MSIIAlmost any melodic rock fan will tell you that the first two Harem Scarem albums are classics.  The band’s 1992 debut and ‘Mood Swings’ – their harder sounding follow up from 1993 – set out the Canadian outfit’s stall as a band to be reckoned with.  Twenty years on from ‘Mood Swings’, someone in the Harem Scarem camp decided the best move to celebrate the milestone anniversary would be to re-record the songs…

…They needn’t have bothered.  Yes, this release still shows what great songs filled that original album, but these re-recordings add little of worth. The recordings set out to capture the spirit of the original tracks – and in many ways they do, except the passing years allow plenty of cracks to show.  Vocalist Harry Hess is particularly iffy; he sounds a little rough at times – and the once scratchy vocal at the beginning of ‘Sentimental Blvd’ has moved from scratchy to frankly fucking awful. His voice wobbles throughout this album – and at times it sounds like they’ve tried to cover it with filters and on the few occasions he pushes it too far he borders on the unlistenable. Pete Lesperance’s guitars, meanwhile – well played as they are – are just far too loud in the mix. Looking at the once brilliant ‘Stranger The Love’, his 2013 guitar sound is nowhere near as crisp; there’s far less separation between the chunky riff and the clean toned tinkling as heard throughout.  Meh.

It’s possible to go through and pick holes constantly, but it’s fair to say, for someone who has loved ‘Mood Swings’ for years, there are no real reasons to listen to these re-recordings. Most of them are almost identical to their twenty year old counterparts, just a lot louder and consistently inferior. The one exception is on ‘Just Like I Planned’ which casts aside its many multi-layered, studio based multi-tracked Queen-isms (possibly due to inabilities), replacing most of them with an acoustic backdrop.  This is better since at least it shows some re-invention, but it’s hardly essential listening…and no, it’s not better than the 1993 version either.

So, moving on swiftly – much in the same way that most people should, since “original ‘Moodswings’ vs. 20th anniversary cash-in” should be a no-brainer for most – the big question is: are the three new songs worth investment for the long-time fan?  Well, they aren’t classic Scarem by any means, but two are more than reasonable – already having the benefit of being written with Hess’s limited vocal range more in mind.  Following a distinctly choppy riff and some slight tinkering to make things sound edgy, ‘World Gone To Pieces’ breaks into the kind of chorus befitting of the original ‘Mood Swings’ material – all attitude and harmonies.  As you’d hope, Lesperance delivers a fairly impressive solo too, so this is a tune with a lot going for it.  ‘Brighter Day’ is slightly more interesting with its attempts to blend a classic Harem Scarem sound with a lop-sided time signature – again, allowing Lesperance to cut loose from time to time, but ‘Anarchy’ is not too good.  Following a promising riff, things opt for a slightly techy sound in places, resulting in a forgettable tune.  While the chorus is potentially decent, Hess rasps through the verses like a man who’s really struggling…and even vocal filters/post production doesn’t appear to be helping much…

If the band had dramatically re-arranged the original songs somehow – even resorting to the desperately predictable acoustic setting as heard on ‘Just Like I Planned’ – then maybe, just maybe, this release would be valid…but, mostly, this just represents an older band hammering through some of their best loved tunes as straight down the line as possible.   This is not so much a celebration of the past as a way of getting new royalties [See also Electric Light Orchestra’s re-recorded greatest hits set, which although could also be viewed as a cynical money-spinning ploy, is a thousand times better than this].   Hardcore Scarem nuts may find interest in the three previously unheard appendages and the promise of a bonus “making of” DVD, but even they would be advised to spend their hard-earned pennies on something else – something genuinely new.

August 2013