Harem Scarem – Thirteen Review

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Can’t say that I am big fan of live videos, but when Harem Scarem decided to call it quits a few years ago, I bought a video of one of their last shows at Firefest. I don’t know what it is about that video, but I watch it and I feel really sad. Maybe it is just me and nothing like what the guys felt at the time, but I just get a sense of frustration and disillusionment from the video. Nothing wrong with the performance, but I can’t work up any enthusiasm and haven’t watched it that often.

Well after a trial separation Harry and Pete couldn’t get along apart and got back together again. I was a little disappointed when their first output was what seemed like a pointless re-recording of Mood Swings, especially when, although I they were decent, the new tracks didn’t really fit in the earlier material. But well, I guess that album was more to do with the band getting back the rights to those songs than anything else. So now the guys are back with their first proper album after the reunion.

I actually bought this album through a Pledge Music campaign. It was the first time I had ever done that and I gotta say the experience was little underwhelming. There were a few videos (13, I think, which makes sense) which gave some insights into the recording process and I ended up with a signed copy of the CD. In addition to the physical copy I also got access the download version. I not sure why, because there was no promise when I signed up, but I always thought the first listen to the album would be from my downloaded version, knowing that the physical copy would be arriving later. In fact, the album was on Spotify a few days before the official release date, with download availability coinciding with the official release date. And people wonder why streaming services are on the up and downloads are on the decrease!

Putting that all to one side, for those of us that follow the band, the question I was most interested in was the musical style of the new album. I wondered if the band would take the opportunity to maybe revert back to the power-pop which they seemed to favour around the middle of their pre-split output, or if they would go for the full retro sound ala Mood Swings which many fans have been calling for. In fact, this time out I think the guys just decided to make an album to suit themselves. What does that mean? Well, the general sound is the slightly rockier style that was present for the couple of albums pre-split, but this time out in the vocals I hear lots of Queen and musically the guitars have a swagger that reminds me of Van Halen and on a couple of tracks a marginally darker heavier sound.

For me, Harry’s voice has just the right amount of rasp to it to give the vocals character and make them distinctive and Pete’s guitar initially sounds simple, but with the revelation of complexity being the prize for repeated listens. Generally speaking the lyrics have an upbeat vibe to them, even if during one of the songs the band do state that ‘every other cliché applies’. Sounds like they enjoyed making the album and this transfers to the listening experience.

As with other albums, it’s a tad on the short side and I can’t help wondering if the time spent recording the bonus acoustic versions of a couple tracks couldn’t have been better spent writing and recording additional material. But, hey maybe it a case of never mind the length, which is equivalent to that of old fashioned vinyl, hear the quality.

The album starts off decently with Garden of Eden, but when “Live It” swaggers onto the speakers it is clear boys are back and on top form. The lyrics are cheesy as hell, but oddly inspiring and uplifting – “Life’s a shot and you get one, so live it free, live it hard”. That swagger stays for “Early Warning Sign” with it’s power pop meets hard rock – essentially the type of music at which the band excel. Do I detect a little bit of Van Halen-esque groove going one – maybe? Harry is the star on the next couple of tracks – the mid-tempo catchy “The Midnight Hours” and the good, but perhaps predictable balladry of “Whatever It Takes”.

Things get a little heavier for “Saints and Sinners” but the chorus still still very catchy. And talking of catchy, “All I Need” is arguably the catchiest track on offer. The amount of care these guys put into the recording process pays when the harmonies are this good. “Troubled Times” like, “Saints and Sinners”, typifies the type of music they band seem to be happiest playing these days. “Never Say Never” is a slower track where the vocals harmonies are to the fore. The heartfelt lyrics perhaps reflect the band’s struggle to keep going, but like they say in the song “every other cliché applies”. “Stardust” is a strong close to the album.

Yeah, it’s a good one!

Category: 4 stars, Reviews, Year 2015 | Comments Off on Harem Scarem – Thirteen Review