HESS – Just Another Day (2003 Marquee Japanese import)
Harry Hess of Harem Scarem focused on the softer side of his core sound on this excellent solo album, featuring his bandmates Pete Lesperance and Creighton Doane. Just Another Day is a bit softer than Harem Scarem, but is not just a collection of ballads. It’s a slice of the same pie, with more of an acoustic lean.
Just Another Day features nine new songs (ten in Japan) and one Harem Scarem cover. And that’s for good reason! Originally, “Sentimental Blvd.” was ably sung by drummer Darren Smith. If you’ve ever wanted to know what this classic would have sounded like with Hess singing lead, now you can. It’s very similar indeed, with Harry throwing a little extra rasp on top. This remake might be better, if you happen to prefer the sound of Harry. Smith even sings backing vocals on this track, and with four Harem members appearing on it, it very well could be called Harem Scarem.
As for the original tunes, Harry opens with a poppy upbeat number called “Look Right Through Me”, featuring a nice tasty guitar lick as the introductory hook. Sounds like a slide. On backing vocals? Eric Martin of Mr. Big! The chorus hits all the bases – off to a great start! “Wasted Away” is a nice sounding acoustic ballad with a stepped-up chorus. Lush backing vocals here too. Joining Harry on electric guitar is Mike Turner formerly of Our Lady Peace!
“Everybody” is pure pop joy. There’s a Beatles-y vibe to the acoustic bop. But then the passionate title ballad “Just Another Day” might take things a step too far by employing trendy drum programming in the verses. The song is fine but the programming is dated. Redemption comes on “Two Ways”, another acoustic tune with a serious case of melody! Harry sings his ass off.
The electric guitars come out for “Undone”, another fine pop rock tune with a Beatle-bent. Big Harem-style chorus though. By contrast, “My Way” has a pop-punk vibe circa the start of the millennium. In a good way. There were a lot of good pop-punk songs and Harem were not afraid of that sound. Simply put, Harry doesn’t get enough credit for his songwriting chops. He’s well versed in melody, guitar hooks, and even progressive facets. “Miles Away” is a fantastic ballad, touching all those bases. The verses and chorus are top notch.
The Japanese bonus track “Up Hill Climb” is one of the most mellow of the songs. Once again the vocals (lead and backing) are outstanding.
Harem Scarem fans already like ballads and don’t mind a little bit of pop in their rock. They’ll dig this solo album too. It is a pleasant, but not bland, record of largely songs that might have been too soft for Harem. Definitely worth a listen if you can find one at a decent price.
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 Gods. Weight of theWorld 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.
Storm Force’s debut album goes straight to #1 on their very first appearance! No surprise here. I’ve been raving about this disc since February and I owe it to Superdekes for putting these guys on my radar in the first place. This is a well-deserved #1. Age of Fear is an uplifting album with depth. It’s a thoughtful, heart-pounding blast of classic hard rock.
Deep Purple’s Whoosh! and AC/DC’s PWRUP prove two things: old dogs that both learn and don’t learn new tricks can all be champions. (I call this theory “Schrödinger’s Dog”.) Deep Purple’s growth continues while AC/DC managed to tap into the vein of success that always worked for them. Both records deserve their spots in the Top 3.
It was a thrill for me to learn that Dennis DeYoung both read and enjoyed my review of his newest album 26 East Vol 1. It’s a terrific, Styx-like conceptual work that will please the old fans. As will the new albums by Harem Scarem and Stryper, who didn’t stray far from their successful classic hard rock formulas. Kim Mitchell and Sven Gali on the other hand dared to be different. Kim went laid back and acoustic, while Sven Gali went with their heaviest uninhibited inclinations. As for Mr. Bungle, it has been 21 years since their last album California. All four Bungle studio albums are completely different from one another — four different genres. For The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny, they teamed up with Scott Ian and Dave Lombardo to re-record their first thrash metal demo tape. And it could be their best album since the self-titled debut in 1991. Not bad for a bunch of songs they wrote in highschool.
Corey “Mother Fuckin'” Taylor makes his debut on any list of mine with his solo album CMFT. It’s a surprising collection of commercial hard rockin’ tunes. Also appearing for the first time is Now Or Never (NoN) with their third album called III, featuring singer Steph Honde. It’s an excellent, dramatic metal album with light and shade.
