|Harem Scarem Higher||Frontiers Records|
The writing partnership of Hess/Lesperance is the melodic rock equivalent to that of Lennon/McCartney. The duo is that good. As far as writing the best possible examples of the music we love, these guys are it.|
They may vary their delivery, style and pace, but rarely do they write anything that isn't instantly likeable and memorable. And more importantly fans are guaranteed at least 2 or 3 absolute classics on every single album. Sometimes more. When you consider this is the band's 7th studio album (without counting the Rubber releases) – that adds up to more classic tracks than the vast majority of fellow artists.
Last years Weight Of The World album saw the guys return to their more classic melodic rock style, which also included a couple of modern friendly tracks and a very contemporary production.
The album had it all – it was the complete package.
So what could they do with Higher to in order to compete with that classic album and possibly even better it?
The band's answer was to combine the best parts of Weight Of The World with their much loved and more AOR styled self titled debut.
Higher is simply drenched in melodies and is more chorus friendly than any other album since the debut, yet it sounds very contemporary and quite refreshing thanks to the modern production.
This could almost be considered Weight Of The World's younger brother. This is an album that is a little softer and not as in your face, but filled with glorious harmony filled songs that experiment less and see the band really working the choruses.
Even better, those choruses are all connected by even more bridges, harmonies and hooks.
Track By Track:
Reach kicks off the album with typical Harem Scarem gusto. The track has a modern feel to it, especially in the delivery of the verse. Harry's vocals and the hard edged riff add something new to the band's repertoire, but come chorus time it's back to familiar territory. The track is a solid rocker and the heaviest number on the album, but isn't as original as other tracks. The arrangement has been heard before in such tracks as Believe, Voice Of Reason and Change Comes Around.
Waited is a definite contender for Song Of The Year. Starting soft, with a blanket of acoustic guitars, the song bursts to life with a chorus to die for. You only have to wait 40 seconds to reach this monster, emotional mid-tempo anthem that is as instant as it is perfect. Adding texture to the song is a mid-song tempo break before multi-choruses are laid on us. As classic as Hard To Love or Sentimental Blvd.
Torn Right Out could have been torn right out of Harry's own solo record, or the last album, with its more modern pop/rock vibe. But at its heart, this track is another melodic beast, with another big chorus and definite sing-along potential.
Give It To You is the only track that really touches on the band's love of nu-breed or modern rock on Higher. The songs has a similar vein as Weight Of The World tracks Killing Me and If You, and like those songs, features a huge chorus that all melodic fans will love.
Higher sees a return to the classic Mood Swings guitar sound and is another mix of that album and Weight Of The World. The title track is a lovely mid-tempo ballad in the vein of This Ain't Over or End Of Time. The song has a definite Def Leppard stadium feel to it and the multi-layered harmonies are nothing short of glorious!
This for me, is the most interesting and intense part of the album. We are at the half-way mark and I find that the last 5 tracks run together so perfectly, so seamlessly and with a pure melodic bliss that any band would find it hard to top such a run of great songs.
Run And Hide is the first track of this section. A moody vocal intro bursts into a pure pop/rock verse with a great vocal harmony that only these guys are capable of.
Then there's the chorus – f*** me. This feel good, hands in the air, sing-along monster is just perfect melodic rock. It's dressed up in 2003 clothing, but this is melodic rock in its purest and most perfect form. And when the guitar solo is over and the band burst straight back into the chorus, pants will be pissed across the melodic world.
But it's not a one off – it's now straight into Lucky Ones, a track that counters the pop bliss of Run And Hide by being darker and heavier. An acoustic verse is eclipsed by a moody rock verse that sees the band trying something new – both with song arrangement and vocal delivery. This is Higher's answer to Charmed Life off Weight Of The World.
Lies is next, which runs perfectly on from the dark and heavier rock of Lucky Ones. Another angst filled vocal from Harry fills the verse, before a great bridge changes tact and launches us into yet another massive chorus. This is another brilliant example of the genre at it's very best - the chorus is sheer melodic bliss. The vibe of the song matches With A Little Love from the band's debut, although quite heavier and featuring a great (but short) guitar solo.
Gone is introduced with a flurry of acoustic guitars. Another moody, but melodic vocal is only topped by another monster sing-along chorus. It's a little more restrained than the last couple of choruses, and a little softer, but no less impactful and is another magically memorable chorus.
It's hard to believe the last track is here already. More modern production tricks help keep the sound contemporary, with this track dominated by a great guitar riff.
A short bridge in the song lifts the temp a little and then drops us head first into yet another souring, hands-in-the-air chorus. This is another album favourite – if such a thing can be selected from all the great tracks on offer. It's an emotion and power filled rocker and the chorus is one of the band's best.
Not many artists can claim such a right. Previously, when someone asks what is the best album to try to get into Harem Scarem, I would answer Weight Of The World, and also suggest the original classic Mood Swings, followed by the debut.
Now I will simply suggest Higher – as it features a combination of everything that has made the band great - the monster choruses we live for, intelligent songs and a powerful delivery all wrapped in a great production that keeps the music contemporary and open to all newcomers.
I don't think the sound is quite as snappy as it was with the last album – particularly that awesome drum sound, but I believe the songs on Higher to be so utterly essential that fans will rate this album as good as, if not better than the last album. But the production is still world class.
It's even possible that once reality sets in and you realize just how good the songs of Higher are – it could rate as the band's best album to date. You won't think that after the first couple of listens. But the consistency of the album is just too strong to ignore.
I have no hesitation in rating this a "perfect melodic rock album".
I've only done this on 4 previous occasions – Danger Danger (Return Of The Great GIldersleeves & Cockroach), Mecca and Harem Scarem's Weight Of The World.
I should also have done it for Steelhouse Lane's Slaves Of The New World, but I wasn't far off.
Where do the band go from here? Onwards an upwards I hope - my only suggestion is for longer songs and at least 12 tracks on any future album.
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