We had the original record come out in 1985 on IRS records then we had the box set in 2000 that had a bunch of bonus cuts from B sides all pulled together then in 2015 we had the 30th Anniversary edition that was re-recorded and re-arranged. Peters himself is of the opinion song for song word for word its the strongest album of the original line ups material in the ’80s.
A big claim indeed and one that will no doubt cause debate amongst the believers from here until the cows come home. For me, Not a chance…am I getting into that debate here, I’ll keep my powder dry, for now with regards to where ‘Strength’ fits in to the bands best list.
Fast forward to 2019 and as part of the reissue project Peters is undertaking we’ve already had the ‘Eponymous’ and ‘Declaration’ records they come out last year and to be fair they were fantastic in content, packaging and pulling the releases and periods of The band together under one title.
they were a fine example of how to carry out such a mammoth labour of love. Whilst it showed a band that might have been a bit nieve from their first recordings they soon found their feet and identity in the big wide world of the music biz and the hunger and desire to compete and succeed was evident. A band who could write some tunes as well and ones that have stood the test of time. So onto ‘Strength’ and that difficult second album – stand still and just be content with what you’ve got or twist and grow. For a band who were forging its own slice of history amid some pretty fierce journalism and a fairly hostile press who fought hard to bury the band amongst some rubbish comparisons and cheap jibes but what doesn’t kill you and all that the Alarm weren’t having any of it and rose above the jibes.
The Alarm grew in confidence and stature and the fans on the street got behind them we knew the score. They played the UCLA to a big crowd granted it was a free show but it was the Alarms show and whilst the mix was a bit fucked and lacked a bit of Sharpies bite and Twists bass drum it was still great to see and hear the band breaking historic ground and all with some dodgy haircuts and questionable wardrobe choices (but it is the mid 80’s I hear you say) anyway this isn’t a history lesson of my youth its a review of the bands sophomore album ‘Strength’.
I think Peters has said that McDonald had said to him to write songs about himself and who and where he’s from rather than big grand gestures which he took on board and penned some of the bands most popular material in ‘Spirit Of 76’, ‘Deeside’ and ‘Walk Forever By My Side’.
I’m not one of the fans who think the original line up is the only lineup and the band and songs cease to exist after Brixton, far from it, but, sure I have my favourite periods and albums like most people. If I’m honest I loved the ‘Eponymous’ period and ‘Declaration’ has the best songs and that’s when I got into this band and they were mine and were a big part of growing up. I loved the sound of the electrified acoustics of those early years and the live shows were sensational so the more chart-friendly sound and ‘produced’ mix of ‘Strength’ took some getting used to. There are parts of the album I adored and still do ‘Deeside’ and ‘Majority’ being two of my favourites from the period I could never believe how the latter was only the B side to ‘Strength’. Of course, I wanted “my band” to be the biggest band on the planet and wanted them to have every success and people to like them as much as my friends and I did as we followed them around the country and thought that ‘Absolute Reality’ was going to be where they were heading and I loved that as it was such a great song but sadly it was missing from the album when it hit the shelves. What were they doing? How could they? Thats two songs left off the album – man this is going to be some follow up if they didn’t make the cut.
Anyway, I’d heard a lot of the songs live before I’d heard the record and ‘Knifedge’ was always a great opener so this was fine with me it’s got a good tempo and it rocked on the record as it did live. Looking back I can’t believe the first three songs on the album clock in well over five minutes which is nuts when you think about it and maybe a good two minutes too long and I never liked the keyboard sound on ‘Dawn Chorus’ because I loved the song and the way the verses built and the gang vocals worked but those keyboards. Now don’t get carried away its not like I hated the record, honest.
Then to follow that they had the epic almost ‘Stairway To Heaven’ like ‘Spirit Of 76’ that built and built and told the story of where Peters came from and I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with this song and there have been times when I’ve loved it having seen it performed well over 100 times and some and other times I found it bloated and hoped it was omitted from the set. Then when I decided I wanted to write a review for the release I have played it quite a few times probably more than any other period over the last thirty years (God now I feel Old).