Ultimately whether or not you liked the new Ozzy, its success or failure falls at the feet of producer/guitarist Andrew Watt. He is already working on the next Ozzy album, so….
Huge thanks to T-Bone Erickson for the “LeBrain Train” theme song, which amazingly and unexpectedly became the song of the year in 2020! Weird how that happened. No bias here I assure you.
Finally, Wolfgang Van Halen finally released his first solo music under the name Mammoth WVH. The non-album single “Distance” is dedicated to his late father Eddie. Though musically it’s a modern power ballad, the lyrics and especially the music video evoke serious emotion. Well done Wolfgang. Can’t wait to check out his album in 2021.
There were a lot of cool rock releases in 2020, so we need more lists! Of course the brilliant new live Maiden deserved some loving attention. Meanwhile, Sloan, Def Leppard and Thin Lizzy have continued to put out quality collections of rarities & unreleased material, well worth the time and money you’ll spend on them. The Sloan collection is a vinyl exclusive and the first in a series of LPs re-releasing some of their B-sides and non-album and bonus tracks. Finally, Metallica delivered the goods even without Michael Kamen on S&M2, a very different live set than the first S&M. That’s the way to do it!
It’s naive to assume that major touring and concerts will return in 2021. This appears highly optimistic at present, with Covid still ravaging the landscape and vaccinations only just beginning. Instead of looking ahead at things like the resuming Kiss tour, or the Motley Crue reunion, we should continue to put our faith in new music.
Accept have a new album due January 15 intriguingly titled Too Mean to Die. It is their first without bassist Peter Baltes. Steven Wilson has a new record out at the end of that month. In February we get new Foo Fighters, The Pretty Reckless, Willie Nelson and Alice Cooper. Greta Van Fleet, Weezer, Rob Zombie, Ringo Starr, and Thunder will be back soon too. Many other bands are writing and recording without an announced due date. Ghost, Marillion, Scorpions, Megadeth and even Ratt are hard at work to make next year suck a little less. Support the bands by buying the music.
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.
Happy Canada Day from LeBrain HQ to you. I know this is rough one, a weird one, and a difficult one. I’m going to ignore the current goings-on and everything else that has to do with Canada Day, and present to you Eleven Canadian Songs You Need to Hear Right Now. Enjoy!
1. Helix – “Billy Oxygen”
2. Arkells – “Leather Jacket”
3. July Talk – “Picturing Love”
4. The Guess Who – “Albert Flasher”
5. Blue Rodeo – “Side of the Road”
6. Harem Scarem – “Slowly Slipping Away”
7. Rush – “Vital Signs”
8. Gordon Lightfoot – “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” (re-recorded version)
GETTING MORE TALE #787: Mix CD 19 – “The Green Album”
As we’ve done in the past, let’s have a look at a mix CD I dug up, from about a decade ago. It’s an interesting mix, made mostly of stuff I found online. Any time I’d gather at least 80 minutes worth of downloads, I’d burn them to a CD. I considered that to be a much more permanent format. This disc is really just an archive of things I downloaded during a certain period of time in 2008. The title 19 suggests that it’s the 19th such archive CD that I burned. More than that though, I made it a good listen. As usual there are surprises and a few attempts at buffoonery. Let’s dive in.
The first thing to notice: There are 23 tracks on the CD, but 19 listed on the front sleeve. That means I hid four comedic bits somewhere between the songs, to be discovered by surprise. That’s why I left off the track numbers.
The opener “Big Yellow Joint” is a jingle from the TV show Arrested Development. Remember the Banana Stand? In the 60s it was a popular place to meet to buy and sell weed! But that’s out of the way quickly and it’s “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago from a very poor quality mp3. “25 or 6 to 4” is the definitive rock song with a horn section. Find me a better one.
Then, seamlessly, it’s an old childhood favourite: “Bad to the Bone”! When you make a mix CD, the software generally defaults to a three second gap between songs. I liked a tighter flow than that, so I always used one second or even no gap. This disc is almost 80 minutes long so I used every second I could find. The transitions on my mix CDs are always top notch. After George Thorogood, it’s Pat Travers with “Snortin’ Whiskey”. I was probably hearing these tracks on the radio a lot at the time, so I downloaded ’em and burned ’em.
