Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Alarm - Strength

This month marks the thirtieth anniversary of Strength, the second studio album from the Alarm. The album peaked at number 18 in the UK. Here in the US, it spent thirty-six weeks on the US Billboard Album chart with a top spot of 39.

The original vinyl release had ten tracks. The remastered CD release in 2000 had a total of seventeen, including four live cuts and the non-album B-sides of the singles. For this review, we’ll look at just the original vinyl release and its track order.

Side one begins with “Knife Edge”; as the third single it cut its way to number 43 on the UK charts. It tells of a life that is teetering on the brink, with the singer looking for someone that can salvage it.

“Strength”, the title cut, was also the first single. It peaked at number 40 in the UK, number 61 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and number 12 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. I remember this one getting a good bit of airplay on my college campus station as well as at parties. With powerful vocals, thundering percussion and reverberating guitars, this rock anthem reminded folks a lot of highly popular U2.

“Dawn Chorus” is a song about lonely contemplation and it mirrors in a number of ways the opening track. What really sells this, and many of the Alarm’s songs, are Mike Peters’ powerful and soul-wrenching vocals.

The second single was “Spirit of ‘76”; it charged up to number 22 in the UK and number 29 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. The album version of this coming-of-age tale clocks in at over seven minutes total, the longest track on the record. I like how it opens with Rupert Black’s beautiful piano accompaniment on the first verse. For me, the rest of the song has an epic Springsteen-like story quality.

Side two starts with “Deeside”, a rapid-fire rocker with a retro sound to it.

The opening guitars of “Father to Son” have a trippy cosmic sound which is very soon left behind for a bouncy generational conversation. It is a very respectful rebellion with a reasonable dialogue.

Much of the first half of “Only the Thunder” has a restrained trepidation that is finally released upon the arrival of the chorus. For me, it is the first track on the record that falls short on its delivery.

The melancholy mid-tempo “The Day the Ravens Left the Tower” is next. It closes with some lines from a familiar children’s song.

“Absolute Reality” picks up the pace for one final time. This up-beat song reminds us all to be true to ourselves.

“Walk Forever by My Side”, a lovely piano ballad, appropriately closes the vinyl version.

I picked up Strength digitally back in 2008 when I was just getting into my time with eMusic. They had a number of Alarm albums, with the extended versions, for a very reasonable price so I snapped them up. That’s really when I got into the band, more than the passing acknowledgement I had with their hits back in the early 80’s. I’ve listened to this album about a dozen times since then.

For more from the Alarm, click here.

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