Europe - The Final CountdownMaybe the blame should rest with VH-1 and its series of "Where are they now?" programs. It seems, of late, the major labels are shoveling out the oldies from 10 and 20 years ago in new and reconfigured packaging, usually with a handful of requisite "bonus" tracks taken from the artists' heydays. This week is no exception: the Sony label group of Portrait, Epic and Columbia have all reissued discs from some of their top '80s metal acts. One of those bands holds a special place in my heart; one of my first jobs as The Star's music critic, back in July, 1988, was to head over to the Photon complex in Harvey and interview rising stars Europe. After playing a bit of laser tag with the Swedish metal band (which, I believe, remains my sole exposure to the sport), we got down to business and did a quick interview about its "overnight success." They were in town practicing for a new U.S. tour promoting their disc, Out of This World. That record would not, ultimately, have the same appeal as its previous breakthrough album, 1987's The Final Countdown, which sold more than six million copies and yielded Top 10 Billboard hits in the hard rock title track and the power ballad "Carrie." The Final Countdown, the third of Europe's five studio albums, has now been reissued by Legacy with three live tracks (including the two singles) recorded in 1987.

The other metal reissues from Legacy don't have any personal connections, but no doubt do for millions of other music fans. Legacy has also reissued German metal band Accept's most successful album, Balls to the Wall, which brought it comparisons to AC/DC and Scorpions, and Quiet Riot's Metal Health, which put it on the charts for a few months with the title track and "Cum on Feel the Noize" before itdisappeared back into obscurity. The label also offers The Best of Britny Fox, a high-pitched, hair metal band that scored in 1987 with "Girlschool" and "Long Way to Love." The disc includes live video tracks of both of those hits playable on a computer.

In VH-1 style, each of these reissues includes new liner notes, putting the albums in perspective telling of the success the band was having at the time of the songs' release and of what happened after. The stories are as addictive as the hits.

  Elvis Costello - My Aim Is TrueBut if all the record companies seem to be trying to cash in on the marketing strategy of "here's a great old record with a couple bonus tracks to get you to buy it even if you already own the original," Rhino Records has (as usual) gone everyone one better. Rhino has reissued three Elvis Costello albums, each with fascinating liner notes about the songs and the period of his career covered by the discs (I was listening to them in the car and had to pick up the CD sleeves at each stop light to continue reading his commentary.) But instead of simply adding on a couple extra songs at the end of each disc, Rhino has issued his first album, 1978's My Aim Is True, and his first and last discs for Warner Bros. 1989's Spike and 1996's All this Useless Beauty not with bonus songs, but with bonus discs! Each album package includes an entire second CD of demos and outtakes recorded during the period of the album in question. This is a goldmine of material for Costello fans, and makes for some very interesting listening; for example, All this Useless Beauty includes four-track home recordings of songs Costello wrote for Johnny Cash and Aimee Mann to record (Cash passed on one) and of the song "Mistress and Maid," cowritten with Paul McCartney and released on McCartney's Off the Ground CD.


Donna DeLory - Bliss Donna DeLory
(Navarre/Secret Road)

Think you haven't heard Donna DeLory before? If you've listened to Madonna's '90s albums, or if you were one of the thousands of fans who saw Madonna play the United Center this week, than you've heard and seen Donna DeLory perform. DeLory hitched a ride on the Madonna train more than a decade ago when her vocals synced perfectly during an audition with the Material Girl, and she promptly left behind her struggling L.A. band, Tomorrow The World, for a spot on the "Who's That Girl" tour. She's toured and recorded with Madonna ever since, and in 1993, her boss even gave her a minor hit DeLory scored well on the dance charts eight years ago with the pop-rock Madonna/Pat Leonard song "Just a Dream," from her MCA solo album Donna DeLory. But after touring the small club circuit on her own, DeLory returned to the Madonna mega-stage and hasn't released an album since.

But now, while she's out on the road helping out with Madonna's "Drowned World" tour, she's also back promoting her own career via Bliss, an album that doesn't feature any help from "the boss" (which may be the reason it's out on a tiny label instead of a major). The disc was actually written and recorded with cellist Cameron Stone nearly two years ago, but has only recently been given a national release and record store distribution by Navarre. Bliss shows plenty of creative growth from the singer-songwriter-dancer. While her debut CD, Donna DeLory, listens like a frothy cross between a Bangles and late '80s Madonna record, Bliss is a deeper, moodier affair.

The opening track, "On and On," is a gorgeous round of exotic percussion and lyrical yearning as DeLory sings about the impermanence of circumstance, but the solidity of love and time:

"I understood everything again
the circle keeps on spinning
nothing here is mine
even this won't last forever
love goes on and on and on and on."

Bliss features the kind of expansive, ethereal soundscapes that artists like Kate Bush, Grace Pool, Paula Cole and Waterlillies tried to popularize in the '90s. "Hold Me Now," is a perfect example, crossing bongo-augmented rhythms and a melancholic cello solo, along with a crunchy guitar riff and perfectly understated yet powerful drums.

Don't look for another Madonna knock-off here; fans of enchanting "Lilith Fair" singer-songwriter fare will find lots to love about this carefully layered, softly beautiful album.