Style: Melodic/Hard Rock
Release Date: 6 Mar 2020
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I vaguely remember Harem Scarem from the hallowed pages of Kerrang! back in the day but, even though they had formed as early as 1987, they didn't put an album out until 1991, when grunge was ascendant and polished melodic rock was firmly relegated to the niches and, in the case of Harem Scarem, to the soundtrack of Degrassi Junior High. If this sixteenth studio album (if we're including a few released under the name of Rubber in some markets) is a good introduction to the band, then I've seriously been missing out.
They're a melodic rock band at heart but with hard rock edges and they sound very smooth and very catchy. There are more hooks here than in your average bait shop but there's a thump behind the vocals and guitars that prevents it all from getting soft. What's most important is that, unlike a whole slew of the melodic rock albums I listened to back in the eighties that had a couple of radio-friendly songs and a bunch of filler, there isn't a song here that could be described as average, let alone poor or bad.
Change the World has a jaunty guitar to open up, hinting at an Irish jig. It calms down to a peach of a singalong chorus. You and I are apparently going to change the world and I'm suddenly believing it. I believed it even more a couple of songs later because Aftershock and Searching for Meaning are sheer class in under four minutes each. As I couldn't figure out which one I liked most, I'll just highly recommend both of them.
The two key players here are Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance, who co-founded the band and have only left it for four years or so when the various members decided to indulge in solo and other projects. Hess provides the vocals and keyboards, while Lesperance handles all the guitarwork. Both are stellar on this album, which may have a little more focus on the vocals but only just, because whenever Hess steps back from the mike, Lesperance is there to pick up the slack with his guitar.
I'm not sure who else is involved, because the band's website doesn't appear to want to share anything newer than 2009 about the line-up. Let's just say that Stan Miczek may be playing bass and it may be Creighton Doane on drums, but that's unconfirmed. Maybe the rest of the band are session musicians, as may be appropriate given that both instruments are both utterly reliable and utterly unwilling to take the spotlight here.
The eleven tracks on offer are incredibly consistent, so you can pick any of them on YouTube as a sampler. If you dig it, you should probably just go out and buy this right now. If you don't, then this isn't for you and you're not going to get convinced by anything else on the album.
There are some slight variations. The Death of Me and Fire & Gasoline are heavier when they want to be. Mother of Invention begins softer and a little more prog. No Man's Land starts out a bit more alternative and edgy. In the Unknown features a slightly more hoarse vocal for effect. No Me without You is more overtly emotional. Riot in My Head showcases a Thin Lizzy influence that gets clearer every time I hear it.
Generally, though, this is a pretty consistent set of hook-laden songs that, in a different era, would have been all over the airwaves. This is an album with eleven worthy singles out of eleven. I wonder how many more got left on the virtual cutting room floor to keep this just under three quarters of an hour. Now I have some backtracking to do because, if I've heard anything by Harem Scarem before, it was album number one and this is number sixteen.