By The Alarm
The Alarms' fresh new CD has two halves. Tracks one through six are clear throated, sharp sounding 80s post punk rock, evoking U2, Echo and the Bunnymen, Big Country and The Alarm. They lay down high resolution templates as object lessons for some of the blurred photocopyists of the noughties. If you wanna make guitar music sting - here ya go.
Tracks seven through twelve haul it all onto a muddier canvas of up-to-dateness, with self expression and acoustic tinkering holding the visceral surge at a long arm's length. These are not quite object lessons for Coldplay and Travis. Maybe they come more into the join 'em if you can't beat 'em mould. But at least the trick has worked once for them with edgeier-sounding "45 R.P.M" going top 40 under the nom de disque of The Poppy Fields. Fooled the kids anyway.
Personally I go for the first set. But there's a lot o f quality in the second set too. In each case the sheen of the music is a huge release from the stumbling incompetence of some of the lions of 2004. Not to have to listen to fudged noises and clumsy fingers is a great joy. It's a good little album with 12 top drawer songs well played, sharply recorded and well sung.
How relevant it is in 2004 I'm not sure. It pisses on many smoking bonfires, no question. But does it also seem to say "No, kids, this is how to do it"? Is it missing an opportunity to take the music on and do something beyond the flawless production and the evocative songs? Beneath Mike Peter's great voice there are some pretty derivative ideas and simple predictability about the sentiments.
In the first half. "The Drunk and The Disorderly" has Pete Townsend back on his trolley, with chords from the Who days and lyrical echoes of solo work like the "Empty Glasses" album. Half way through the song it bursts from acoustic strumming into full blown Who at the thrilling live best, medleying "Won't Get Fooled Again" with "Substitue". It's almost achingly nostalgic, and regresses to sheer joy as it gets more and more primitive.
In the second half "Right Back Where I Started From" starts with trademark Alarm guitar squeals and then batters its way forward with a Noel Gallagher-like tune, with a brotherly leer in the voice and some Oasis-like cheese filled lyrics. "Today is the first day of the rest of your life" has been used once or twice before, I'd say.
These are the best moments. The lowest points are probably the sub-Bowie tributes of "The Rock and Roll" and "True Life". But lowest is relative and they're still pretty not bad tunes. Compared to the industry norm, you'd have to say that this album had no blanks at all.
For a whole set of people there will be an added poignancy in this album of a story threaded through its songs. Take it as it comes. And if you go and buy the damn thing, you'll have some gilt-edged rock music that one day might catch you unawares with the reassurance of misery put to rest. In its way, The Poppy Fields is a triumph.