CD: The Alarm - Equals Hand-on-heart Eighties rockers return with their distinctive brand of anthemi
Not many bands have a reputation for passion quite like The Alarm. Right from the early Eighties, tracks like "68 Guns" attracted fans who wanted music to believe in – something with a message and a conscience. That ethos came from the band's driving force, singer Mike Peters. After 10 fruitful years, Peters disbanded The Alarm (in 1991) to pursue other projects. A decade later he resurrected the group with a new line up. Equals is their first album for eight years.
Curiously, though, the LP starts off not with a bang, but a slight whimper. "Two Rivers" has one of the most lightweight intros Peters has ever penned. It's especially odd when you consider what was going on when he wrote it. In 2015 Peters suffered a relapse of leukaemia. Shortly after, his wife (and Alarm keyboardist), Jules, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Given all this trauma, you might suppose the album would burst out of the traps, all full of angsty guitars.
Instead, things begin with a limp dance beat – half of "Two Rivers" feels more like an Ibiza remix than an actual Alarm song. Fortunately, things soon improve, and it's as much to do with the instruments as the songs. The guitar work ranges from crashing chords on "Beautiful", to a solo on "Coming Backwards" from The Cult's Billy Duffy. Peters's voice is on great form too. "Transatlantic" and "Cenotaph" see him at his most U2-ish, picking a delicate melody and then blasting it out. Eventually, even the use of synths starts to work. "13 Dead Reindeer", in particular, blends guitar and electronica to sound very up-to-the-minute.
In fact, the more you listen to Equals the more contemporary it feels. Of course, it helps that Peters's vocals still sound like he's about 25. It's also the songs' blend of power pop and anthemic rock. The formula is not dissimilar to what bands like Biffy Clyro and Twin Altantic seem to be aiming for, except those bands tend to sound like they've been chemically neutered. The Alarm, by contrast, still play with genuine cojones. By the time you reach the end of Equals the overriding feeling is that Peters and friends have still got it.