Arnold Lanni

REVIEW: Harem Scarem – Rubber (Domestic and Japanese versions)

HAREM SCAREM – Rubber (1999 Warner Japan)
RUBBER – Rubber (2000 Warner Canada)

Time hasn’t been too unkind to Rubber, the experimental Harem Scarem album where they actually changed the band’s name to match.  Except in Japan where Harem Scarem were huge, a strange album by a band called Rubber emerged in the summer of 2000.  A generic, low budget rubber duckie adorned its cover.  No picture of the band on the back, but the mixing credits of Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance revealed the connection.  In Japan, the album was released in 1999 as a full-on Harem Scarem album, with all four band members depicted on the back, including Barry Donaghy and Darren Smith.  (Notably, Smith is not pictured nor listed as a band member on the domestic CD, as by the time it was released, he had left the band.)

What’s the fuss, then?  Harem Scarem had released a series of excellent albums with rarely a dud, but little impact in Canada or the United States.  Their albums had been skewing progressively more pop as the 1990s wore on.  By Rubber, it could almost have been considered a complete re-invention to a pop rock sound, heavily influenced by the simplicity of 90s pop-punk bands.  So the band was relaunched in hopes that some people thought they were a new hot group on the scene with a sizzling debut.

The Japanese and domestic CDs had different running orders, but since it was released in Japan first that’s the track list we’ll be following, including exclusive bonus song “Enemy”.  To its merit, the domestic CD includes an exclusive remix of “Sunshine” by noted producer Arnold Lanni.

“It’s Gotta Be” opens the album with a very 90s-sounding simple descending guitar riff.  It stands upon a catchy chorus, which Harry Hess delivers with the usual melodic expertise.  There are stronger tunes on the album, but “It’s Gotta Be” sounds very much like what was on the radio and video at the time.  Bands like Marvelous 3.

The oddly titled “Who-Buddy” is more like it!  Fast-paced (again, think pop-punk), with twang and candy-coated melody.  The build-up to the chorus can’t be resisted.  So very different from Harem Scarem of old, but the same four guys do it well.  Hess and Lesperance have always had a foot in pop, as demonstrated on the very mainstream Harem Scarem debut.  Pop changed quite a bit from 1990 to 2000, and “Who-Buddy” is a reflection of that evolution.

“Coming Down” is a different kind of pop, more lush with Spanish-influenced guitar twang.  Slower paced, but just as focused on melody, “Coming Down” is a lovely song that reminds of the melancholy music of the time.  “Didn’t know the grass is always greener, and then those blades cut my own hands.”

Thing really go pop-punk on the outstanding single “Stuck With You”.  As Hess sings, “There couldn’t be anymore anarchy if we tried,” you believe he’s 22 years old.  Smith’s busy drumming is on the mark, and the chorus just soaks into you until it’s just…stuck with you!  On the cover for the CD single, the three remaining guys are depicted with contemporary short spiky hair.  If not for the lack of neck tattoos they could have been Blink 192.  There’s even a reference to the current events of the time.  “The killer bees, casualties, everybody’s paying a price.”  Remember the killer bee scare of the late 90s?  The bees never came.

Unfortunately the hit never came either.  Though a brilliant song, it was impaired by a truly terrible music video about a kid who eats a variety of objects including a rubber duckie (seemingly containing the band), a doll and his little sister.  Somebody should have deep-sixed that idea.

“Sunshine” opens with typically late-90s skippy sound effects and adornments.  The Japanese version is 4:56 in length; Arnold Lanni trimmed his mix down to 3:54.  A slow pop song with distorted watery vocals on the Japanese mix, it’s a unique sounding track that fit into the alterna-flavours of the era.  Motley Crue made a whole album mixed like this, except it was shit and called Generation Swine.  The Lanni mix on the domestic CD retains the sound effects but ditches the vocal distortion, in favour of a clean mix that is easier on the ears, including additional backing harmonies.  Both versions have their merits, with the Japanese as a more spacey, experimental track and the Lanni version more aimed at radio.

Next up is the rockabilly “Face It”, continuing the twang of previous songs.  Unfortunate album filler compared to the others.  Smith’s drumming up a storm though!  “Trip” is more fun with a bendy 90s riff, and lead vocals by Pete Lesperance.   The chorus is suitably snotty.  Another odd title, “Pool Party” conceals an interesting if not quite memorable enough song.  The music is a little off-kilter, hinting at the band’s truly excellent schooled musicianship that was largely simplified for this album.

