Harem Scarem – Change the World

An album review

I initially started dictating this review through my speech to text app on the phone. Hilariously, the auto correct interpreted the band’s name as ‘Hair and Mascara.’ This might have held a modicum of truth if you look at their early videos but they have become highly respected veterans over the last thirty years.

I don’t know how Harem Scarem have remained off my radar for this long. They are a melodic hard rock/AOR band from Canada with a fine pedigree of albums and tours under their belts. These guys have been producing quality music since the early 90s, and it always impresses me immediately if a band delivers studio tracks with the skill, talent and sheer stagecraft that HS do. Check out any of the televised songs at their concert: ‘Live at the Phoenix,’ Or, more tellingly, check out the  numerous mobile phone recordings of their shows (the real test of whether a band is lip syncing or adding significant overdubs to live recordings.) Mr Lesperance, Doane and Hess-deliver the goods. Those really are the vocals and backing vocals that you are here, not backing tracks or people positioned off stage contributing to the mix.

Change the World (CTW) is apparently a darker album than some of their previous offerings e.g. ‘United’, this is probably what attracted me to them in the first place, as I like things dark. The band have a new bassist (Michale Vassos) for the shows, although Lesperance seems to have taking on this role for the sake of recording. Speaking of the guitarist, this guy has a tone to kill for, deep, throaty and resonant. His lead breaks are original and lead you to places you wouldn’t expect to go. More class than flash (compared to the band’s early days.) Then there’s his name — built for the stage! Harry Hess is a superb vocalist. Given he’s been singing as long as he has, his voice hasn’t lost any of its edge or range. He cuts a kinda serious figure, rarely smiling, but don’t let this put you off, he certainly has a great set of pipes.

So, what of the album? Here’s my run-down:

Change the world – not the greatest of openers, to be honest. That said, it’s not a bad track. It’s  professionally written and delivered and is certainly reminiscent of their previous output, but I think they could have chosen a stronger track.

After-shock – the first stand out track in my opinion. This reminds me of classic foreigner back in the Lou Gramm days. Some great minor chord progressions begin to raise the hairs on your neck and the chorus has you singing along with it after the first play-through.

Searching for meaning – A tasty song in a minor key.

The death of me – The track that actually attracted me to them in the first place. This song has it all: and absolutely killer riff by Peter Lesperance, heartfelt lyrics from Hess and a chorus that has seen this song pinging through my mind from dawn until dusk for the last week. I love everything about it.

Mother of invention – A change of pace with a piano intro. Once again, the lyrics echo the album’s theme of asking the question – ‘where are we heading?’ Another hooky chorus with soaring harmony vocals. Good stuff.

No man’s land – Finds the band treading water a little. The track opens well enough and has a different style to the others with its rumbling bass line. But overall it fails to live up to its promise.

In the unknown – This song’s strong point is its superb chorus. I reckon this one will grow on me.

Riot in my head. – Another stand out track with a driving beat. One to put on as you’re revving up the car as you hit the road on Friday night.

No me without you – The tempo slows again. HS certainly vary the pace of this album expertly. Ballads have to be hit a sweet spot for me, as I easily get bored. This is what makes the difference between ‘Is this Love?’ by Whitesnake (an absolute classic) and Journey’s ‘Faithfully’ (a bit limp.) This track largely succeeds, having (once again) a great chorus and an even better middle-eight.

Fire and gasoline – My second favourite song on the album. An explosive opening, leading to a slow burning verse that builds as the song progresses. Another great riff by Lesperance adds to the mix and a luscious melody by Hess tops it all off. This song reminds me of something that would sit well on Paul Stanley’s last solo album (only Hess can sing far better than Mr Stanley does these days (sadly.)

Swallowed by the machine – an excellent closer. This song will be ringing in your ears long after you’ve pressed the off button. A restrained but classy solo by Lesperance is the icing on the cake.

In conclusion, HS have produced a varied mix of songs (in a good way,) with changes of pace, inventive bass lines, interesting chord progressions and tempos. Lesperance doesn’t just rely on riffs but often employs ‘Edge’ – like broken chords.  There are hundreds of hooks that don’t just retread hollow, cliche-ridden furrows. Perhaps not a classic album but one I would term ‘superior.’ I’ll definitely be replaying it often.

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