Harem Scarem – Pilgrim’s Progress (Aztec)
Even though they recorded for Au-go-go and were loosely grouped into the same indie grunge territory that was such a big part of Australia’s indie scene at the time, Harem Scarem were quite a different proposition.
At the time, a line was often trotted out about Stooges-meet-Rolling Stones-meet-Hooker.
There’s something to that, but there’s more.
There’s a country tinge.
There’s a swampy looseness that conjures up CCR and Chisel at their Standing-On-The-Outside best.
(The band didn’t like that latter comparison then and doubtless still don’t!)
At the time of Pilgrim’s Progress, Harem Scarem had not only the Marshalls, Chris (vocals) and Charlie (guitar), but also fabulous musicians who would subsequently have claims to international fame – Barry Palmer (Hunters) and Peter Jones (Crowded House and many other gigs befitting a master drummer).
All that plus Chris Wilson on harp and Conway Savage guesting on piano!
Thanks to a cassette of the album provided to me several months before release, I hammered Pilgrim’s Progress on PBS and in the Herald.
Bruce Milne told me back then I’d generated some interest – but it was obviously not enough.
Pilgrim’s Progress mostly passed without notice.
I confess to only seeing the album line-up a couple of times – but one of them was a blazing hot gig at the Tote.
And I missed the one-off reunion gig at the Corner to coincide with Aztec’s 2008 reissue because I was working late on a Saturday night with Lee Howard!
When Aztec did the reissue job in 2008 I was still in a position to make sure Pilgrim’s Progress got the lead review spot in the Sunday Herald Sun.
Fat lot of good that did, too!
So … I don’t get it.
For me Pilgrim’s Progress is the greatest Australian rock album. I’m listening to it now and it still gives me chills, goose pimples and grins.
Ahead of its time.
Still sounds AMAZING.
Or, according to the headline on Michael Lynch’s essay for the reissue: “The one that got away.”
A footnote on the reissue:
Aztec did its usual bang-up job, including some very good live stuff, the interesting but much less persuasive title track to the 1984 Dogman EP and a track from the Au-go-go comp Asleep At The Wheel.
But really it’s 10 tracks from Pilgrim’s Progress that are the magic.