Since their formation in 1981 in the Welsh town of Rhyl the Alarm has sold six million albums and managed to clock up 17 Top Fifty singles in the UK. The original members of Mike Peters, Dave Sharp, Eddie MacDonald and Nigel Twist appeared on the scene with the singles The Stand, Sixty-Eight Guns, Unsafe Building and Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke with their acoustic guitars (amped-up), harmonica and Peters rousing voice they fitted into the Celtic rock set of bands like Big Country and The Waterboys.
In 1991 they went their parting ways and with Mike launching a solo career and joining forces with Billy Duffy of the Cult in a short-lived outfit called Coloursøund. He returned to the fold though in 1999 where a project The Poppy Fields Bond saw them release five CDs in as many months in 2003, no mean feat. Mike Peters has come through quite a time. Having recovered from lymph cancer in 1996, he was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia in 2005 and, after an initial recovery, he suffered a relapse in 2015. To add to an already terrifying situation, his wife Jules, who plays the piano and sings backing vocals for the band, was then diagnosed with breast cancer soon after. The band stopped all activity as they underwent treatment, and luckily they are now in remission and back together as The Alarm and raring to go with their latest album. Equals is their first album since 2010’s Direct Action.
As I’ve always associated The Alarm with stirring guitars their first track on the new album surprised me and took a bit of getting used to. Whilst Two Rivers begins with the strum of an acoustic guitar it then comes in with a very 80s synth pop beat which I wasn’t too sure about, though Mike Peters’ vocal is still a passionate call to arms. It’s good to experiment with different sounds, however too much of it and it started sounding a bit Europop territory. Their riotousness spirit and thumping drums manage to carry it off though.
Beautiful sounds like more classic Alarm with driving guitars and drums. The song speaks of gratitude; “Everything I had is gone….everything is beautiful tonight”. It dips in the middle with a piano bridge that works well before the guitar reappears. Coming Backwards is performed with the usual Mike Peters gusto and has The Cult’s Billy Duffy to complement this resolute track. Transatlantic has a melodic introduction with softer vocal, piano and more of that bombastic drum. It’s dreamy before melting into an explosive refrain.
Crowd Trouble contains jagged soundwaves intertwined with harmonies and a great keyboard. Peace Now references Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall with harmonica again and is a strong anti-war song performed with zest. “No guitars in the war machine, my amplifier will drown your speech.” By now there are electronics played on various other tracks but it works well. Thirteen Dead Reindeer has a clipped electro beginning with a keyboard reminiscent of Supertramp and jubilant electric judders. Neutral has a glimmer of an electronic dreamy landscape before more of that fervent rock we know so well comes in. “I’m not on anybody’s side, except my own. I live and die as I was born to this world.”
Cenotaph contains a background electronic loop that really adds to this feisty song lush with crunchy guitars whilst Hellfire is another strong song. Tomorrow is great to finish on as it sums the whole album up well: positive determined and a triumph to the band’s indomitable spirit over life’s adversities. A few surprises in there too.