Here is one of the stupidest things I have ever written:
The Alarm are big. The Alarm are important. And on their new album Declaration (I.R.S.) is not only good, it’s going to be the next major crossover on the order of U-Know-Who. Of course The Alarm do have silly hair, but I think that it’s a manifestation of their philosophical outlook and their music. The Alarm are a combination of punk power and hippie idealism. And so is their hair. ‘Nuff said.
Oy. I wrote those words in mid-1984 (in a piece presciently entitled “Going Out in a Blaze of B.S.”) for my college radio station ‘zine, The Dead Air Diary. Now you might be wondering why the editor of the fanzine didn’t at least challenge me on this – or at least tell me to tone down the damn hype. It’s because I was the editor of The Dead Air Diary, typing up each issue on Kassia’s old acoustic typewriter, thrilled (as I am right this second) that anybody might be reading the crap I was writing.
So for the first couple of months of 1984, Declaration was the biggest thing in my universe, but by the time I wrote up the year-end wrap-up, I was calling it “powerful, but shallow” and had placed it below such other worthies as Let it Be, The Unforgettable Fire, Reckoning, and The Smiths.
So what happened? I think what initially made me realize that I’d totally overrated them was seeing them in concert around the same time I first saw U2. When U2 needed an audience singalong song to end their concerts with, they wrote the simple but beautiful “40,” so that everybody could endlessly sing “how long to sing this song?” (while the band leaped into their limos, no doubt) to wind down a thrilling show.
But The Alarm, wanting to follow through on the same urge, didn’t write their own show-ending audience singalong, but rather had everybody sing along to Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” And while that’s a great song and everything, but to me, it kinda put the difference between the two bands into sharp relief.
That said, I still enjoy Declaration as an example of mid-80s anthem rock, and truly love things like “Blaze of Glory,” “Howling Wind” and of course the proto-anthem “Marching On,” which perfectly encapsulates the “Clash-meets-Bob Dylan” sound that I initially loved. I still don’t what we’re marching on about, but it remains fun to scream with when the song is playing.
“Marching On” performed live in 1983
My Certain Songs Spotify Playlist: