rubber

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

Part 160/REVIEW: Harem Scarem – Acoustic Sessions (Limited Edition)

I’m going to try and cover more rarities from my collection in 2013.  Here’s a very rare one indeed!  First, the story of how I acquired it, then the review.

RECORD STORE TALES Part 160:  Harem Scarem Acoustic Sessions

Everybody at the store knew I was a big Harem Scarem fan.  A bunch of Japanese imports found their way into the store, and I bought them all.  I also played their music frequently in-store, as it was melodic and radio-friendly.  Their stuff ranged from early Jovi-goodness to mid-period progressive pop rock sounds, to later pop punk.  I liked pretty much everything they did, until they changed their name to Rubber and drifted too far into the pop direction for my tastes.

At one point in the early 2000’s, we had a large warehouse in the back of one of our stores.  The idea was, we’d warehouse stock for opening future stores.   There was a warehouse manager, and he would inventory everything in there.  We’d send him anything decent that we had too many copies of.  He’d also have stock from liquidations, or estate sales.

A lot of the time, the stuff from liquidations would include promo CD singles.  I have dozens of promo discs from him, that we couldn’t sell in store.  Usually these promo discs would have edit versions of album tracks.  I have stuff from him including promos from Metallica, David Lee Roth, Motley Crue, and King’s X.  Some of them, like the King’s X (which we’ll talk about in the future), had rare non-album tracks too.

He also ran our eBay store, and eBay have strict rules about selling promo discs.  So basically, anything that was obviously promo sat in boxes gathering dust in our warehouse.  On occasion, when it was a band like Harem Scarem that he knew I liked, he’d let me have it.  Otherwise it would have sat there for years, probably just to be thrown in the garbage at some point.

One of the discs that he sent my way was a Harem Scarem EP called Acoustic Sessions.  Subtitltled Limited Edition, there were only 500 copies made (see footnote for confirmation of this number.)

Most commercial retail releases have barcodes, and this one does not, indicating it probably was not a commercial release.   Yet it also doesn’t say, “Not For Sale: Property of Warner Music Canada Ltd.” like a promo should, so who knows?  It doesn’t even have a year printed on the case, only the CD itself (1991).  The spine of the CD doesn’t even have a serial number.  Maybe it was given to fanclub members or contest winners?

Either way:  Never seen it before, never seen it since.  I don’t truthfully know how it ended up in our possession, whether it was a liquidation, or just something we purchased off a regular customer somewhere.   The details are now lost to the sands of time, but either way it ended up in our warehouse and consequently my collection.  I also don’t recall what I paid for the disc.  Probably $3.  That would have been typical, with my staff discount, for something like this.  With hindsight, we probably could have sold it for much more than that, but the folks in charge always underestimated the selling power of bands like Harem Scarem.

If it’s true that there’s only 500 copies out there, then I’m thrilled.

Oh, who am I kidding?  It’s a rarity no matter what!  I’m still thrilled!

SAM_1892

HAREM SCAREM – Acoustic Sessions Limited Edition (1991 Warner Music)

The EP starts with a 3:16 edit version of their single “Something To Say”, the fifth single from Harem Scarem’s self-titled debut album.  It’s a ballad, pleasant enough, acoustic.  It has a really nice acoustic guitar solo courtesy of virtuoso player Pete Lesperance.  Otherwise I’ve never considered it a standout.  If you like “To Be With You” by Mr. Big or “More Than Words” by Extreme, this is another ballad for your collection.  This same version was later released on another EP called Live & Acoustic.

Onto the exclusive acoustic tracks.  These three songs were only available here, or the 1994 Japanese import version of the debut album.  Good luck finding that today at a decent price!

The debut single “Slowly Slipping Away” (co-written by songsmith Marc Ribler) is rendered in acoustic form first.  These acoustic sessions were recorded at Cabin Fever studios and self-produced by Lesperance and singer Harry Hess.  As great a song as “Slowly Slipping Away” surely is, I think it does miss something in its acoustic form.  That really nice electric guitar hook that precedes the verses, I miss it!  I also miss that throbbing bassline.  Yet the band’s incredible harmony vocals are just as powerful as ever.

“How Long” is next, a great album track in acoustic form.   The chorus is just as big and dramatic as the album version, thanks to the band’s trademark harmonies.  In my opinion, the band’s strength here was the original drummer, Darren Smith.  What a voice.  (The quartet were rounded out by original bassist Mike Gionet who stayed for three studio albums and a couple live releases.)

“Hard To Love” was not a single, but it works really well acoustically and maybe should have been a single after all.   Once again the harmonies soar, with Smith in particularly standing out.  I’ve always felt that the band really lost something when he left in the early 2000’s.  This is a great track, radio ready and full of hooks.

The fifth and final track is just the regular album version of “Something To Say”, at 4:41, with the full (intricate) acoustic intro.

For a five song EP, this one is a winner.  Just wish I knew more about its history!

4/5 stars

ADDED NOTE:  Reader Danny has emailed the haremscarem.net site, and heard back from somebody regarding there being only 500 copies of this CD:

yes it’s true. Very rare now, because it was released in this very limited quantity.
Take care,
Dan

Thanks for sharing!