21st Century Recordings
Release Date: Exact release date unknown
To begin with, this release is not for the casual fan of The Alarm; it is pretty clearly intended for the dedicated collector. As most fans of the Alarm know, their second album (Strength) came out in 1985. The alt.strength collection (it is hard to call this an album, per se) is a sort of road map as to how the album came to be.
The first CD of alt.strength is split into three sections; the first part is a collection of demo recordings from E-Zee Hire Studios in November of 1984. Of the nine songs demoed during this session, only three would eventually make the album; one was issued as a single on its own ("Absolute Reality"), one would become a b-side to a single from the album ("Majority"), two would be rewritten and/or rerecorded for the next Alarm album (Eye Of The Hurricane), and two songs would remain unreleased. The second portion is a collection of cover songs, performed live in the studio. Many of these covers are fragmentary (several are simply a single guitar riff). The CD closes out with early mixes of two songs that would later be polished for the album. The second CD is broken up a little more. It contains a recording from a soundcheck at a concert of a song that would later become the title song of the Strength album, unreleased songs that would be rewritten as "Only Love Can Set Me Free" on Eye Of The Hurricane and "Rivers To Cross" on Change, plus rough mixes of almost all the songs that finally made the album.
The sessions for the Strength album stretch from November of 1984 to July of 1985, and it is interesting to hear how these songs slowly evolved. Many songs appear multiple times ("Strength" three times, seven songs including "Majority," "One Step Closer To Home," and my personal favorite "Spirit Of '76" appear twice), making the discs difficult to listen to as a whole due to the amount of repetition. However, some of the variations of songs are what make this set the most interesting. As an example, the three versions of "Strength" do tend to bog down the second disc, but each version is substantially different from the others. The first version, entitled "Give Me Love," has a more primitive lyric (much more repetitive and unsure; Mike Peters has said the song was originally written rather quickly, and this track definitely supports that idea) and the band is clearly unfamiliar with the song as they sloppily wander their way through the music. With the first rough mix of "Strength," the lyrics have been tightened and improved (though still in need of some work), and some of the music has substantial differences to the final released version. The final version of "Strength" that is included here contains a few additional musical parts that are not in the final mix, most notably an acoustic guitar part that runs through the entire song.
For the most part, it is clear to see why the previously unreleased songs were abandoned during the project; "Black Side Of Fortune" feels almost lethargic musically and the song "In The Cold Light Of Day" has a cumbersome lyric (greatly improved when the song was rewritten to "Only Love Can Set Me Free"). While a balance between up-tempo numbers and ballads is important, the atmosphere of "Black Side Of Fortune" seems to be at odds with the rest of the sessions for the album. While most of the album has an attitude of defiant optimism and solidarity (even "Deeside," about the collapse of a town when the steel industry shuts down, proclaims "To be dealt the cards, to play our hand, to win or else to lose," proclaiming a need to hold in and continue the fight), "Fortune" feels more like a lament of what could have (or should have) been. "Sons Of Divorce" is the closest that the unreleased songs come to fitting in with the actual Strength album, about overcoming one's circumstances ("How does it feel to be the sons of divorce? Disconnected and dishonored by the ones you love most?"). The song speaks about coming from broken relationships with a determination to do it right.
Among the songs that were eventually released, the biggest highlights of the disc are the original lyric version "We Are Majority" (later changed to simply "Majority"), a simpler mix of "Walk Forever By My Side" (piano and vocal only, the brass band was added at a later session), and early versions of "Deeside" (entitled "Steeltown") and "Father To Son" ("For Tomorrow").
alt.strength is the first release in a series of discs labeled as the "Alarm Record Collector's Club," with the second release coming soon. It is a very fascinating release for a dedicated follower of The Alarm's material; however, due to the repetition of songs (17 out of the 40 tracks are alternate versions of 8 songs) it is hard to recommend the disc to more than the Alarm's dedicated listeners. Casual listeners would be much better served by picking up a copy of the remastered Strength album (released in 2000 on 21st Century Recordings), which contains many of these same tracks, though in completed renditions.
(reviewed by Daniel Aeschliman on October 24, 2002)
(titles in parenthesis are titles the songs were eventually released as, if different than working title)
All of The Alarm's material on this disc written by Eddie Macdonald and Mike Peters except:
"Get It On" written by Marc Bolan
"Summertime Blues" written by Eddie Cochran and J. Capeheart
"Gimme All Your Loving" written by Gibbons/Hill/Beard
"Radar Love" written by George Kooymans and Barry Hay
"Burn" written by Ritchie Blackmore, David Coverdale, Ian Price, and Jon Lord
"Black Night" written by Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Price, Roger Glover, and Jon Lord
"Can't Always Get What You Want" written by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger
"Walk On The Wild Side" and "Vicious" written by Lou Reed
"All Right Now" written by Paul Rodgers and Andy Fraser
"Communication Breakdown" written by Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham
"Maggie May" written by Rod Stewart and Martin Quittenton
"Maggie's Farm" written by Bob Dylan
Writer credits are unknown for "It's In The Charts" and "Stand Down Margaret"
Tracks 1-9 recorded by Nigel Luby
Tracks 10-25 produced by Mike Howlett; recorded by Nigel Luby
All of The Alarm's material on this disc written by Eddie Macdonald and Mike Peters except "Strength" written by The Alarm
Track 3 from a demo tape produced by Dave Sharp
It it not known who produced tracks 1, 2, and 4-15