Back to the upbeat, “Headache” is pure bangin’ fun, with influences from rock to punk to ska.  Then an understated ballad called “Everybody Else” sits in the penultimate slot, building tension with a stealthy backdrop of strings.  Similar to past dark Harem Scarem ballads though wildly different in production.  Then we close on the Japanese exclusive “Enemy”, an upbeat track with a big chorus.

Harem Scarem continued with the dual identity for a few more albums before reverting back to their original sound and name.  As Rubber, they next released Ultra Feel, Weight of the World and Live at the GodsWeight of the World was a return to their classic, slightly progressive hard rock sound and so the name change back to Harem Scarem was sure to follow.  By 2003 the Rubber experiment was fully exhausted and the album Higher was the first to have no connection to that name.  From the Rubber era, only Weight of the World was included in the expansive Harem Scarem box set.

Rubber the album isn’t bad though.  It’s better than the followup Ultra Feel, and though dated, still contains a number of good songs that are fully enjoyable today.  The best track is clearly “Stuck With You”, despite the atrocious music video.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Wild ‘T’ and the Spirit – Love Crazy (1991)

WILD ‘T’ AND THE SPIRIT – Love Crazy (1991 Warner)

I can’t believe it took me 28 years to hear this album. Wild ‘T’ (Tony Springer) got the nation’s attention in 1991, with his Arnold Lanni (Frozen Ghost)-produced debut album Love Crazy.  Before that, he was making a living (and a name) as a Jimi Hendrix tribute.  He was itching to be himself and Love Crazy was born.

MuchMusic was all over the big singles, “Love Crazy” and “Midnight Blues”.  Tony Springer (originally from Trinidad) peddled in a hard rocking blues sound, more authentic than most of his 1991 contemporaries.  A big blast of horns on “Mean Mean Mama” gives his blues a little bit o’ soul.  The album is entirely original and much is co-written by Lanni.  The guitar tone is greasy and drenched in pure feel.  Lanni is known for getting a nice crisp sound, as heard later with King’s X and Our Lady Peace.

Though Love Crazy is a really good collection of blues both slow and heavy, it’s Springer’s guitar that many will want to hear up close.  Shortly after this he was drafted by an English artist named David Bowie to be his new guitarist.  He must have been enamoured with the tone of Wild ‘T’.  Even if guitar isn’t your thing, dig into the horn hooks of “Yvonne”.  Or the upbeat “Shotdown/Spellbound”.  It’ll put some pepper in your strut today, guaranteed.  The whole album is laden with good tunes and snappy, tight grooves.  You can play air guitar, or just dance.  Up to you.

I could have gotten this album numerous times out of the ol’ Bargain Bin for about three bucks.  For whatever reason it never seemed like a priority.  Then along came my VHS Archives and my rediscovery of the epic track “Midnight Blues”.  I had to get the album, and I didn’t want to wait.  I paid a little more than I could have just to get it right away, but it was worth it.  I had an old girlfriend back in ’94 who thought I shouldn’t listen to the song “Midnight Blues” because it would make me depressed.  Well, fuck you!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: King’s X – Ear Candy (1996)

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Complete studio albums (and more!), part 8


Scan_20151015KING’S X – Ear Candy (1996 Atlantic)

This is actually the album that sparked this review series in the first place.  I had to re-rip it to my PC.  Enamoured, I forged on with an entire series of King’s X, because they deserve it!

By the time King’s X hit album #6, any hope of them being a mainstream success was in the distant past.  1994’s Dogman was an artistic triumph, and considerably heavier than past albums, but still nothing.  King’s X even played the noteworthy, critically acclaimed opening set at Woodstock ’94 (more on that next time), to no avail.

Ear Candy was their last album for Atlantic and I don’t know if it was record company pressure or simply natural creativity, but it was different for the band yet again.  The heavy tunnel-vision sound of Dogman was severely toned down, in favour of melodic composition.  Canadian hitmaker Arnold Lanni was on board for production, his only outing with King’s X.  (The Canadian connection was manager Ray Danniels who was handling King’s X for a brief time.)  Even guitarist Ty Tabor had stepped back up to the microphone, after being notably absent on Dogman‘s lead vocals.  Some fans naturally rejected some of these changes.  For others, Ear Candy was a high water mark.  The 90’s were a confusing time!

