Mike Peters: Feel Free Review
Speaking of bands that ran out of life force before they ran out of albums on their contract, not many of the bands I like ground to as ignominious a halt as, to me, the Alarm did. If Rush has become like an aging family member whom you love but don’t expect strangers to take to as readily, then by their last album, Raw, the Alarm had become the kind of relative you hand over to professionals and try to simply forget about. Alarm songs were always more about conviction in the abstract than any one belief in particular, but Raw to me was completely empty bluster, an album of mechanical and inept retracings of paths that really merited no further exploration. Mike’s first solo album, Breathe, didn’t leave me feeling as embarrassed for him as Raw did, but it fell a long way short of establishing a new identity. Induced catharsis was always basically all Alarm songs had going for them, and while this is something, and some of their early work is as rousing, I think, as songs ever get, and thus excellent for weeks when you want to feel stirred and never mind why, there’s only so many times you can leap to your feet and wave your fist before you start getting self-conscious and begin to ask that the act have some extra-calesthenic purpose. And Breathe didn’t offer any answers. Feel Free doesn’t offer many, either, but I was ready for a few more Mike Peters songs regardless. And actually, the album partially dodges the questions by, for a change, experimenting with its musical idioms. Some of these songs will still sound familiar to you, particularly “Breathe” and “The Message” (which are reprised from the previous album for no good reason), the “Message”-like drum loops of the similarly verbose “Shine On (113th Dream)”, the galloping choruses of “Regeneration” and the plainly Dylanesque “Psychological Combat Zone”. Elsewhere, though, “Feel Free” starts out with a drum loop and half-spoken narration like it’s going to be another half-rap, but in the chorus a throttled torrent of distorted guitar swarms in. The kick-drum whomp and pensive wah-wah guitar of “All Is Forgiven” give it a slow, undulating groove. “My Calling”‘s gentle acoustic guitars and Harrison-esque chorus melody, and “Broken Silence”‘s harpsichord-ish 12-string and sighing organ, which in Alarm songs would have inevitably given way to hoarse screaming at some point because that was the only tactic for empahsis and dynamic range Peters knew, here stay within themselves, relying for contrast on subtle shading instead of spots and smoke machines. And on the edgy, pulsing “What Is It For?” Peters plays everything but drums himself, and comes up with an intriguingly awkward song in which he and the music seem to alternate barely being able to keep up with each other. These things show Mike discarding some of the ingrained tactical assumptions that used to go into his songs, and that’s got to be a good sign. I don’t know if anything on this album really constitutes firm groundwork for future embellishment, but this week I didn’t need it to.
Feel Free is the first solo album for Mike Peters, front man for the ’80s anthem bank The Alarm. His raw,straining voice, twangy guitar, and staccato drumbeats are familiar, and the new material keeps you listening. Peters’ songwriting is strong on this album, and fans of The Alarm should enjoy it.