Adopting a Middle Eastern flavor to enhance her blend of classical and new age pop, Sarah Brightman's Harem continues her experimentation with thematic discs that began with 1993's oceanic Dive. These themes, while never dominant or original, are simply meant to enhance her brand of crossover just enough to keep listeners interested in hearing her next project. Harem accomplishes that feat by shrouding new age pop songs in a thin Middle Eastern veil that disguises, but never completely covers, Brightman's true musical identity. It works well when she fully utilizes the theme, as on the opening title track where Brightman's fragile operatic voice is able to capture the traditional phrasing without sounding forced. But when the formula simply dresses up a pop/dance song like "The Journey Home," the results are less interesting and cross into territory already explored by the group Enigma and its worldly hits. Elsewhere, Brightman appears to have been taking classes at the Kate Bush vocal institute, sounding eerily similar to the English thrush on the quiet tracks "What You Never Know" and "Free," her writing collaboration with Sophie B. Hawkins. Retaining her classical leanings, Brightman successfully incorporates "Un Bel Di," from Puccini's Madame Butterfly, into the surging beats of "It's a Beautiful Day," her best attempt at creating a chart-worthy hit. Middle Eastern music stars like Kazem al-Saher and the late Ofra Haza lend an air of authenticity, while the tasteful arrangements by former Killing Joke frontman Jaz Coleman refrain from overpowering Brightman's voice or sinking into an Arabian parody. The disc gets a bit long by the time it reaches the unnecessary standard "Stranger in Paradise," but Brightman's Harem adventure is interesting enough to have listeners packed and ready to travel with her on another musical journey.
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AllMusic Review by Aaron Latham
|Bombay Dreams, musical play|
feat: Ofra Haza
feat: Kazem Al Saher
|Kismet, musical (after works by Alexander Borodin)|