In the early 1980’s myself and several friends bought floor seats at the old LA Sports Arena for U2’s “War” Tour. We had grown custom to showing up midway through the opening acts because of several years of being so utterly disappointed in the opening bands and hated wasting our time. For some strange reason there was no traffic on a Friday Night heading into Los Angeles and we arrived before the concert started, so we took our time buying T-Shirts, buttons and programs.
Finally we heard some loud, acoustic rock coming through the walls to outer walkway. We could barely make out the vocals but were able to distinguish the words “Come on down and meet your maker, come on down and make the stand…” We ran with all we had in us to get through the crowd and up to the very front of the stage. There began my life long love affair with The Alarm.
Part U2, part Big Country and all passion. The Alarm’s first full length release makes the chart based on the sheer ferocity, passion and energy this album exhibits. There are flaws to be sure (one is not doing a full version of The Stand) but it all made up for by great songs, killer hooks, over the top passion and lyrics that define inspiration.
After releasing a great 5 song EP to coincide with their tour with U2, a year later The Alarm released Declaration. Where the previously reviewed MxPx album dealt with the struggles of teen life the Alarm here deals with teen struggles from a politically and socially different perspective. This record sees the world of European youth in the early 1980’s not in black and white, but rather shades of gray and brown. These are not songs of suburbia, but the inner city filled with smoke stacks and the ghetto filled with crying babies and laundry hung from string draped across the street from window sill to window sill.
The title track starts the record with a 40 second acoustic build up that sets the theme of the project:
Take this song of freedom
Put it on and arm yourself for the fight
Our hearts must have the courage
To keep on marching on and on
This moves directly into “Marching On,” a reworking of a song from the debut EP. This is a plea to the audience of forgotten and disenfranchised youth to not let the world and their circumstances keep them accomplishing great things. We are told over and over to keep marching on. In the hands of less believable or passionate band this would come across as trite and pandering. But unlike their contemporaries, The Alarm had a real sense of “truth” behind their words and also provided something others did not; a real sense of hope.
We have got to stand together
Forget the east and west
’cause there’s another voice crying in the ghetto
Another mouth to feed
Another heart beating in the ghetto
Another soul to set free
This sense of hope amidst desperate times and situations is what truly separates The Alarm from bands like The Clash who expressed similar themes, but with a sense of futility and hopelessness rather than the hope that was always present, especially on Declaration.
This is followed by “Where Were You Hiding When the Storm Broke?” a song that should have been a rock radio hit. Clocking in at just under 3 minutes this is almost an acoustic punk song with a monster hook in the chorus. This was a plea to those who simply let life pass them by instead standing up for what they believed. I always saw it as a complaint against other bands that would find satisfaction in just complaining about the circumstances around them instead of actually doing something about it.
The truth is the truth
Or the truth is surely a lie
Get back in your shelter
If you can’t come down off the fence
And one more question
Where were you?
Where were you?
It may have been directed at politicians, adults, parents, the culture or any other possible targets but the truth remained.
After the anti-war tune, “Third Light,” comes the true centerpiece of “Side One” and an epic lasting nearly 6 minutes entitles Sixty-Eight Guns. This is easily the most ambitious song musically on the entire project. It is almost a mini-musical with several musical changes and interludes. Starting with an inspirational acoustic rock theme, nearly hymn-like in arrangement complete with a horn section, the song then comes to nearly a complete stop midway through with lead singer Mike Peters proclaiming:
Up on the terrace i can hear the crowd roar
Sixty eight guns
And in the subway i can hear them whisper
Sixty eight guns
Through all the raging glory of the years
We never once thought of the fears
For what we’d do when the battle cry was over .
Nothing lasts forever is all they seem to tell you when you’re young
Before returning to the musical theme that started the project Mike vocals lose control and become nothing short of a primal scream announcing:
When you’re young
Have no illusion, no disillusion
Unbreak the promise
Unbreak the vow
Uphold the promise
The song then returns to the original theme and ends with a powerful crescendo of drums, horns and guitar. Live this song was a revelation. Simply breathe taking. Though the recorded version does not quite match the live performance it is still an impressive on its own.
In a creative twist, the first side (back when music was on vinyl) ends with the inspiration “We Are The Light,” a song that borders on something closer to an acoustic rock worship song than a rock anthem.
To what you believe is right
Dont let anyone turn your eyes
Dont stop to look behind
The past aint no friend of mine
Theres a failure who is standing on the corner
For he cannot see hope
Theres a blind man who is standing at the crossroads
For he cannot see light
And as we fire the candles
We must make sure they burn through the night
For if they should die
There’d be no light
It’s interesting how the birth of CD’s and digital formats and the death of the LP has created a change in how the songs on records are placed. If this same album was recorded today it would almost seem a better fit to have “We are the Light” close the project rather than be placed half-way through. But it’s the perfect way to end the side a record.
After the forgettable “Shout to the Devil” another epic takes center stage; Blaze of Glory. This is probably the strongest song on the entire record. This is the definition of an anthem. Ringing acoustic rhythms, passionate and heart felt vocals this is what is meant when an artist where his emotions on his sleeve. This song contains the marching orders hinted at earlier in the project with a seemingly never ending chorus of “going out in a blaze of glory” with Peter’s screeching vocals vamping on top of the backing vocals “I’m going out…I’m going down…with my hands held high!”
“The Deceiver” is a nearly Springsteenesque song directed either at politicians or Satan himself.
You are, you are the weakness
You are, you are, you are, you are the sickness thats in my soul
You are you are you are the maker
You are called greed and youre a cheat
You are you are you are the deceiver
You are called greed and you’re a cheat
You are not welcome in my life
The album closes with another epic length song, Howling Wind, lasting over 6 minutes. The album finishes with the great song of hope that was hinted at throughout the project and comes to the forefront here.
There is virtue truth abounding
Peace will come to everyman
And there’s a landmark on the skyline
There is a sign standing in the road
Sail on my brother
Sail on through the night
Love on this wasteland is waiting on down the line
And there is a howl howl howling wind
A ringing around my ears
And a wild wild wind is a blowing
Tearing down my tears
But rather simply a song of blind hope Peters recognizes the personal responsibility needed for this great hope to find it’s fulfillment.
Love on this wasteland holds no dominion
I refuse to lay me down
On the grapevine comes the saying
“son, you’ll reap whatever you sow”
I sow the seeds of my love, my love
Deep undying true love’s what i sow
I probably could have just as easily chosen the following release, Strength, for inclusion here as well, but Declaration so wonderfully contains all about what made The Alarm such a great band; passion, purity and a sense of hope lacking from their general market peers.