Review: Raw Review

Producer: The Alarm
I.R.S. Records

A line in the song “Moments in Time” from Raw, the latest release from the Alarm, seems to sum up songwriter Mike Peters’ current vision for this band: “Somewhere we got lost along the way.” Indeed, the title is apt; what we have here is one of those back-to-basics, we-can-be-a-garage-band collection of artful yet angry songs that eschews the sequencer formula the band has perfected on many of their singles. The cover photo shows a laid-back, grungy group of lads in classic Let It Be style amidst the detritus of the recording studio. Could this be yet another manifestation of the “Let’s do the MTV Unplugged thing” syndrome? Thankfully, no. Most of these songs mine the rich vein of hard-edged rock that caught the attention of music critics back in 1985 with the release of Strength, their third album. The balance of razor guitar and singable melody that the Alarm does better than most bands (the comparison to U2 that often resurfaces is unfounded these days) comes together in the majority of the songs here. Peters seems to have abandoned his cookbook songwriting style to craft somewhat more thoughtful arrangements and, as if to accentuate the “raw” approach, he gives a heartfelt reading of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” (which the Alarm covered during their last tour), although it seems strangely polished. The neo-spiritual imagery Peters offers is sometimes shopworn (one too many references to trains and rivers for me), but he has some poignant ways of making us feel his pain. One wishes he would sometimes delve into the internecine nature of everyday relationships, but that never was his forte. One thing the Alarm does well is reflect on their past (going as far back as “Spirit of ’76” on Strength). Two songs on Raw, “Moments in Time” and “Wonderful World” manage to dispense with this Alarm-trodden theme in completely different and ingenious ways. In “Moments in Time,” Peters acquaints us with “A Woodstock field in the heat of the night” and “Elvis, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones,” telling us they “live on forever” in his mind. Although we’ve heard songs like this before, the band throws us a musical curve ball: the verses are in a different key than the chorus; an aural equivalent to the shifts from glorified past to reflective present that the lyrics present. In “Wonderful World,” the Alarm tips their collective hat to another supposed influence, Bob Dylan, as guitarist and secondary tunesmith Dave Sharp sings a litany of grievances in a monotonous, rapid-fire delivery (unifying a genealogy of songs that includes “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and Elvis Costello’s “Pump it Up,” not to mention Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business”) to a rowdy shuffle complete with harmonica. The fadeout gives us various band members spouting a grocery list of world problems like homelessness and violence and, in a surprisingly humorous twist, “Willburies.” In this way the Alarm manages to effectively convey both their respect for the legacy of Bob Dylan and their obvious contempt for his recent work. The Alarm Unplugged? Not a chance. With this album, we once again glimpse the songwriting and elemental, enjoyable approach to rock ‘n’ roll that made the band a force to be reckoned with. If Raw presents to us the Alarm of the ‘9Os, then let’s hope that this vision doesn’t become another part of their glorified past. – T. William Gallagher Notebored – Jul/Aug 1991 – Vol. 5, No. 1

Author:: T. William Gallagher