The Sound And The Fury : Review

To be honest, at first glance, the track listing for The Sound In The Fury looks well, odd.  The songs, at least in the original form, do not have any real lyrical, structural, musical, or even thematic similarities across the board.   At the same time, we’ve heard the a lot of original Alarm songs repackaged in other formats (Standards, The Best The Alarm And Mike Peters,  The Alarm 2000 Collection, The Alarm 21, Mike Peters Collected Works) and reinterpreted (Second Generation Vol. 1, The Red And Blue acoustic cds, Breathe The Acoustic Sessions, Psychological Combat Zone), so seeing another set of songs with familiar names in a track-listing is not really all that exciting when you view it for the first time.  However, if you look at bit closer, you will see some very interesting things:
– These songs come from 10 different albums and singles
– The songs pan 20 of years of songwriting
So what then, do these songs have in common.
Well, nothing. Until now that is.
As I was listening to this record last week, I had an epiphany as to what it was all about.  In fact, it was track #9, Only The Thunder that finally gave me the proper insight to understand and really appreciate this album. Only The Thunder was one of my favorite tracks from Strength.  I’ve always felt that it was an unappreciated, epic track from that landmark album.  When I first saw that The Alarm had re-recorded this song for The Sound And The Fury, I was confused.   There are many rare songs from the Strength era that could use a once over (i.e Sons Of Divorce, Black Side Of Fortune) but not Only The Thunder.  It was perfect the first time around.
Wasn’t it?
Then I recalled all those “live” tapes I used to trade back in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  On those tapes, when The Alarm played Only The Thunder, it was rarely done the way it was recorded on Strength.  From live concerts before the Strength was released, Only The Thunder was an all acoustic song with a completely different set of lyrics.    On portions of the Strength tour, and beyond, Only The Thunder was used a sort of intermission in sets.  It was combined with One Step closer To Home as an acoustic centerpiece, the Eye Of The Hurricane if you will, of an Alarm concert.
Then it struck me.  The way the song sounds on The Sound And The Fury is the way it would have sounded if The Alarm from 1983/1984 recorded it with their own musical viewpoint.    It sounded like The Alarm if Mick Glossop or even Alan Shacklock (without some of his excesses) had produced the song. It struck me that the idea behind the album seemed to be this:
What if The Alarm kept playing acoustic guitars, and pulled out a harmonica as often as possible?  What if organ and piano were used to round-out the sound instead of synthesizers, overdubs, guitar effects, and production tricks? What id that practice never stopped, and contiuned throughout their career?

Sure, the heavier rawk version on of Only The Thunder on  Strength is a great song, but in retrospect, it might as well not even be Only The Thunder. Change the lyrics, and it could be another song entirely. With those new ears, I listened to The Sound And The Fury again, and I finally heard it.  Here are my thoughts, track by track, of the rest of the album.
01 – Unbreak The Promise : This is basically the b-side recast as a full band song, without losing any of it’s power or effect.  This is the kind of of song that would have been ruined by a producer in the studio , arranging it in such a bizarre way that The Alarm would apologize for it live by playing it the way it was intended,  with martial drumming, acoustics, and a soaring chorus of 1000’s (literally) at the close.
02 – Shelter : Electric guitar punctuates this track, with some cool piano lines and acoustic strumming just under the surafce.  The shouted backing vocals give a “Declaration feel ass the song moves from being an enthem into something else entirely.  Very cool.
03 – The Rock – This song is reborn as a song with acoustic instruments.  Heavy piano bass hits at just the right time to give it the proper weight and substance it deserves.
04 – Peace Agreement : A lost track from In The Poppy Fields #3.  Soaring backing vocals, acoustic guitars, organ, and an infectious “na na na na nana” ending.  There is a a bit of Corridors Of Power in there as well.
05 – Fade In Fade Out Fade Away : This song is not hugely different from the Coloursound version, except instead of burning out, the song rages to an explosive chorus.  Acoustic guitars, and some piano bass added for effect.
06 – Who’s Gonna Make The Peace? This epic rocker from Breathe has been recast as an epic barn burner that could have fit well in the early life of The Alarm.
07 – Strength To Strength : Harmonica, acoustic and electric guitars meet in this track to form a song that is one part 68 guns, one part Let The river Run It’s Course,  with the best ending I might have ever heard on any Alarm song. ever.  Bravo.
08 – Back Into The System : No harmonica in this one, but wild drums, shouting backing vocals, and pumped-up guitars and a layer of organ punctuate and raise this track far above its originas.  Nice to see the line about U2 removed, as it was not needed.
09 – How The Mighty Fall : Harmonica strains with acoustic guitars with added organ too and piano.  This one sounds like  a true cousin to The Deceiver,
10 – For Freedom – Blaring harminica and raging acoustics make this fit in well with the rest of the record, quite task as it is the most “wild” of the early Alarm tracks ans quite hard to pin down.
11 – Only The Thunder : (I already covered this one in detail above).
12 – Howling Wind : The best version of this song since the acoustic version on the Knife Edge 12″ single.  Ebow is replaced with crashing acoustic guitars and drums and  sequencer replace with piano.   It’s welcome to hear the piano low in the mix, with guitars pumped-up,  the way it should have been on Sold Me Down The River.

So what do I think of the finished product?  Is this the best Alarm album of the 21st Century?  Well, it’s hard to say that, because the albums in the last decade have been so danmed good.  However, this record doess appear to signal a transition that started with the last album, Direct Action.  That record started this move towards the original 1983/1984 arrangement of instruments with the songs Release The Pressure, Change III, and One Guitar. In that context, I think is that this record is a revolution for The 21st Century version of The Alarm.  As I enthusiastically listen to every track on this album over and over,  it makes me excited for the future of The Alarm.  Will the next full Alarm, album sound like this?  Will they pull out the electro-acoustic guitars, harmonicas, loud bass drums, organ and piano to bang out 12 brand new slices of Alarm-rock heaven like it was 1984 all over again?  If this record is any indication, that’s exactly where they are headed.

Steve Fulton July 30, 2011