A really terrible sounding mp3 of “Sonic Reducer” by the Dead Boys reflects my love of the movie Hard Core Logo. It started with the H.C.L. version of “Sonic Reducer”, and then Pearl Jam’s cover. If I liked those, I figured I should download the original. But all this proves to me is why you need to buy the CD. Downloaded versions suck. This is sonically not up to par and I’m surprised I was satisfied by this 10 years ago.
The first audio hoodwink follows the Dead Boys. It’s a 30 second clip from the movie Walk Hard, starring John C. Reilly as Dewey Cox. This clip features Jack Black as Paul McCartney, Paul Rudd as John Lennon, Justin Long as George Harrison, and Jason Schwartzman as Ringo Starr.
Having a chuckle at the Dewey Cox clip is a perfect way to transition over to a couple good reggae songs by Inner Circle: “Sweat” and (of course) “Bad Boys”! Have a laugh, then get down and dance. I like what I did here, if I do say so myself! Going from that back to rock and roll is tricky, but I think I pulled it off with the very poppy “Fire, Ice & Dynamite” by Deep Purple (Mk V). It’s an oddball rarity, only ever appearing on a Deep Purple DVD as a video slideshow.
One of my favourite 80s songs, the Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Grey” still pleases today. I can only handle the Dead in small doses, but this is my favourite of their songs. It’s probably 50% pop and 50% nostalgia. In keeping with the 80s, it’s Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, a live version with the 1999 lineup supposedly intended for the Sandler flick Big Daddy. Immediately following is a live version of “Dead Flowers” from an earlier time. Ah, Limewire! I remember regularly typing in searches like “Guns N’ Roses rare” or “Guns N’ Roses live” and downloading anything I could get my digital digits on. It was also hit and miss in terms of quality. These are bootleggy but not excessively so.
I remember watching Napoleon Dynamite a fuck of a lot back then. I used the presentation Napoleon gave about the Loch Ness monster for the next unlisted comedy bit. Then it’s another rarity, also only available as a bonus track on a DVD: “Nobody Knows What It’s Like to Be Lonely” by Motley Crue. The track is 7:05 long, and every fan of Too Fast For Love needs to hear it and have it. “Song to Slit Your Wrist By”, which I used to think was by Motley Crue but is actually by Nikki Sixx’s 58, is a waste of time that I shouldn’t have included. I thought I had downloaded a rare Japanese bonus track. In a cruel twist, Motley included a 58 song on the Japanese edition of Generation Swine, forcing me to seek it out, not realizing it wasn’t actually Motley Crue.
In the very first instalment of Getting More Tale called That Crush on Avril, my not-so-secret affection for Avril Lavigne was revealed. Let’s be honest, folks — her second album rocked. I still like it. She’s never rocked heavy like that since, and I’ve long since gotten off the train. This CD has a rare acoustic version of “Complicated”, but far better then that is Weird Al’s parody “A Complicated Song”.
“Why’d you have to go and make me so constipated? ‘Cause right now I’d do anything to just get my bowels evacuated, In the bathroom I sit and I wait and I strain, And I sweat and I clench and I feel the pain, Oh, should I take laxatives or have my colon irrigated?”
In 2008, Harem Scarem released a free official download: a recent live version of “Hard To Love”. This was intended as a final gift to fans, since the band were breaking up. Temporarily, thank you very much! The live version shows off the band’s impressive singing abilities, and of course being an official download, the sound quality is all but perfect. I followed that with a live radio performance by ex-Tesla guitarist Tommy Skeoch, a song called “I Left the Circus”. Well, I think technically he was kicked out of the circus. It’s a jokey song about Tesla. According to Skeoch in the intro, one of the guys from Tesla heard it and took it well. “Although he’s kind of a pompous fuck and I don’t really like him.” I’m glad I downloaded this; I don’t know how you’d find it today. Who knows what radio show I downloaded it from. The LeBrain Library™ is a storehouse for things like this. I keep things that the record companies lose in massive fires.
