At times, Mike Peters and the other members of Welsh college rock band The Alarm suffered from too many comparisons to '80s contemporaries U2, but the former group certainly produced an array of worthy mainstream rock songs that stand on their own. Influenced by the energy and passion of punk rock but committed to the creation of workmanlike arena rock, the group should have experienced more success than it did among both mainstream and alternative audiences. Nevertheless, here's a chronological look at the finest songs produced by The Alarm during its solid '80s career.
Though not widely released until 1990's retrospective collection Standards, this track initially appeared as The Alarm's debut self-produced single in 1981. Taken as two sides of the band's decade-long career coin, in fact, it's a song that represents the full circle of The Alarm's consistent sound and raw emotional approach. Featuring a stirring, arpeggiated acoustic guitar opening, the track eventually brings in electric guitars to match Peters' pleading introspective lyrics: "I have declared myself unsafe, unsound, unknown, unwanted, unnecessary... I've been condemned... Who cares?" Listening, it's hard not to.
2. "The Stand"
Having gorged on Stephen King books as a pre-teen, perhaps I'm a bit biased in selecting this track inspired by the writer's epic 1978 novel of the same name. Of course, the classic track from 1983's The Alarm EP stands on its own quite competently as well - if you'll forgive the pun. Buoyed by some raw harmonica playing, the song actually cuts a largely upbeat swath that contrasts intriguingly with the dark, apocalyptic subject matter of the lyrics. Plus, "Hey Trashcan, where you goin' boy, your eyes are feet apart" has always ranked among my favorite mash-ups of popular music and literature.
3. "68 Guns"
The band brings out the horns for this track, which is an appropriate move for a tune whose lyrics accurately and directly label itself as a "battle cry." This type of anthemic approach quickly became emblematic of The Alarm's developing catalogue, as 1983's full-length debut Declaration routinely shows. However, Peters & Co. manage to prevent their stirring, fist-pumping approach from sounding or feeling gimmicky, even if some critics accused the band of this very offense. Overly earnest The Alarm may sometimes get, but the quartet never betrays authenticity.
Members of The Alarm had bigger, perhaps more stylishly obnoxious hair than renowned '80s offenders from A Flock of Seagulls to Poison, and it's certainly worth considering if that visual aspect of the band caused some damage at the critical level. After all, musically speaking, a song like this one is built on pure substance and rock guitar sinew with nary a fragment of obscuring fluff. This is driving rock music that resists categorization but absolutely requires passion, and that's a pretty decent legacy for an '80s band to leave no matter its disposable image.
roots rock-oriented wide-open riffing. Even better, the call-and-response nature of this tune's backing vocals accurately capture the genuinely exposed raw nerve at the core of The Alarm's appeal.
It's probably true that The Alarm occasionally displayed a tendency to get too self-indulgent (the well-regarded but heavy-handed "Spirit of '76" comes to mind), which is why the leaner cuts from 1985's Strength particularly impress. That album's title track certainly crystallizes The Alarm's raucous emotional intensity, but "Absolute Reality" takes that crowd-pleasing quality to another level. Peters' apparent understanding of the threat faced by everyday folks who "stand in judgment with the rest of the clowns" helps the song's unfiltered vulnerability work wonders.
The Alarm could also exercise restraint when necessary, which qualifies the sequencing and single chronology for the group's next LP, 1987's Eye of the Hurricane, as meaningful choices indeed. This lead-off track and single shines for its slow-burn tempo and languid, subtle arrangement, but the brief, rising bridge ("My love is a flame that keeps on burning") leads brilliantly into one of the band's most soaring choruses yet. The Alarm's ability to capture and incite listeners' most primal emotions somehow remains unheralded, and that's a significant and disappointing oversight.