Since he is the only vocalist on this album, this is a constant recurring issue throughout the whole run time and it tends to drag down even the strongest songs on the album as a result. I appreciate that this is Marcello’s solo album, so he is fully entitled to call the shots and he shouldn’t really have to listen to someone who wasn’t even conceived when Europe disbanded telling him what to do, but I genuinely feel that this album would have been better had someone else been singing on it instead of him.

The album’s sound is mostly in the vein of 80s rock, with some slight blues rock influences sneaking through into the sound as well every now and then. This probably won’t be that surprising to anyone even slightly familiar with Europe’s career in general (especially considering they started out as a blues rock band and their post-reunion sound has been that sound as well) and it’s hardly a unique sound, but I think it’s fair to say that it’s far more understandable coming from Marcello than it might be from most other musicians, considering, well, he WAS actually in Europe for a good few years and contributed to their songwriting. This is further cemented by the fact that two of the songs from this album were originally written for Europe’s Prisoners in Paradise (“Wild Child” and “Don’t Know How to Love No More”, if you’re wondering, though it is worth noting that they have been re-arranged and re-recorded for this record) and they sound right at home on here.

The songwriting on the record is generally pretty decent. There’s nothing that is going to grab anyone as rapidly as “The Final Countdown” did on here, but there’s nothing here that is really bad either, just maybe a bit generic. I do think it says a lot that I felt the strongest song on here was actually one of the previously written ones (“Don’t Know How to Love No More”), but, surprisingly, the rest of the record holds up rather well overall, with some great tracks like “Soldier Down”, “Don’t Miss You Much” and “On The Radio” showing that Marcello can still write great material now. I could definitely see this being a record that people who like what Europe were doing in the 80s and early 90s would enjoy, but I think it suffers from one core problem that limits the appeal to people who don’t fall into that category: once you really get past that vibe, there’s nothing here that is going to stand out to most people. It’s competently done, certainly, but there’s no real surprises here and the material itself isn’t strong enough to win over anyone who isn’t already on board with it.

The instrumental performance on the record are reasonably solid, as one would expect from musicians working with a figure like Marcello. Bassist Ken Sandin (probably best known for being part of the reunited Swedish band Alien) actually has a bit to do on here which isn’t just following the guitars (although he doesn’t do anything which is pushing into progressive territory) and he definitely does a decent job, getting the job done well. Drummer Darby Todd (who has played with Gary Moore and done some live stuff with The Darkness) definitely does a solid job across the record, although he doesn’t really do anything that unusual in the grand scheme of things. Marcello handles the guitar and keyboards on here on top of his earlier discussed singing and, while his standout performance is easily on the guitar (he has some really solid lead guitar performances across the record and his rhythm guitar playing across the record is solid), his keyboard playing is actually reasonable enough. Nothing major in the vast majority of cases, but, whenever it takes a leading role, it is decent enough and doesn’t feel like it is an unnecessary part of the sound at all.

The production has one major flaw, as the mastering could have done with some dialling down, but I have to say that, beyond that, it’s actually reasonably fine. The mix is pretty good, with the bass being fairly easy to hear and everything not sounding overly digitised, the record’s overall sound is a professional one and it doesn’t feel like anything has had too much post-production work to tidy everything up. Mastering complaint aside, this is a pretty solid job, so credit to Marcello and Tobias Lindell for their work on the production!

Ultimately, I think that it’s safe to say that Scaling Up is a record that is more aimed towards those who like Europe and want a modern version of their 80s sound rather than anyone else. It’s not a bad record overall and it’s certainly enjoyable, but there isn’t really a huge audience out there for it and it doesn’t really do anything which will convert the unconverted. If you’re missing the sound of 80s Europe, you’ll get a good kick out of this, but I don’t think anyone else will be impressed by this enough to really warrant a recommendation.

Scaling Up will be released on the 14th of October by Frontier Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.