In the late 80s, Robbie Robertson had a popular single called “Somewhere Down the Crazy River”, from his solo debut. Some like it, some hate it, but it’s a remarkable song. It sounds both retro and futuristic. It featured a weird electronic instrument called the Omnichord, and an explosive chorus accompanied by Sammy BoDean. A lot of this CD, scattershot as it is, features songs I enjoyed in my youth, but don’t own the albums. I should fix that.
After a final sketch from the movie Superbad (“I’m gonna cry myself to sleep every night. When I’m out partying”) it’s the ultimate rock comedy of all time. Can you guess what that might be? No, not Spinal Tap. No, not Bad News either. It’s Van Halen’s isolated vocal track of “Runnin With the Devil”!
Weird CD indeed, random but with a lot of effort to make it cohesive and listenable. I’ll give myself:
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.
Three albums seems to be the industry standard before you can release a live one. Harem Scarem followed suit and issued Live in Japan right after their third LP, Voice of Reason. It was their first with new bassist Barry Donaghy, replacing Mike Gionet.
Live in Japan is a safe, fairly compact selection of tunes from the first three. It could use less Voice of Reason, an album which never boasted the killer tunage from the first two. In fact if one edited out “Blue”, “Candle”, “Breathing Sand”, and “Paint Thins”, you could make a pretty tight set. Leave in “Warming a Frozen Rose” though; it was always the best of the Voice of Reason tracks. You can also leave in the title track as it’s pretty heavy. Most of the real firepower comes from Mood Swings. The opening salvo of “Change Comes Around” and “Saviours Never Cry” are a rousing start to the proceedings.
Live, Harem Scarem were tight. Their harmonies are handled easily by the four guys, all capable singers. Harry Hess’ roar is not lessened by the road nor jet lag. He’s as powerful here as he is on record. This is necessary for amped rockers like “Had Enough” and “Empty Promises” from Mood Swings, both very strong. There is only one song from the 1991 debut album Harem Scarem. Representing Harem’s early pop rock roots is “Slowly Slipping Away”; call it a power ballad or just call it a song. It feels like it has too much guitar to be a ballad, so call it what you want: it’s great. You can clearly hear Barry Donaghy’s contributions on backing vocals, an essential part of the song’s hookiness. The live set closes on “No Justice”, the best known track from Mood Swings and an obvious crowd favourite. The vocals are just outstanding from the whole band.
There are two bonus studio tracks on this album, a nice little unexpected treat. The first, “Pardon My Zinger” is a peppy instrumental the likes of which you expect from guys like Joe Satriani. Not so much for guitar trickery, just in terms of composition and hooks. The last track is a new ballad called “More Than You’ll Ever Know”. It has since been reissued on Japanese compilations such as Ballads and B-Side Collection, but this live album is the easiest place to get a copy. As far as ballads go, this one’s not bad.
For fans who didn’t get into Voice of Reason the way they did the first two, Live in Japan offers a bumpy ride. There is little question that the recorded performance is freaking amazing. It just comes down to the songs and personal taste.
HAREM SCAREM – Live and Acoustic (1994 Warner EP, autographed cover pictured above)
Nothing wrong with releasing an EP in between albums, right? Certainly not. In Harem Scarem’s case, they collected some rare stuff and released it as an EP to tide fans over until album #3. A strong album like Mood Swings deserved a little follow-up, to present some of its material live. Recorded in Toronto, “No Justice”, “Hard to Love” and the instrumental “Mandy” kick it hard. Here is the proof that Harem Scarem could pull of their thick harmonies live. Having four singers in the band didn’t hurt, and Pete Lesperance’s guitar flourishes add the necessary pyrotechnics. His solo spot on “Mandy” is a nice moment to spotlight a very under appreciated player. Accompanied by drummer Darren Smith, “Mandy” is transformed live into something a little bigger. “Hard to Love” is beefier than the version from the band’s first album, thanks in no small part to Smith’s ample backup singing.
The three live tracks and the included single edit of the ballad “If There Was a Time” are all taken from the CD single for that song. “If There Was a Time” is one of the band’s most complex ballads, so an edit probably made it a bit more digestible to the masses. For added value, two acoustic versions and one more single edit “Something to Say” from the first album) are also included. The single for “If There Was a Time” is much rarer, so it was nice of Warner to release these things on something with better distribution, according to the back cover, this seems to have been done in collaboration with Warner Music Japan, which would explain why the it looks like a Japanese import from the side.