This reviewer is in the high water mark category.  Although Ear Candy eschews progressive rock tendencies in favour of catchy tunes, I don’t think the end result was a bad thing.

“Step up and step aboard, your seat is to the left. Leave all your bags and tighten up your metal belt.” That voice is Ty Tabor’s and what better way to usher in his vocals with the first song on the album? “The Train” is a duet between he and Doug Pinnick who sings on the choruses. Classic King’s X trademarks are in place: harmonies, sweet 60’s melodies, hard guitars, and soul. The train is departing on a journey called Ear Candy, and it is a welcoming song.  Continuing with the 60’s vibe, “(Thinking and Wondering) What I’m Gonna Do” is sweet and summery.  Acoustic guitars, tabla, and Doug’s soulful throat are the focus.  Drummer Jerry Gaskill refuses to play anything simple, and so his drums and percussion are spare but unorthodox.  Backwards Tabor guitars add to the psychedelic trip.

One of the draws to King’s X has to be Doug’s 8 and 12 basses.  “Sometime” (another Doug song) has some of the baddest, lowest, most ass-rumbling bass you’ve ever heard.  You have to love the sound of those big phat strings shakin’.  Mid-tempo and sweet, “Sometime” is hard enough but with those Beatles-like harmonies.

There was one single released from this album, the very rare “A Box”.  (This single had a bonus track called “Freedom” that is missing the LeBrain HQ rock library.)  A brilliant selection for a single, “A Box” has that “Goldilox” sound from the first King’s X album. Pinnick had been dealing with his own personal issues and you can hear this in the words. Also worth noting: the drum sound. Arnold Lanni has a knack for finding a killer snare drum sound. Just listen to Our Lady Peace’s first album Naveed. Jerry’s drums have never sounded better than they do on Ear Candy. That snare just snaps!  Then “Looking For Love” blasts.  Doug is not seething in anger, but you can hear it between the lines.  “Religion burned me at the stake,” and  “I guess I lost my faith,” sings the once-devout Christian.  You can also hear it in the tempo; straining at the lead.  Then, following “Looking For Love” is possibly the album highlight…possibly.  Because next is Ty’s “Mississippi Moon”, which is impossible to hate.  Ty sometimes writes these pleasant, 60’s-pop-like songs in his solo material, and with King’s X.  The layered vocals are like a little sugar on top.  Just delightful.  The only stumble is “67”, which is plenty chunky but not memorable.  The freakout guitar noise outro is pretty cool though.

That sounds like a side closer, and the next song “Lies in the Sand (The ballad of…)” would work nicely as a mellow start to a second side.  Ty ballads are sometimes very special, and “Lies in the Sand” is special indeed.  His earnest singing and playing are basically the song; the other two guys take a step back and just let the song pulse.  Things pick up again with “Run”, with Doug sounding cast-down and dejected, but bouncing back again.  The pain also runs through “Father”.  “My brother’s on crack, my sister’s a wreck, our mother she tried, our fathers are lies.”  But the message is clear:  “Every one of us loves every one of us.”  Blood is thicker than water.

Jerry Gaskill takes a rare lead vocal on the ballad “American Cheese (Jerry’s Pianto)”.  The 60’s are recalled once again with a very Beatles-like piano pop ballad.  This sets up “Picture”, possibly the most upbeat pop rock moment on Ear Candy.  It has a drive to it, and instrumental integrity, which takes it levels high and above most examples of pop rock.  Doug sounds happy, and the band rock with glee.  It’s a great precursor to “Life Going By”, the finale.  It has a quality that sounds like a bookend to “The Train” at the start of the album.  Tabor weaves a bright tapestry of acoustic and chiming electric guitars, and also takes the lead vocal for this last song.  Layers of harmonies take us out on a sweet, soulful note.

What an album.  What’s not to like?  Fear not the pop, for King’s X took it back to heavy for 1998’s Tape Head….

5/5 stars

Shortly after Ear Candy, progressive rock fans who craved a little more got their wish partly fulfilled.  Doug Pinnick did an excellent guest appearance on the hella-cool song “Lines in the Sand”, from Dream Theater‘s Falling Into Infinity album from 1997.  Doug sang accompanying vocals with James LaBrie, lending the song an additional edge.  A 10 minute long-bomber, “Lines in the Sand” definitely supplied a taste of the heavy complex rock that fans may have missed.  Even if Doug was just a small part of it, he was an integral part.

KING’S X review series:

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994) + bonus “Pillow” promo single review