The Alarm: Under Attack
The Alarm, currently in the process of making a welcome return to the limelight this year with the release of new album Under Attack, is a very different beast to the alt. rock behemoth that conquered the world during the 80s to become one of the biggest-selling Welsh bands of that era. For starters, their return sees a virtually comprehensive line-up overhaul, with frontman and only remaining founder-member Mike Peters joined by ex-Stiff Little Fingers drummer Steve Grantly, and bassist Craig Adams (formerly of The Sisters of Mercy, The Mission and The Cult), as well as guitarist James Stevenson and keyboard player Mark Taylor.
As is perhaps to be expected, considering the combined CV's of its creators, new album Under Attack is a showcase of punchy, melodic punk a la SLF, the Jam and/or the Vibrators with the occasional U2-style tearjerker moment thrown in, a nigh-on perfect blend of mature songwriting, energetic rock and shrewd social commentary laced together with insuperable intelligence and ever-present political bite.
All this coalesces in the form of a skilfully constructed album that has pretty much every conceivable base covered, from the grittier edge of rock'n'roll to poignant, evocative lyricism ('This is The Way We Are'), by way of out and out punk thrashers like the awesome 'Cease and Desist', (although whoever decided on the opening riff of the latter evidently did so without taking into account that the Ramones' record label probably has very powerful lawyers).
During their heyday in the 80s, comparisons with U2 were never far away with this band, and Under Attack is not without a fair smattering of Bono-style mini-epics, 'Be Still' being the most prominent of the several that leap to mind. Not that these are bad songs by any stretch of the imagination, far from it, but if you like something with a bit more clout I guarantee that on the first couple of listenings, by about two thirds of the way through this album you'll be revisiting openers 'Superchannel', 'Without a Fight' and 'My Town'.
Having said that, while it's an album with many different faces, some of which will take longer to grow on you than others, you'd be hard pushed to find a single bad track anywhere on Under Attack. Moreover, despite the stylistic diversity not one song sounds out of place and the album gels together perfectly into a measured, cohesive whole; this is perhaps partially due to the combined production talents of Martin Wilding (Poppy Fields/Doves), Pete Walsh (Simple Minds/Scott Walker) and George Williams (...er, I really hate to say this, Babyshambles).
While songs like the beautiful 'This Is Life, Get Used To It' are as cutting an indictment of modern society as have ever been committed to CD, in keeping with The Alarm's long-established reputation for relentless optimism Under Attack lacks the nihilistic streak of bands like the Pistols et al. from whom the band clearly drew much inspiration first time around. Instead, these slabs of socio-political observation come in the form of rousing, inspirational, pseudo-anthemic rock, giving the album an unmistakably upbeat character. As frontman Mike Peters once remarked, "[the] message that we gained from punk, living in the suburbs, was much more positive, it was about doing things for yourself and not just about accepting the status quo, but making small changes. And that's what we were trying to pass on to our audiences to say that no one can make your life for you, you have to go out and make it for yourself."
This is a message that comes across loud and clear, 'It's Alright/It's OK' and 'Zero' just a couple of the many offerings that force you to consider the possibility that life may not be that bleak after all, if only you'd stop crying into your pint and face up to its realities. And if there are still bands around knocking out albums as first-rate as this, then maybe there really is hope for us yet.
It's good to see the old-school punk vibe still alive and kicking in the generally bland, Doherty-worshipping musical wasteland of the early 21st century, albeit refined and moulded into something a little different, something as intelligent and sophisticated as Under Attack. Contrary to what its detractors will no doubt tell you, this is not an album by a motley assortment of aging rockers trying to make a come-back. This is an album from a group of musicians at the top of their game, who are as relevant today as they were twenty-odd years ago. This is why you owe it to yourself, your friends, your family and your pets, to get hold of this album immediately. Do it. Do it now.
More of the same please, and soon.