The acoustic tracks are fantastic: “Jealousy” always seemed like it would be great in the fully-acoustic format. It’s a great little acoustic jam, with Harry Hess showing off his impressive pipes much more so than the album version. The other acoustic version is “Honestly”, which is cool, because that hit ballad was original arranged for piano and keyboards. This version is done for acoustic guitars, which makes it less lush but more (pardon the pun) honest.
Looking back to 1994, it was reassuring to see new Harem Scarem product on the shelves at a time when there was no certainty for bands of their ilk. Live and Acoustic was no exploit EP, as was unfortunately common. It presented a smattering of rarities collected together in one easy package. The single edits are not crucial, but it’s a seven song EP so it’s easy to look at these as just an added bonus.
Against all odds Harem Scarem kept on givin’ er. They were big in Japan but couldn’t get arrested in Canada anymore. Their fourth album Believe (following the monumental Mood Swings and the experimental Voice of Reason) saw release in the Land of the Rising Sun, but in Canada the track listing was tweaked and put out as Karma Cleansing. Original bassist Mike Gionet was out, replaced by Barry Donaghy who was also capable of singing lead. And while three of the guys now had short hair, drummer Darren Smith stubbornly left his long. Awesome.
Although their entire discography has highlights and standouts, many fans feel that Karma Cleansing was at once a return to sound of Mood Swings, and also the last Harem Scarem album before they began adding pop-punk elements. There is nothing wrong with albums like Big Bang Theory and Rubber, and you can’t blame the guys for trying out some changes for greater success. Fans who have stuck around since the start prefer the more progressive elements of Mood Swings and Karma Cleaning.
One can see parallels between Harem Scarem and bands such as Extreme and Van Hagar. “Karma Cleansing”, the title track could have been an outtake from Van Halen’s Balance LP. However, Harry Hess has a unique and powerful voice that is identifiably him. When the band join him on those thick Harem Scarem harmonies, they hone in on that sound that makes them special. “Karma Cleaning” kicks it off hard, melodically and with just a touch of exotic progressive influences.
One after another the strong songs roll on: “Cages” hits the heavy buttons that you wanna hit to get the blood pumping fast. Then “Hail, Hail” has Queen verses with pompous hard rock choruses. And while one can hear that Harem Scarem continue to bring new and interesting elements to their songs, you can also identify that the guitar work is simplified. It’s less busy, less showy. This was a trend that continued into the next albums.
“Morning Grey” then conspires to bring Beatles sounds into the picture, but like its title, it’s dreary though hugely complex. The adrenaline starts to flow again on “Die Off Hard”, a brilliant anthem that kicks every ass in the room. Harem Scarem managed to write a few of these over the years, usually a couple per album. Songs like “Die Off Hard” are immediate, but never get old. Interestingly, the bridge to the song (“It’s been a long time coming…”) is ancient. It appeared on Harem Scarem’s earliest demos before their first album as a part of other songs. It only took four albums to finally use it! Fortunately it found a home in “Die Off Hard”, making it one of the most luminous diamonds in the Harem Scarem catalogue.
This sounds like a nice place for a side break. “Rain” is a light ballad, refreshing and cleansing the palette. The mood gets darker on “I Won’t Be There”, somewhere between ballad and mournful dirge. The band’s knack for melody keeps it all above the water: yet another brilliant song. The beat gets harder on “Victim of Fate”. Chunky guitars and a groovin’ foundation make this a winning combination. Unmistakable Harem Scarem harmonies bring the chorus to the top level. Then comes the Van Halen style boogie of “Believe”, an unexpected twist. There are no words to describe how much this song kills it. It also feels like it’s building up to an ending, as the side plays on. That finale is “The Mirror”, a theatrical ballad which serves to end the album with a musical statement. Not a ballad in the “radio hit” sense, but that it’s a slow track with light and shade, keyboards and emotional singing.
What an album. You can see why the fans in Japan got it. A lot of the rock artists that make it big in Japan are melodic rock bands with incredible musicians. Harem Scarem fit that bill, and Karma Cleansing is another jewel in their crown.