REVIEW: Harem Scarem – Change the World (2020 Japanese import)

HAREM SCAREM – Change the World (2020 Frontiers Japanese import)

One of the greatest melodic rock bands in the world is Canadian and 30 years since their inception, they still got what it takes.  Pete Lesperance, Harry Hess, Creighton Doane and Darren Smith can be counted on to deliver some great professional singalong tuneage every time.  Not every album has been brilliant (some people don’t like the Rubber era, I’m not big on Voice of Reason) but with their latest Change the World, Harem Scarem is back on top.

The upbeat title track opens the celebration with chiming guitar notes wrung from the neck.  “You and I are gonna change the world,” sings Harry with an uplifting melody.  Pete’s got his back with hooky guitar fills.  A track like this could have easily come from peak period HS, like 93’s Mood Swings.  “Aftershock” has a little more bite, but the same kind of killer chorus.  For those unfamiliar, expect thick, heavily layered choruses with all four guys singing multitracked backing vocals.  It’s like Def Leppard with more balls.  Yet it’s also their own song because Harry Hess’ voice has not changed one iota.  It’s just as powerful as it was on 1985’s Blind Vengeance debut, only better!  “Searching For Meaning” hearkens back to the pop sensibilities of Rubber, but richer in tone and with a heavier slam.

Things go darker on “The Death of Me” without losing the edge.  It’s not about defeat, it’s about keeping up the fight.  “I know you won’t be the death of me!”  An apt tune for 2020.  “Hit the panic override!” urges Harry.  Keep calm and carry on!

The piano comes out for the first ballad “Mother of Invention”.  The vocal arrangement here is quite nice though the song isn’t all that memorable.  The bass-driven “No Man’s Land” is more unique, and has one of those choruses that is so hard for forget.  Then head for space on “In the Unknown”, a softer burner of a track that launches into the stratosphere, fuelled by killer hooks.  This is Harem Scarem’s bread and butter.

If you think a song with a title like “Riot In My Head” should be faster and more intense, then you got your wish.  The riff sounds as if lifted from a classic 80s racing song.  Great track, as is the ballad “No Me Without You”, with its slight nods to the Beatles.  It’s back to the racetrack with “Fire & Gasoline”, an absolute smoker of a song.  There’s a classic Lesperance guitar solo to savour and a bangin’ beat to bash your head to.  The standard album then concludes on “Swallowed By the Machine”, another defiant fist pumping rocker.  Get psyched with lyrics such as “We all have dreams, we all have doubts, be careful which you feed, and don’t get swallowed by the machine.”  A rip-roaring guitar workout a-la Nuno Bettencourt takes it to another level.  Talk about ending the album on an up!

Of course, those who go the extra mile and purchase the Japanese CD get the extra track, an acoustic recording of “No Man’s Land”.  It’s an interesting alternative though not as impressive as the original.  Still a cool little coda, and still ending the album on an up note.

For a humble band from Canada that a lot of people aren’t even aware of, Harem Scarem have a remarkably huge discography.  There are more peaks than valleys, but Change the World is definitely evidence that this band has more to give.  One of the finer rock records of 2020.

4.5/5 stars

22 comments

      1. Man I think I saw them in concert one time. Something tells me we were supposed to get an opening act of Arc Angels but the bailed, and we got Harem Scarem instead. It was a Paddyfest show in Listowel, but who was the main act? Honeymoon Suite? Maybe? I don’t remember at the moment. Anyway they were good.

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        1. My experience is seeing them in Kitchener at Stages, with DC Drive from Detroit opening. Harem Scarem played virtually the entire first album and two covers. Crazy Little Thing Called Love, and The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Talk about two covers off the beaten track! I loved the show. They were crammed on a tiny stage and the drum kit was closer to the front.

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        2. That sounds awesome. I know they were good when we saw them too. Wish I could remember for whom they opened. Who all did we see at Paddyfest? Lesse, Honeymoon Suite, Glass Tiger… could it have been Glass Tiger? I typed Harem Scarem into my blog and got a hit from an aold post with a blurb about the Arc Angels and how HS covered for them, but not what the main gig was. Gah.

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  1. I’ve seen you post about these guys in the past and I just had to Google them because I remember a friend of mine in high school talking about a band with the same name whose band members she worked with. And it is the very same! I had no idea they are still going.

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  2. Great band who always delivers and I think this was released the same time everything shut down. Harry and Pete write great tunes. I always say Def Leppard should hook up with the songwriters in Harem. That would give Leppard a kick in the arse.
    Death of Me is one of the best rock tracks I have heard this year.

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