For fans of: AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Guns & Roses, Queen Foreword:
I want to start by saying that due to personal connections with the band which I will delve into further below, there could be a level of personal bias in this review, so please take my opinions with a pinch of salt.
Harlequin’s Kiss are a Birmingham based contemporary rock band with classic influences from blues, stadium rock and early heavy metal. They have been performing on-and-off for over 10 years on the local scene and have recently released their first full album, We’ve Been Expecting You. The album artwork is an eye-catching art-deco design which would not look out of place at their hometown’s Electric Cinema, a fully functioning small independent cinema which stands as a time capsule in an ever-evolving industrial city. The cover certainly lets you know that you’re about to listen to something vibrant and exciting.
The music itself is 10 tracks, approximately 41 minutes long of the band’s repertoire spanning the entirety of the band’s existence. From the Original Line-up (OL) to their post-brief hiatus renaissance (RN): This is the point where I was a part of the band as rhythm guitarist and have writing credit; to current line-up (CL), there is an impressive display of range in the styles of tracks, yet each manage to maintain a signature sound and ethos across the album that their live fan base has been accustomed to. One criticism is that the exact order of the tracks is a little jarring on one or two places, although its structure is to accommodate a potential vinyl release should the band’s popularity soar: and follows a set list tradition of their opening and closing act. Throughout the album, the guitar solos are well executed and compliment the songs, however there is a small over-reliance on triples on occasions. A little more variety wouldn’t go amiss; but that is not to say they aren’t good, and they do make the band recognizable. Also, it could just be my lack of quality sound systems I had at my disposal for re-listening, but I would have preferred the bass to be a little more prominent in the mix to show off Ed’s electric double bass lines which hook up the tracks well, giving it the position to shine it deserves.
Opening the album is “Insane” (OL), a band staple that has seen minor tweaks throughout the band’s lineup changes yet has remained a constant feature over ten years. Having heard the demo recording made by the original line up (this is available on their YouTube channel), the progression is night and day. Having a second guitarist helps beef out the catchy verse lick and makes this an absolute belter. Rob’s vocals have stepped up here too, adding a touch of presence and gravelly authority that matches his live stage presence that previous studio and demo recordings were lacking. This leads into Renaissance era track “Tonight” (RN). An upbeat and catchy sing-along chorus with pace and aggression that says, “come and have a good time”. One of the tracks I had a hand in writing and recording on the band’s 2016 studio EP “Playing Rough” the newer polished version stays melodically identical, and the vocal improvements, and album-quality mastering show here. “Tonight” is very much a party tune and one that got a very music-loving toddler to headbang.
Third comes the more contemporary sounding “The Soldier and the Spider’s Web” (CL), a song that is lyrically inspired by Robert Bruce, King of Scotland. The song’s structure is very atypical and that is a good thing. It’s ballsy and bluesy riffs are very befitting of the song’s subject. This is also the time you will hear additional guest vocals from local female artist Zero Leo in the backing track, along with some keyboard and synth work by the album’s producer, Bob Cheel. This track gives a glimpse of some of the varied influence, and stylistic range that shows of the band’s talents well. The album then goes punk influenced with their political number “Are You Gonna Come Out?” (RN). Lyrically, this is markedly different from its first live iterations to encapsulate a more relevant stance on current political affairs as the first draft looked at the press campaigns leading up to the divisive Brexit Referendum. Fast paced, aggressive and ballsy this track delivers with a gentle yet haunting almost wild-west implying intro leading into the crescendo of the main event. Very simple and very clever writing.
The album then takes a drastic change of pace as acoustic guitars are introduced for the first time for the power ballad “Best Years” (CL). A phone/lighter wave inducing song reminiscing on friendships gone by, this song could easily have fallen into the category of cliché however it is beautifully written, and the lyrics hit you right in the feels. The guitar work, and additional keyboard make an encapsulating piece of music, the soft drums and bass work compliment it well. Listening to this track brought me to tears with two standout memories – my time with the band, and a close friend who sadly and suddenly lost her life in her sleep The song’s exit is a great piece of musical writing.
The album moves on with another change of pace, which was a little jarring. The Second Single from this album, “Nightwalker” (CL) is a swinging blues influenced track that is guaranteed to get stuck in your head. Lyrically dark yet enthralling, this is a song that should make men aware of their own behavior in public or social media in the presence of women. Ironic, as it is inspired by a Persian vampire flick “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”. Next comes up the re-recorded “Take Me Away” (RN), the third single released on the same day as the album. The music video is their first to carry a narrative, compliments the lyrics of the song, and is worth a watch if you like narrative music videos. Take Me Away is a simple 3-chord anthem that gave Rob a hard time finding a suitable vocal melody – The lead riffs are written in a different but complimentary key to the rhythm. Lyrically it describes the happy yet hallucinogenic state of a mental health patient on strong medication, falling in love with their nurse. The album slows down again with love ballad “Closer” (CL). I remember the intro riff being banded around during writing sessions, so it was great to hear something finally come of it. Again, Zero Leo lends her vocal cords to the album, this time taking a lead position on the second verse complimenting Rob’s softer vocals which are on point. The band have expertly avoided the clichés that often plague 80’s rock ballads by having well written and thought out lyrics which come across as meaningful and personal.
The album closes off by upping the pace and digging out two staples from the band’s original line up. The 12-bar Blues anthem about a naughty bear, “Edward” (OL), gets another makeover that’s sure to get you moving again. This short but sweet track is a vibrant showing of party time that reminds you that the roots of the genre of Rock and Roll can still sound great with a touch of modern flair. Again, producer Bob Cheel adds some boogie to the proceedings with some blues piano that rounds off the song nicely, before the album finishes with their 6-minute epic, “Redemption” (OL). Another guitar masterpiece from their early days Redemption has evolved quite a lot, however its instantly recognizable introduction leaves no mistake to any of the band’s followers who have heard them play this live. This track was released as a first single and the band’s first full professional video came with it. Another hard rock headbanger which stadium style ending was worthy of closing out an album.
Overall, We’ve Been Expecting You is exactly what a debut full studio album should be. A series of well-honed tracks that showcase the band’s talents and musicianship, whilst forming a style and identity that will get potential fans interested. Harlequin’s Kiss manage to traverse several stylistic influences whilst maintaining an identity much stronger than some new artists, who tend to often fall too far either side of that balance either by being too monotonous in affirming their identity or showing too much variance bordering an identity crisis. Heavy enough to appease many classic and hard rock fans whilst maintaining easy enough listening to receive mainstream radio airtime. If rock is supposed to be dead, then Harlequin’s Kiss are the Defibrillator shocking it back to life. Just before the album’s release, the band dropped the bombshell that Rob has been forced to leave the band due to moving away from the band’s hometown and unable to commit to the travel, leaving a very large and unique pair of shoes to fill. I wish his successor the very best of luck, when one has been found. I look forward to getting my hands on a physical copy once they become available to blast in my now outdated car as I am driving. No doubt my son will love that too, as despite his extremely short attention span, he listened to every note, beat and melody with delight. We’ve Been Expecting you is definitely worth a listen for those who love the old school as much as the new.
Search for Harlequin’s Kiss on Facebook and Instagram.
We’ve been expecting you now available on
Apple music: https://music.apple.com/…/weve-been…/1626621448