Never give up, never surrender! That should be Harem Scarem’s motto.
As big-time success continued to elude them despite some great albums and singles, they evolved for the times. 1998’s Big Bang Theory is the first major step in a more commercial direction. This meant incorporating popular pop-punk sounds: short, fast simple melodic songs with minimal soloing. “Turn Around” is a perfect example of this new direction. There is a guitar solo, albeit brief. These qualities don’t have to be a bad thing if they’re done right, and Harem Scarem did them exceptionally well.
“Wasted Time” sounds more like Karma Cleansing material from the last album, which is nice as an anchor. “So Blind” combines the two worlds. It has the speedy pop-punk vibe but with a traditional sounding Harem Scarem song. “So Blind” is the first slam dunk of the CD, its irresistible verses nailing it straight to your head. Peter Lesperance’s solo is short and to the point, yet still tasty. Time for a ballad? Check out “Without You”, a terrific and sweet little number with irresistible “bop bop bop bop” backup harmonies.
The second bonafide home run on Big Bang Theory is “Climb the Gate”. It’s in the same mold as the single “Die Off Hard” from the prior album, but brand new. The stuttery hook in the riff slays it. “Climb the Gate” is an essential song for any Harem Scarem collection. It is one of their catalog gems. It doesn’t get much better than “Climb the Gate” for these guys. If you don’t like this tune, you won’t like this album.
There’s a natural break for a side change here. “What I Do” brings the focus back to the added 90s-isms. Programmed percussion sounded modern at the time, mixed in with the real drums. Decent song, but the next one up “Sometimes I Wish” is notable as being the lead vocal debut of bassist Barry Donaghy. Its pop-punk chorus keeps it in synch with the album, and if you didn’t know it was someone else singing, you might never have noticed.
“New Religion” is the final power play goal of the album. Another powerful little riff backs up one of Harry Hess’ strongest choruses. He’s going to start his own religion, demi-gods, there’ll be none. This unforgettable number ranks among their catchiest, but Pete Lesperance’s speedy picking gives it an aggression you don’t get otherwise. But wait! “Lying” keeps the speedometer in the red, with another power-pop killer. Like the direction or not, at least Harem Scarem did it well. It’s also notable that Big Bang Theory has only one ballad, which is the closer “In My State of Mind”. This gentle track is just Harry Hess and a piano. Ending an album with a ballad is a gamble, but not when you have the goods.
Big Bang Theory maintained the Harem Scarem momentum. It delivered three standout must-haves and an album’s worth of good material. It began to move Harem Scarem into a direction that some fans didn’t quite get. More changes were ahead, some more drastic. Big Bang Theory is a grey area between the future and the past, but important to the journey.