Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Harem Scarem “Harem Scarem” (1991)

It’s weird how what has become one of my all-time favorite bands completely slipped under my radar for a few years. 1991 was a weird time in my life where music had taken a backseat to outside forces and my sense of discovery had been replaced by a complacency for whatever was fed to me via MTV (yes, they were still playing videos then). I had stopped buying my bi-weekly fix of Kerrang! magazine, which was my musical bible for much of the 80s, so new music was not high on my list of priorities. Even my monthly shopping trips into the Village in NYC had stopped.

Fast forward a couple of years, past life changing events, and a swelling undercurrent of discovery thanks to friends I had made through that new fangled thing called the Internet. By some point in 1993 or 1994, I had started to trade tapes (yeah, cassettes!) with people all over the world. One particular mix tape had found its way to me from Scotland. Insert tape, side A, press play and the first song that came out was “With A Little Love,” and I know it sounds cliché, but it changed my world.

At this time frame of the decade, about all I was hearing of late were bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and their ilk. Suddenly though, with one simple song, I was catapulted back to my first (and still strongest) musical love. Taking equal parts of 80s arena rock (like Journey and Def Leppard) blended with late 80s hair metal (lots of Extreme and Winger), it was really like nothing I had heard in years. I drove out that day and hit all my favorite import haunts until I found not only their debut but the follow up, “Mood Swings.”

But that one little song, and eventually the entire album, re-lit my flame of discovery and led to my starting of a promotional website and company, SFK (which ran for almost 12 years), where like that mix tape, allowed me to share with the world all the great music that might be slipping under other’s own personal radars thanks to the mainstream musical wasteland that was the 90s.

That was only one song too. The rest of the album had so much more. Whether you felt like rocking your own arena to “Hard To Love,” “All Over Again” or “How Long” or taking it easy to acoustic power ballads like “Honestly” and “Something To Say,” it makes me wonder how this album didn’t sell millions. And, considering the band only seemed to get better more diverse with each outing, the mystery just deepens. In melodic rock circles, the band are still gods, with their cult-like following snapping up everything the foursome touch.

Nowadays, the members own one of Canada’s biggest recording studios and do a lot or work for Canadian Idol. Smokey voiced singer Harry Hess also released a great hard rock album last year under the name of First Signal (read our review here) while guitarist Pete Lesperance, who could stand his own with guys like Nuno Bettencourt or Brian May, had some minor chart success with his new band Fair Ground.

Maybe it was all in the timing. As this album was released, a wind known as grunge blew through and, well, you know the rest. Shame we couldn’t turn the clock back just a little bit and let them be big on their own terms.