Harem Scarem – Mood Swings (1993)

harem-scarem-mood-swings-1993

Harem Scarem seem to reinvent themselves every other album, going from the keyboard filled Def Leppard meets Honeymoon Suite debut and sliding all the way into the depths of nu-breed “modern” rock and then back to AOR again in recent years. But unlike other bands that seem to do this soul searching to try and discover the recipe of musical perfection to later hang onto, this Canadian band found their potentially chart smashing sound for one grandiose release and then ditched it. It was a few years too late, in 1988, “Mood Swings” likely would have been a major hit maker for them, but for 1993, a year often discarded by melodic fans since the radio had jumped ship on the genre and a plethora of superb releases by the likes of Virgin Steele, Winger, Red Dawn, Gotthard, Talisman, Savatage and many more were left drowning by the wayside or trapped in their own countries with no US labels biting for domestic release, the time had passed for rock of any sort that didn’t include distortion and teenage angst, and thus this one sank with the rest of them. Only to be hauled to shore as a precious treasure years later. A lot of albums succumb to the over hyped ravings of band fanboys and fangirls, blowing the music contained within way out of proportion. Disappointment is usually lurking on the horizon when anyone starts ranting about how such-and-such is the “Greatest CD EVAH!” but in this case, the hype is right. “Mood Swings” is an exceptional package of melodic hard rock, in fact, it is so good in places it nearly defines the genre. It’s a potent mixture of Def Leppard’s harmonies, Pretty Maids style (think “Sin Decade”) and rough edges, and some of the top heavy melodic pop jolt of Winger. The disc relies on catchy guitar and delivers this in spades, as catchy riffs run throughout most songs, lending an added layer of depth to explore upon repeated listenings. The production is sharp and doesn’t sound overly dated even eleven years later, and the disc just flows with tight musicianship and Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids fame) type vocals. On top of it all, the combo of Pete Lesperance and Harold Hess have yielded a bounty of fantastic songs. Highlights include the immense album opener, “Saviors Never Cry” that is harsh and heavy much like the best rockers from Pretty Maids, but pops out some extremely melodic moments that lighten it up, letting the metallic sections stand out without becoming annoying or repetitive. You will likely find yourself just waiting for the melodic massive sections to kick in all while basking in the rays of pure hard rock. “No Justice” can best be described as a mix of Winger’s “Pull” and Def Leppard’s “Retro-Active” with the hearts of Pretty Maids locked within. Subdued sections are disturbed into harsher, yet flowing areas, milking that contrast angle for all its worth. The melodic slab of “Stranger Than Love” is one of the best Def Leppard copies I have ever heard. They actually managed to capture the magic of the Lep’s “Hysteria” and meld it into a mind blowing uptempo rocker that keeps spinning in the head days after hearing it. “Jealousy” has the shades of the blues hanging out in plain sight to start out with, you can hear the sorrow biting grit in the guitar exposing the instinctive intentions, as well as showcasing this as a taste of something different, expanding the album’s variety. The chorus is as catchy as everything else on this album, and the rather simplistic musical take let the vocals breathe. “Sentimental Blvd.” Starts off as a smooth flowing rocker for the first thirty seconds, a thick guitar riff squirming around in the background, and then suddenly a huge titanic wave of melody crashes the boundaries down for an absolutely breath taking bridge, that heightens excitement levels with gigantic vocal harmonies and rather simple but effective guitar riffs before sliding into an absorbing chorus that takes it down a notch for a few silky catchy moments before giving way for the next round of verses. The echoing of the ending is truly the touch of masters, not a necessity but causes the song to linger on in memory. “Nothing for you and nothing for me.” “If There Was A Time” is likely the most misunderstood song on “Mood Swings”. It is my personal favorite with its emotional power that resonates strongly on many levels. This one borders on being a ballad, opening with swirling keys and gently adding acoustic guitars and that soul worn voice on top. While there’s much to love here, the gentle building pressure through the verses to the skipping time change for the bridge, the extended yells, the guitar solo that seems to be a heart unraveling its strings yet still searching for the answer, it is the centerpiece of the chorus that takes you away in the end. The electric notes seem to pop in at the perfect sections between the vocals, which change up the lyrics to keep it all fresh, right up until the piano that begins the song, closes it with the effect of fade. This is fantastic stuff, and one of the top songs from the 90s. “If there was a time.for mercy in my life.it’s right now.” And then there’s “Just Like I Planned”, a much panned a capella song that is pulled off so beautifully that I just have to wonder what other people are thinking sometimes. It shows the band’s versatility, without being a gimmick, all while being a lovely song in its own right. As you can likely tell from the descriptions, this CD goes through many mood swings, all which are as precious as the last. The hype is finally deserved, Harem Scarem’s “Mood Swings” will always be the album that melodic rock lovers will continue to measure the band up to, simply because it managed to do many things on several levels and succeed at all of them with flying colors. Not the best album of 1993, but in the top five, making it an essential selection for every AOR/melodic rock fan out there.

1 Saviors Never Cry
2 No Justice
3 Stranger Than Love
4 Change Comes Around
5 Jealousy
6 Sentimental Blvd.
7 Mandy
8 Empty Promises
9 If There Was a Time
10 Just Like I Planned
11 Had Enough
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