The Welsh band The Alarm, a handful of singles in hand, had been heavily influenced by punk and native folk, but were suffering the slings and arrows of comparisons to another fiery and bombastic Celtic outfit, U2. So, when their debut album finally hit, it was bound to suffer the same fate, loved by many and blasted by critics as derivative. Declaration was the perfect name for the full-length debut, as it announced the arrival of a band with just as much passion, just as much politics, and far more hair than their critical counterparts.
The band’s debut single was a retelling of a Stephen King novel; both called “The Stand.” It received major airplay in the UK and attention in the US market through ‘alternative’ radio stations. But rather than featuring that single once again on the debut, they merely added a short, reprised acoustic version that featured cut lyrics called “The Stand (Prophecy),” and released three other singles from Declaration. The Alarm was one of my favorite bands from the ’80s, and I still love their songs today, even though I can see that they were the Clash without the street cred and U2 without the poetry. What they had was the powerhouse voice of Mike Peters, still touring as the Alarm today. His voice was also somewhere between the above two bands, the gruff gristle of Joe Strummer and the arena-sized calls to arms of Bono.
The first single from Declaration became another fan favorite, the rebellious “Sixty-Eight Guns.” Like a few of their songs, “Guns” was about standing up and fighting for what you believed in, whatever that may be. The second single was “Where Were You Hiding When the Storm Broke?,” a song about choosing sides and making decisions. The third and final single was, as is usually the case with bands that were semi-religious, seemingly about the devil, called “The Deceiver.” However, in the lyrics he calls the subject `the maker,’ so maybe it was his atheistic anthem. To fans in the US, which didn’t have a strong singles market, the album tracks were everything. “Marching On” and “Blaze of Glory” in particular became massive shout-alongs at shows.
I’ve always been a fan of the underdog, and the Alarm was the biggest underdog there could be in the realm of post-punk arena rock. They were forever in the shadow of U2, which prompted bassist Eddie Macdonald to say this, “I hated U2, I loved U2, wanted to be U2- Believed I could better U2- Enjoyed watching U2- That band were the biggest gift and curse.” For their remaining years together, they would forever be chasing Bono’s tail. In 1985, the Alarm released Strength which featured another strong three singles, but U2 had been declared `the band of the ’80s’ by Rolling Stone. In 1987, the Alarm had finally put together a strong studio record with massive sales potential that could have broken the US market in Eye of the Hurricane, which featured the huge hit single, “Rain in the Summertime,” and subsequently lived a rock and roll dream by touring with Bob Dylan. But alas, another big album came out that year, U2’s The Joshua Tree. They just couldn’t win for trying, but remain one of my favorites.
U2 – War
The Clash – Give ’em Enough Rope
Big Country – The Crossing