On the eve of an exciting new archival live album for Record Store Day and a generous deluxe edition of the original LP, we look back at The Alarm’s 1985 classic Strength
Back in the ‘80s, drive, delivery, protest and pontificating were primary additives as far as the bigger marquee names were concerned. Artists like Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and John Fogerty, along with bands like the Clash, Big Country and U2, took their outsized anthems to the biggest arenas and seized the role once confined to folk’s traveling troubadours two decades earlier. They perceived that it was their responsibility to spread the word about the injustice and harsh realities of the modern world while speaking up for those that often lacked a voice in their everyday affairs. Rock ‘n’ roll became the messenger. The crowds were encouraged to sing along, hold their lighters aloft and keep their air guitars flailing in time.
While the Alarm never exactly hit the heights of stadium success, they were proud warriors in that new phase of cultural conflict. Welding their guitars like battle axes, they sang songs flush with determination and defiance, wrapped up in the militaristic tones of anarchists and underdogs. It came as little surprise then that Strength, their second album that followed on the heels of their debut, Declaration, wrapped their songs in such angst and intensity. Practically every track conveyed that sense of insurrection and insurgency, the sound of soldiers marching off to war and undertaking the essential conflicts and espousing the just causes that they needed to support so as to win over the masses. The strident sound of “Knife Edge,” “Strength,””Deeside,” “Father To Son,” and “Spirit of ’76” — the latter being the most successful single of the Alarm’s early career — more than hint at that rousing militancy, drive and deliberation. It’s little wonder that the album made such an emphatic impression. Indeed, it rang with an urgency for the ages.
Now re-released with no less than 30 bonus tracks — outtakes, live cuts, B sides and singles — it still conveys that immediate impact.
Ironically, the need for such a rallying cry didn’t end with the ‘80s. Now, as we near the end of the second decade of the new millennium, the issues are even more troubling and far more embroiled. In a very real sense, the Alarm is needed more than ever. Granted, their hairstyles and unbridled optimism may be hopelessly out of fashion. Bands like these are either entrenched in comeback mode or packaging themselves as a proper fit for the oldies tour circuit. (Little wonder, then, that the band has announced they’ll soon be on tour with fellow members of the ‘80s elite, Modern English and Gene Loves Jezebel.) On the other hand, the promise of a new album this summer raises hopes that the band will be able to reclaim their role as a vigilant voice against injustice.
“I’m a lonely man walking lonely streets,” singer Mike Peters sang on the song “Dawn Chorus,” indicative perhaps that railing on behalf of righteousness can make for a solitary scenario. Credit the Alarm’s willingness to wave that flag of truth among turbulence. Pardon the pun, but we need to sound the Alarm now more than ever.