Too good to leave behind in 2014…
Review by Brian McGowan
Release date: 5 December 2014
Harem Scarem‘s 13th album is too good to leave behind in 2014. Unequivocally, it’s the reformed band’s best album since Mood Swings (1993). Who would have thought? Once the Great White Hope of Melodic Rock, Harem Scarem’s post Mood Swings albums were full of priceless melodies that were frequently undercut by turbulent, thick cut rifferama. Great songs, always, but they frequently suffocated inside the dense textures of the Hess/Lesperance production values. The sound was often dark too, and intimidating.
It was clearly an attempt – subconsciously or otherwise – to reflect a fast changing cultural landscape. But it wasn’t Melodic Rock as we know it, the fanbase waned, and it became clear that Harem Scarem wouldn’t be anointed after all. Arguably, in recent years, the band’s music had a faint whiff of desperation, like they couldn’t quite understand why they hadn’t broken through and, as a result, were trying too hard. It’s different now, they’re beyond that. 13 proves it.
It’s been six years since their last album, Hope, but the ground they till is fresh and fertile still. At only 10 tracks and 38 minutes, it may seem like short weight, but the band use the time wisely. Lesperance’s guitar is the cutting edge that makes all the initial incisions, biting into each song, finding us a foothold then pulling us up to enjoy the view, a wraparound vista of neat, simple storytelling, memorable melodies and mesmeric harmony choruses. It’s easy to overlook the lyrical strength of Harem Scarem’s material. On 13, we are shown snatched glimpses of fragmented relationships, resolved in maturity, that allow us to tune into the album’s emotional pulse. ‘The Midnight Hour’ will remind you of Wireman’s words… “We’re so good at fooling ourselves, we could do it for a living”.
There’s an elegance to the music on this album, and a wonderful melodic sweep running through beautifully crafted tracks like ‘Live It’, a song peppered with tasty country licks that merge seamlessly with hard boiled harmonies, and ‘Early Warning Signs’, full of Beatle-ish harmonies, punchy verses and playful time changes. You have to search a little harder for the hooks, but they are there, they just take a little longer to emerge.
Harry Hess’s chiselled melodic rock voice, once full of yearning romanticism, is now a little timeworn, a perfect fit for some of the most compelling – if slow starting – stuff they have written, like ‘Troubled Times’, which on the surface may seem cliched, but in fact matches hard earned emotional resilience to a sinuous pop hook, and the ringing, chiming ‘Never Say Never’, where they put another new spin on a universal truth. ‘Whatever It Takes’, an unashamedly overblown tilt at Backstreet Boys’ style pop balladry, is a delight to encounter, and surprisingly closer in style and sentiment to AOR that most people might suspect. A fine way to end 2014, and an equally fine way to begin 2015.
9 out of 10
- Garden Of Eden
- Live It
- Early Warning Signs
- The Midnight Hour
- Whatever It Takes
- Saints and Sinners
- All I Need
- Troubled Times
- Never say Never