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The Thursday Throwback Track - Episode 192: The Alarm & "Too Good To Me" & "P

The Alarm – Change (1989)

The One After the Good One

One of the great things about revisiting the past is finding out how wrong you are. A memory gets stuck in your head, but not in a big & clear way like something seminal or life changing. Then, like a mental game of Telephone, the memory gets warped. It gets stored in your brain as a warp and overwrites the old memory. Other thoughts & feelings get attached to this warped version, which slowly becomes “real” and takes on more significance than it ever had a right to. BUT the overwriting is not digital, it’s analog. It’s like recording on a cassette that already has something on it. Sometimes the original content bleeds through.

For years I remembered The Alarm as a pet band – a runt that never quite grew to full size, but you loved anyway. I pumped up this memory and gave it more weight. The Alarm was “my band”. The Alarm’s music inspired me. The Alarm were amazing and should have been big, not the U2 also-rans they eventually became. THEN I pull this album out of my collection, listen to it, read up on them, and realize I’m giving this whole thing way too much credit. It took some digging to find out why I cared about them at all. And I discovered this: They had a minor hit in 1987 called “Rescue Me”. It sounded so much like U2 that I thought, YES, I am ready to get into them. So I waited for their new album, and in 1989 I bought it. This one. And I was underwhelmed. I have very little recall of any of these songs.

It’s not a judgment. They were a very good band. Their name still sparks feelings of post-new-wave-Brit coolness in me. It’s just that, like with so many bands I had the wrong impression about, I landed on them just after that particular iteration of their sound peaked – thus “the one after the good one”. We all have an idea of where an artist is heading, and we’re all way more finicky than we let on. If a band meets our unspoken expectations, we love them more. If a band repeats itself, we hang on and hope they keep growing. If a band pivots wildly, we’re confused and have to decide whether we love the pivot for its chance-taking genius, or they’ve lost their way and we’re done with them. And it’s all about what hits the heart. For a brief moment in 1987, The Alarm hit my heart. This album didn’t – didn’t do what I wanted them to do – needy & arrogant & presumptuous. That’s what being a music fan is.

And that’s why it’s hard for everyone. Hard for the fan who wants what they want, but not too on the nose or it’s boring. Hard – I say way harder – for the artist, who, if they don’t succumb to the pressures of trends or popularity or what someone else says to do, is only trying to follow the muse. To create from the soul. No, artists can’t expect fans to follow their every whim or be as chuffed about a change of direction or so-called innovation as they are. But fans – we need to be patient. Loving. Forgiving. Accepting of the human side of creation. We need to actually listen and listen again and listen again and give things a real chance.

Listen to these two songs. They’re separated by about 20 years. Does it sound like the same artist? Are the changes a journey you would have taken with me?

What artists have you been into that disappointed you on their next go-round? What artists took left turns, but you hung on and were rewarded with an even deeper love? Discuss dammit!

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