I was quite excited at the package of the CD and vinyl set having the motherload of tracks from the period and I guess some time away from playing ‘Strength’ maybe laying fresh ears on it has given me distance and perspective. I now see it like a long lost and fondly looked upon relative rather than the debut albums nemesis and songs like ‘Spirit’ rightly hold a special place in the band’s history. I can remember thinking – the cheeky bastards having the front to make a seven-minute single and have female backing vocals and a Pete Townsend guitar break in the middle as the song seemed to take on part 1 part 2 and so on. But time has healed and I now look back at some of the shows where I sat on my mate or brothers shoulders and sang every lyric as my life depended on it and maybe I was harsh on such a great tune.
Maybe it says more about me and my concentration span that the shorter faster songs were the ones that most appealed and to be fair ‘Deeside’ has stood the test of time it was always a belter and I still love hearing it.
‘Father To Son’ always struck me as a bit of an album track. Whilst showing the band had evolved and could write a pop song (of sorts) it was never going to be a single and I doubt it will be any alarm fans favourite track but it worked on the album and to be fair Sharpy plays a blinder with some great fills and playing and when I’ve heard it live in recent years its sounded great. ‘Only The Thunder’ is another I always classed as a bit of an album track. Better than ‘Father To Son’ but quite lyric heavy but one where they got the balance of the commercial keyboard sound with the electric guitar band blends right on the money.
I always loved ‘The Day The Ravens Left The Tower’ and loved the lyrics and the arrangement and thought Peters turned in a fantastic performance with his vocals and always loved it live. I can remember I always used to wish the lyrics would come true (some things never change eh). Nine songs on my original version Ten on the US one which only left that soppy ballad at the end. ‘Walk Forever By My Side’ was always a cheesy song (sure I had it played at my wedding). It was always the song to take a toilet break live or get to the bar and nothings change there, my wife will no doubt have it as her favourite Alarm song which says it all. Anyway, the remaster does nothing to change my mind there then. Possibly The Alarms ‘Marmite’ song. Anyway the addition of ‘Absolute Reality’ warms the cockles of my heart always was and still is one of the bands finest songs. A great choppy riff and some great lyrics to boot I never liked the pound shop U2 jibes and I still don’t. besides, U2 never wrote a song this good and I’m sticking to that ‘Absolute’ was a game changer. As was the ‘Absolute tour’.
To complete this reissue Peters has delved into his diaries and packaged the recordings like the first two and bloody lovely they are too but this seems more comprehensive well above and beyond than 99.9% of other bands will deliver. Rich in detail and with the required amount of passion you’d expect from the man who still believes in Rock and Roll and leaves nothing on the stage every time he performs. When nobody else cared about his band and legacy he did and that’s why he’s built it up from the smoldering embers of peoples memories to a raging bonfire The Alarm is currently. Bloody good on him for that too hard work and passion has paid off. I saw him play to several dozen in Newport or St Asaphs or Swansea or wherever and all these years later its sold-out Gatherings and university Great Hall sell outs as decades later many reconnect as well as get into the band for the first time and that’s down to the hard work and dedication of Peters and his team at the MPO but without his catalogue of songs it simply wouldn’t be possible.
I’m still a fanboy and happy to admit it, I buy all the records and was buzzing when this dropped on the mat. Opening the package and digging in and rediscovering songs I ignored and also having songs like the Acoustic ‘Absolute Reality’ in its proper place alongside ‘Caroline Isenberg’ is sweet (but I still can do without the progtastic mix of ‘Strength’) I do however have to concede that the single version of ‘Spirit’ just doesn’t seem right at only four minutes. Now I wouldn’t have admitted that back in ’85, no chance.
there is a second CD in this epic collection which pulls together the Absolute tour flexi with the rehearsals where they blast through some pretty ropey versions of songs like ‘Get It On’ as well as a top version of ‘Dawn Chorus’ without those keyboards. Whilst Twist does his best Moon the Loon on ‘Summertime Blues’ even if Peters hasn’t a clue of the lyrics, it matters not. They even open up their hard rockin side with a metal as fuck ‘Burn’ complete with the laughter such a tune deserved, (good on you boys).
