PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

The Alarm: Greatest Hits Live

Jason Damas

The Alarm

Greatest Hits Live

Label: Beyond
US Release Date: 2001-12-04
Amazon
iTunes

So let's get this out of the way right now: The Alarm sound like U2. They write big, anthemic rock songs of social importance. They came from the '80s.

Now that's enough of that. I've grown up in the U2 generation, amongst peers who think U2 can do no wrong. I'm not one of them. While I've definitely found U2 to be occasionally brilliant, I'm sick of them. Give me "Discotheque" or "Lemon" over "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" any day.

So enter The Alarm. Despite being dogged by appropriate U2 comparisons, they really always did have their own sound. They take cues from The Clash and Bruce Springsteen in equal quantities. They employ sweaty bar band rock 'n' roll in ways that U2 wouldn't ever consider, save a few moments on Rattle and Hum. And they don't have that whole Bono-as-Christ-figure thing going on. Maybe it's just a matter of personal tastes, but The Alarm always kind of got a raw deal. They were a much better band than they were given credit for.

But at the same time it's easy to see why they weren't as big as U2: they wrote nothing but big, anthemic rock songs. Song after song after song they pumped out barn burners and barrelhouse rockers and very rarely slowed down along the way. The end result was a catalog that rocked so hard and so relentlessly that it sounded samey. When they started, they had passion. By the end, it was more: Oh, another Alarm anthem? Yawn.

So now, after a ten year hiatus, half of the Alarm have reunited as "Alarm 2000" and gone off on a tour. As part of this, some of the shows were recorded for a Greatest Hits Live CD. And while this new lineup is somewhat inferior to the original Alarm, what you get is pretty much what you'd expect: hard-rocking live versions of most of the Alarm's hits and best-known songs.

There are many ways to view this disc. The first (and most unkind) is as an '80s nostalgia package, where the aging band tears through all their classics with memories of the good old days. That may be the case, but the band's performances catch fire in quite a few places, so it's hard to write this off as a poor imitation of the Alarm's glory days. The next way to view the package is as a tour souvenir intended primarily for fans, and that would be more accurate. Because the Alarm were often plagued by overproduction, the live format suits them well by forcing them to stretch out on songs that were basically studio creations. "Rain in the Summertime", for example, was overproduced and synth-heavy in its album version, so here it is completely reworked with the synths removed. But Mike Peters' vocals also sound much more haggard than on the originals, particularly on some of the later songs ("Rescue Me" is just kind of yelped and shouted through with almost no sense of melody). So this set is still primarily for fans because these rough-and-tumble live versions of their classics are not as immediate as the more masterful studio versions.

So, then, even though Greatest Hits Live is a fairly good portrait of The Alarm's live show, it doesn't function as well as a best-of as either of their earlier hits packages, both because it omits "Presence of Love", one of their two US hits, and because for a casual fan, the original studio versions are going to suffice. And while the Alarm's type of songs-all raging rockers-generally work well in a live context, the fact that every Alarm song has the same tempo means that the pacing is horrible for a concert. Of the album's 18 tracks, there are probably about 15 tracks that would be the peak of the set for most acts. By extension, everything starts to blur by the middle of the album.

But Greatest Hits Live can do one thing, and that is bring The Alarm back into the public's consciousness, after having almost completely disappeared for 10 years. While they're even less likely to be the next U2 now than they were 15 years ago, their style of arena rock has aged fairly well even considering their tendency to lean on heavier production. So if Greatest Hits Live is the introduction to this band for a younger fan, then great. But most will be suited better by Standards or The Best of the Alarm and Mike Peters.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.