For anyone who’s still young enough to remember, The Alarm were one of the best bands Britain has ever produced. Not that you’d know it from the shameless, relentless bile they used to get from their (e)N(e)M(i)E(s). In fact, it was so bad that The Cult‘s Ian Astbury once famously stated that if it hadn’t been for The Alarm getting even harsher treatment than his band, he might have topped himself.
Thankfully, there were thousands worldwide who saw beyond the press’s bitching and wholly inaccurate tagging of The Alarm as a lesser-man’s U2, and who were justifiably gutted when frontman Mike Peters announced onstage at Brixton Academy 13 years ago that he was leaving.
Well, it’s the 21st Century (as the man himself once proclaimed on a solo record), and though there are no original band members left save the affable vocalist, he’s seen fit to resurrect The Alarm with a full-time crew boasting suitable ’80s rock credentials (Sisters Of Mercy, The Cult and Stiff Little Fingers).
Already the snipers have come out to play, labelling In The Poppy Fields a needless throwback. They’re probably just miffed that they got taken in by The Alarm’s instructive ruse of releasing a single under a pseudonym (the punk-tastic 45 RPM), which then garnered critical acclaim and promptly entered the UK Top 30.
In The Poppy Fields comes in a twin CD pack to give the feeling of a vinyl record, with two distinct sides. And, if you’ll forgive the cliché, it certainly is an album of two halves, although the trademark Peters flair for anthemy is suffused throughout.
Tracks 1 to 6 – Side A – are the rocking ones. Besides the aforementioned pogo-fest of 45 RPM, there’s the beefy guitar-fest of Coming Home, a song that recalls Peters’ 1998 collaboration with The Cult’s Billy Duffy (Coloursound) and finishes with the line, “It’s been a long time coming and it’s good to be back,” which Alarm geeks will recognise as coming from the title track of their awesome album Change.
Elsewhere, The Drunk And The Disorderly is imbued with The Spirit Of ’76, building into another blaze of classic rock from an acoustic intro, and featuring the spiritually searching lyrics: “Who am I? Who are you? Who is the God that we bow down to?” Meanwhile, Federal Motor Voter has been unashamedly crafted for listening to on US rock radio while driving with the car top down, and Trafficking has possibly the dirtiest, heaviest guitar riff that The Alarm have ever put their name to.
As you can probably guess, Tracks 7 to 12 take things down a few notches and it’s here that things come undone on occasion. The Rock And Roll and True Life are semi-acoustic numbers that are a tad yawn-inducing and lie too close to the middle of the rock motorway to go anywhere in a hurry.
Thankfully, New Home New Life – which is quite beautiful with piano, mandolin-sounding guitars and Peters’ falsetto-ing like Muse‘s Matt Bellamy – and In The Poppy Fields’ cool minor melody and psychedelic effects ensure that, although Side B isn’t up to the high quality average of its predecessor, the second CD will get put into the player from time to time.
And so there we have it. Twelve anthemic rock songs, a good nine of which most bands would struggle to beat with a lifetime of trying. Mike Peters was recently voted 11th in the all-time list of Welsh heroes. This record should move him up a couple of places.