The ‘Strength’ with added lyrics which sound just weird (well done for not running with these, “over the rainbow, I can hear you now”Lyrics) Michael?
Throughout the jam sessions, the one thing that shines is how much fun the four of them were having just playing music and hanging with mates doing something they possibly thought was never going to happen or places they could only dream about going were now a deserved reality.
It’s funny the songs that I love from the record are the ones jammed live and hardly altered and ‘One Step Closer’ was and still is one hell of a song and the live jam of it on this CD is mega. When a band hit that groove no matter how its arranged may it be acoustic – full band – whatever, songs like ‘Closer’ are timeless and from the first time I heard it, it was The Alarm in a nutshell. Just four minutes full of passion, bristling with energy and Dave Sharps finest few minutes as a songwriter. from the breakdown to the build it back up its a magnificent song then and still is now and this is the best version.
Its no secret my love of everything Rod The Mod from The Faces to Leopard print trousers. I was always loving The Alarm having a go at ‘Maggie May’ a song I think I first heard them do in the Marquee Club back in the midst of time. hearing it here is a thing of beauty as is the politicly charged ‘Stand Down Mergret’ and ‘Maggies Farm’ thrown in for good measure (I’m always down for a bit of Thatcher-bashing). Hearing the Brass Band warming up is a bit weird but I did quite enjoy the live version of ‘Walk Forever’ but don’t tell my wife.
So, That’s the CDs dealt with now onto the Vinyl. Ok, I won’t go on too much honest. (Well I did say I was a Fanboy and Classic Rock, Uncut or Record Collector won’t give The Alarm the attention they deserve much to their eternal shame)
The second record features nine demos for the original album concept of ‘Absolute Reality’ including three previously unreleased songs ‘Sons Of Divorce’, ‘Black Side Of Fortune’ and ‘Memorial Day’. ‘Strength’ engineer Nigel Luby was at the desk for these songs and it features early versions of ‘Knife Edge’ and ‘Majority’ both with different lyrics that take some getting used to for us fanboys as well as the original version of ‘Deeside’ which was then known as ‘Steeltown’. But it’s great to hear how the record grew and morphed into what was finally released. If I’m honest I prefer this production its got grit and more like the band sounded live its got some of the gloss that made the commercial record radio-friendly stripped away and its all the better for it. ‘Sons Of Divorce’ sounds great and you wonder why this was shelved. ‘One Step’ always was and still is a thing of beauty great lyrics – great arrangement – great delivery. Fantastic to hear this take on it. A few lyric changes to get your noggin’ round but it’s worth it for ‘Black Side Of Fortune’.
The album also includes two other unreleased demos being ‘In The Cold Light Of Day’ (which was originally written for The Who’s Roger Daltrey), and Dave Sharp’s ‘River Still To Cross’. Something of huge interest to Alarm fans from back in the day no doubt about it and what makes this collection so special.
I make no apologies for waffling on because for me its what make this crazy business so special and why I think about music pretty much from the moment I wake until I finally rest my head. A hugely enjoyable package for fans and whilst it might not have such strong appeal to casual fans but it’s this kind of attention to detail that fans of bands love and I’m lucky it’s “my band”, whilst I currently own more copies of the original studio albums than it is healthy to admit to, due to worn out copies or one copy picking up an annoying click during the quiet bit of ‘Spirit Of 76’ or I needed the picture disc then this is a most welcome addition to that collection. These days I look after my records correctly like any responsible parent or grown-up should unlike back in my youth. My advice is don’t delay it get on the link and buy it you absolutely won’t regret it. Ladies and Gentlemen the ‘Strength’ Well is well and truly drained along with the Boston show that is coming out in April for RSD. Fill yer boots.
So, Now the wait begins for the ‘Eye Of The Hurricane’ Treatment and another ‘war and piece’ length review. We’ll keep you posted. Keep the faith.
Buy Strength Here
Author: Dom Daley