Emma Schofield previews Forwards, an emotive album which marks the return of Welsh rock stalwarts Mike Peters and The Alarm.
I whisper this quietly as you can never be entirely sure who’s listening (or reading, in this case), but I realized when I sat down to listen to Forwards, the new album from The Alarm, that I was perhaps just a little bit too young to appreciate the full narrative behind it. I’d obviously heard of some of the bigger songs, but it took a deep dive into Spotify to get a real feel for the sound that has clearly characterized The Alarm’s work.
For those listeners who are more familiar with The Alarm’s back catalogue than I was, you’re in for a treat. The sound is as distinctive and unapologetic as ever; it’s also surprisingly upbeat. The backstory to this Mike Peters’ recovery from leukaemia, following a near-death experience and months in hospital, where the bulk of the album was written. Yet for an album that was billed by Peters as being “life or death”, there’s an admirably positive tone. “I’ve been to places only deep suffering can take the human spirit and, in the darkness” says Peters, “I clung onto every piece of light I could find to work my way back to life. This was the energy that drove me to write and record Forwards.”
Things kick of with ‘Forwards’ and ‘The Returning’, both of which assert The Alarm’s return to Welsh music, as well as the fact that Mike Peters is still, very much, alive. That prevailing sense of optimism and determination runs throughout the opening half of the album, exemplified by a line in ‘Next’ which cheerfully asserts “whatever’s trying to kill me makes me feel alive”. There’s something strangely heart-warming about the whole thing, coupled with a reminder that whatever has happened to him in the intervening years, Peters has still got it.
I’m loathe to say that the album goes on a (whisper it quietly) journey, but certainly there’s a thematic feel and the phases seem to be characterized by a sense of emotion which might, arguably, mirror Peters’ own recovery. Things get a little more serious at Forward’s midpoint; ‘Transition’ is darker, with a heavier tone than the rest of the album. It’s a reminder that survival can sometimes mean clinging on by the skin of your teeth, some battle scars are to be expected. It is a bit of a bumpy ride in places, but for the most part the determination and grit of the songs in this mid-section of the album carries it through.
By the time we reach the closing tracks of Forwards, we’re back to the buoyed up high-energy rock that fans of The Alarm will have come to expect. Tracks such as ‘Love Disappearing’ are unexpectedly catchy and you’ll want the volume cranked up by the time you reach these latter stages of the album. There’s no doubt about it, this is very much one for The Alarm fans, all the hallmarks of a classic Alarm album are present and correct – the energy, the narrative and more than a few catchy riffs – it’s a lively statement through which to make a comeback.
Forwards will be released on 16th June and is available to pre-order now.