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Pop Review : The Alarm: Nice But No Challenge

June 02, 1986|RANDY LEWIS | Times Staff Writer

With California's primary elections only one day away, it's a shame the Alarm hasn't licensed its songs out to political candidates.

The quartet's expressions of commitment and idealism are so unspecific that they could be used equally effectively by Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians or LaRouche followers, as well as any Tories and Whigs who might still be skulking about.

But that refusal to pinpoint causes or issues may be the explanation for the growing popularity of the Welsh band, which drew nearly 6,000 fans to Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Saturday. There's no risk in alienating potential fans in vaguely urging them to "take a stand." That could refer to any given social issue, religious crusade or, for all we know, choosing a wallpaper pattern.

The disconnected logic at work with the Alarm's music was most apparent in the anthem-like "Spirit of '76," which is musically similar to Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" and is designed to be a tribute to both the Beatles and the Sex Pistols.

Introducing the song, lead singer Mike Peters explained how the Pistols' energy and vision sparked him, as well as countless other garage musicians, to take up music a decade ago. But the sight of several thousand fans standing in a multimillion-dollar amphitheater cheering in unison at the mention of the Sex Pistols' name seems antithetical to the musical, philosophical and political anarchy that Johnny Rotten & Company once advocated.

The same is true even of the group's more personal songs. In the title tune from the "Strength" album, Peters breathlessly exhorted, "Give me love, give me hope, give me strength." Give me a break.

And when Peters sings in "Dawn Chorus": "You give me something I can't live without," we get no clue whether he's talking about love, spiritual fulfillment or Vitamin C.

Like the candidate who boldly comes out in favor of peace, freedom and America, the Alarm's message is all very nice and uplifting, but it presents no challenge to the audience to re-examine or even think about its own beliefs.

The tone was more down-to-earth during the Long Ryders' preceding set, although the Los Angeles foursome's lyrics were often muddled in an uneven sound mix. The group tossed in some nifty Keith Richards' guitar licks and Creedence-like instrumental hooks, but still hasn't come up with enough strikingly original songs to set it apart from the ever-growing stockpile of back-to-our-American-roots bands.

The most impressive performance of the evening on several counts was the opener from T.S.O.L. The one-time hard-core punk band has clearly transcended that limiting tag and seems ready to move into the (hard) rock mainstream.

Although the quartet was overwhelmed to a degree in their vast surroundings, lead singer Joe Wood compensated with riveting vocals over a propulsive instrumental foundation that projected a genuine sense of danger, something that is all too rare in rock--or even punk--anymore.

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