The 2014 version of Declaration is an exercise in musical deconstruction. Mike Peters has taken the elements of an album released 30 years ago, broken it apart, redefined it, and infused it with the past, present and future. It’s an impressive piece of work, and one you don’t want to miss.
Mike Peters has spent the past 10 years searching for the spirit of The Alarm. Through several collections, multiple albums, reissues, and updates he has been applying a modern context to the foundation The Alarm created in the 80’s. In the process he discovered that the foundation arose from a DIY punk attitude and the close relationship the band cultivated with its’ fan-base. He invested these discoveries into some ground breaking projects: the first customized boxed set (The Alarm 2000), one of the first (if not the first) interactive album recordings (In The Poppy Fields Bond), the 45 RPM “hoax” , and the creation of the Love Hope Strength Foundation, just to name a few, all of which cemented his reputation as a rock and roll iconoclast for the 21st century.
However the “spirit” of The Alarm could only take him so far. DIY and a punk attitude were only the jumping off points for The Alarm in the 80’s. When the band broke on MTV with the video for The Stand, it was not just wild haircuts, spray paint, and wild energy that caught the eye of New Wave fans, there was something else: the sound. Nowhere else could you hear acoustic guitars, big bass drum and harmonica flowing freely in a new rock song. In fact, played next to The Buggles, Duran Duran, and even War era U2, The Stand stood out like no other song. No one sounded like the Alarm, or looked like them. They were unique. They were genuine. They had a musical viewpoint. A musical soul. Many “alternative” bands have come after The Alarm utilizing a similar sound, but few if any came before.
Throughout the 80’s, every time The Alarm recorded a new album or embarked on a new tour, a little bit of that sound eroded away. As the band digested new influences and succumbed to mounting record company pressure to produce “hits”, they became less and less identifiable as “The Alarm” that hard core fans knew and loved from those halcyon days when “joining hands, making plans, and taking a chance” felt like the best idea in the world.
Mike Peter’s post-Alarm solo material is a study in an artist striving to redefine a musical viewpoint. Breathe laid out a wide landscape of musical styles and feelings, many of which could not have been explored in the context of The Alarm. The Feel Free album punched towards a harder edge, finding a bit of the spirit of the early Alarm classics mixed with modern concepts and textures. By the time Mike Peters released Rise in 1998, he had fully defined himself as a solo artist. A mixture of acoustic and electric instruments plus loops, beats, dissonance and minor keys that met the spirit of his older material halfway, forming a greater whole. For many fans, including myself, Rise was a masterful culmination of everything that came before.
And then Mike Peters took it to the next level. He toured as a one-man band of sorts, packing a harmonica, 12-string acoustic guitar, a beat-box and a handful of adventurous new songs like Kaleidoscope and Festival Of Light. When I witnessed this new direction I was blown away by its honesty, passion, and inventiveness. I could not wait until the next solo album from Mike Peters. I desperately wanted hear how all of this would play out.
We all know what happened instead: A new version of The Alarm, new battles, new struggles, new victories, and new passions. It was a thrilling, difficult, yet amazing time and a lot of great music and good will has come out of it. However, in the back of my mind I’ve always wanted to know what would have happened to Mike Peters’ if that solo trajectory from 1999 played itself out.
It’s been 15 years, and I think I have finally heard the results. Mike Peters’ new recording and re imagining of The Alarm’s classic album Declaration feels like a bridge from that past to this present.
While it has been applied in the context of The Alarm’s first album, I can’t help feeling like this is the future for Mike Peters as a solo artist.
There are definite nods here to the lost past of The Alarm. The album is tracked like a show The Alarm might have played in 1983, with Shout To The Devil opening the set, and We Are The Light finishing it off. Much of the instrumentation is composed of bass drum, martial drumming, harmonica and blazing acoustic guitars, none of which should come as a surprise for those playing along at home. It’s the stripped to the bone sound Alarm fans have hungered after for a very long time. However, it’s not just stripped down, but built back up with surprises at every turn.
Those surprises come fast and hard. Some feel natural: mandolins play along with the acoustics, or in some songs, replace them entirely. The new instruments sound harmonious together. The mix of sounds creates an earthy bluegrass stomp, evoking the sing-along atmosphere of the best Alarm shows. This feeling explodes through the versions of Shout To The Devil, The Stand, Where Were You Hiding, and Blaze Of Glory. By all rights, the version of Howling Wind on this collection should be a hit record, as it strikes every note perfectly. Mike Peters is staking a claim on this territory, and telling the the Mumfords and their Sons of the world that he and The Alarm broke this ground first, and they still have the right to stride upon it.
Others surprises are even more interesting. With the spirit and soul of The Alarm firmly in place, it is Mike Peters’ turn to take these songs to the next level and beyond. Some of the tracks are punctuated with loops and beat boxes that harken back to that last solo tour 15 years ago. The version of Tell Me here is a prime example, recast as a distant cousin to the looping beatbox thrill of Kaleidoscope. Except here, Mike Peters appears to be asking for answers outright. Don’t “Tell Me What It Feels Like” he seems to be saying, just “Tell Me.” 30 years on, it’s no longer time for feelings, it’s time for action. Other songs like Marching On have a mix of new elements that completely redefine them. 68 Guns in particular has been remade for the new century. This new version inverts the tempo, adds a lost verse, and sounds like an irreverent call to arms for the middle of this decade.
On many of the songs the backing vocals have been replaced with soaring voices that sound like the call-response from an audience at The Gathering. The new voices at once, both ground the songs in spirit of The Alarm, and infuse them with the soul of The Alarm’s audience who have, arguably, made these songs their own over 30 years of helping keep them alive. Even with all these new elements and changes, every track retains the spirit and the soul of what made it great in the first place.
There are many other highlights on the album, but it’s the last track that hit me the hardest. The album ends with We Are The Light, a new version in a slightly different key, redefined by the decades. The sound here is haunting. The lyrics are the same, but as they are sung they seems to beg the question “Are We The Light”?, a question well-worth asking in this post-post-post modern era. It’s a fitting and appropriate end to an amazing collection of reimagined songs and it poses a query for the ages. I have a feeling Mike Peters will probably spend the next part of career trying to find an answer to this question.
And all of this is why I believe Mike Peters became a deconstructionist when creating Declaration 2014. He broke it all down, and then built it all back up. He has invigorated the songs with meaning gleaned from three decades of wear and experience. I Honestly can’t wait to hear other Alarm albums, for instance, Eye Of The Hurricane, revamped in the same way. Declaration 2014 might prove controversial among Alarm fans, but then that is as it should be. Mike Peters has never taken the easy road. What better way to jettison himself into the next step of his career than to take literally and become the “unsafe building” he has sung about so many times. What better way, than to literally break it all down, and build it up again? I declare this new “Declaration 2014” album as completely and totally “unsafe”, and as a fan of Mike Peters and The Alarm, that’s THE highest possible praise I can imagine.
Shout To The Devil
Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke?
Blaze Of Glory
We Are The Light