Frontiers Records [Release Date 05.12.14]
While never quite crossing over into mainstream success, few bands are talked of in such hushed tones in melodic rock circles as Harem Scarem. Having split in 2008 but reformed last year and included three new songs on a re-recording of their classic ‘Mood Swings’ album , a new full-length album from the Canadians comes with high expectations.
There is always a tension in the Harem Scarem camp between their natural ear for melody, and disdain for the clichés of the genre- be they musical, lyrical or image ones. So it is perhaps appropriate that they begin with perhaps the least commercial song on view. ‘Garden Of Eden’, enlivened by a great solo from Pete Lesperance whose distinctive but concise guitar style is also a big part of their sound, and ‘Live It’ which is more groove-oriented.
‘Early Warning Signs’ has some dark sounding riffing and unpredictable turns before the first of the hallmark massive HS choruses, followed by another in the smoother sounding ‘The Midnight Hours’, while ‘Whatever It Takes’ is a piano-led ballad that invites comparisons with some of Def Leppard’s.
Once again though they resist the temptation to go for the lowest common denominator with the left field ‘Saints And Sinners’ another showcase for Lesperance’s talents, before a trio of songs in the spacious ‘All I Need’, ‘Troubled Times’ and ‘Never Say Never’ where the emphasis is firmly placed on big choruses with a layered sound supporting Harry Hess’ ever superb vocals which have just the right amount of grit in the oyster.
The other admirable thing is that these songs never outstay their welcome or take too long to come to the boil. Nevertheless the album closes with the one track to extend significantly beyond four minutes, the lush sounding ‘Stardust’ which is an interesting stylistic departure, with a dreamy, almost seventies soft rock, feel.
On first hearing, this comeback failed to live up to the advance hype, but the good news is that with a few listens it buries its way into the consciousness. Harem Scarem’s first two albums may never be matched but this stands alongside later efforts such as ‘Way Of The World’ and ‘Higher’ as an example of how a band can still be creative and original within the tried and tested melodic rock format. In short, a triumphant return. ****
Review by Andy Nathan
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