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Music / ¡Alarma!

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Left and right, the killers, crazed in stereo / Their words are like bullets from the radio...

Somebody's crying
Somebody's dying
Somebody's turning away...

Had Alarma! been released in the general market, it would have slotted nicely alongside XTC or Devo, but Christian music buyers had no frame of reference for the music whatsoever, let alone the fact that it was coming from a band who'd previously given them songs with titles like "Posse in the Sky" and "Jesus is Jehovah to Me."

¡Alarma! (The Alarma Chronicles Volume I) is Daniel Amos's fourth studio album, and their second New Sound Album: this time, signaling their transformation into a New Wave Music band.

On their previous album, Horrendous Disc, DA had abandoned Country Music for rock. Since then, Punk Rock had irrevocably altered the mainstream musical landscape. Many Christians dismissed punk and its offshoots as "nihilistic" and worthless, but DA found themselves listening to a lot of Elvis Costello and Talking Heads and hearing great potential in this new musical frontier. The band decided they wanted to record music in what was then the most cutting-edge and groundbreaking genre of rock music, and incorporate a Christian message into it. They knew what their next album had to be.

The album production was very Post-Punk: a distinctly "thin" sound, with the treble emphasized and the bass turned way down. (Almost like a wailing alarm...) Oddly, DA kept several aspects of their prior styles—like their '70s pop melodies and falsetto vocal harmonies—and fused them with this new style. They also had strange little throwbacks like the country-ish "Props" and the Surf Rock tribute "Endless Summer".

The lyrics were every bit as incendiary as the music. DA intended the album to be a wake-up call for American Christians, so most of the songs were razor-edged satire of their shortcomings: their hypocrisies, double-crossings, and lack of concern for the downtrodden. To further drive the point home, the liner notes featured a story by frontman Terry Scott Taylor, in which his Author Avatar dreams about visiting a decaying city that embodies a twisted parody of the church's flaws.

¡Alarma! hit the shelves in 1981note . For the old guard of the Daniel Amos fandom—who preferred DA's country albums and felt Horrendous Disc was a horrendous betrayal—this album was the final nail in the band's coffin. But DA pressed on and rebuilt their fan base from almost nothing. And for those new, very loyal fans, this album was the start of something amazing.

DA promised that ¡Alarma! was just the first part in a four-album series. The second album in the series would come out in 1983: Doppelgänger.


Daniel Amos is:

  • Terry Scott Taylor: rhythm guitars, lead vocals, backing vocals
  • Jerry Chamberlain: lead guitars, backing vocals, percussion on "My Room"
  • Marty Dieckmeyer: bass guitar, keyboards, lead vocals on "Props," percussion on "My Room"
  • Ed McTaggart: drums, percussion, backing vocals

Additional Musicians:

  • Alex MacDougall: marimba on "¡Alarma!", congas on "My Room"
  • Karen Benson: vocal on "Ghost of the Heart"


Side 1:

  1. Central Theme (3:18)
  2. ¡Alarma! (3:21)
  3. Big Time/Big Deal (3:04)
  4. Props (1:58)
  5. My Room (3:25)
  6. Faces to the Window (2:31)
  7. Cloak & Dagger (2:16)
  8. Colored By (2:58)

Side 2:

  1. C & D Reprise (0:43)
  2. Through the Speakers (2:42)
  3. Hit Them (2:28)
  4. Baby Game (2:43)
  5. Shedding the Mortal Coil (1:20)
  6. Endless Summer (2:52)
  7. Walls of Doubt (3:57)
  8. Ghost of the Heart (2:36)

    Other versions 
1991 CD reissue: has the original tracklisting, plus three bonus tracks:
  1. No Spaceship
  2. Out of Town
  3. My Room (Demo Version)

2013 Deluxe 2-Disc Collector's Edition: has the original album on disc 1. Disc 2 contains:

  1. Little Things
  2. Off My Mind
  3. As Long as I Live
  4. No Spaceship
  5. Out of Town
  6. Only One
  7. Central Theme (Demo Version)
  8. My Room (Demo Version)
  9. Faces to the Window (Demo Version)
  10. Colored By (Demo Version)
  11. Through the Speakers (Demo Version)
  12. Hit Them (Demo Version)
  13. Endless Summer (Demo Version)
  14. Walls of Doubt (Demo Version)
  15. Props (Vocal Mix)
  16. Big Time/Big Deal (Alternate Mix)
  17. Shedding the Mortal Coil (Alternate Mix)
  18. Ghost of the Heart (Alternate Mix)
  19. ¡Alarma! (Instrumental)
  20. Colored By (Instrumental)
  21. ¡Alarma! Reading by Malcolm Wild

Provides examples of:

  • All Just a Dream: The liner notes story is presented as a vision akin to John's Revelation.
    Was it all a dream? It seems like it now. But then it also seems so real. More real than anything I've ever experienced when awake. But I was not awake. At least I don't think I was. I don't know—maybe I'm going crazy. But I must write it down before it all disappears, or I will go crazy.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: "Cloak & Dagger" is all about this sort of person.
    There's Cold War tactics hidden in a smiling face
    A pretty kind of poison that will leave no trace
  • Bystander Syndrome: The narrator of "My Room" knows that the world outside is on a path to destruction, but the most he'll do to help is push pieces of paper under his door.
  • Central Theme: Ironically, the song "Central Theme" isn't quite about the central theme of the album. The song describes how Jesus is the axis around which the universe and all of history revolves. Whereas the album as a whole is about how American Christians have failed to make Jesus the central theme of their lives, because they don't live up to Jesus' teachings.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Carried into Black Comedy. In the liner notes story, a churchgoer sees a starving child outside the church and goes to help them... by slipping the kid a piece of paper that says "I love you."
  • Concept Album: A satire of the shortcomings of American Christians—particularly hypocrisy and failure to help the needy—intended as a wake-up call for the listener.
  • Corrupt Church: DA skewer anyone who uses the Gospel to line their own pockets, or who add man-made rules to Jesus' message.
    • The final verse of "¡Alarma!":
      A wise guy in the sky invites you to a guilty party
      Won't charge you at the door
      But sure knows how to get your money
    • "Colored By":
      When someone with charisma tells me "Don't wear shoes"
      I tell them "Go back, where did you get that?"
  • Crisis of Faith: "Walls of Doubt" reassures listeners that going through a crisis isn't the end of the world, and that God will be there to meet them on the other side.
    It's alright
    You can let go now
    Love is the master's plow
    Crash down the walls of doubt
  • Cyclops: In the liner notes story, a one-eyed giant threatens the narrator and the church he hides in.
  • Don't Shoot the Message: invoked In "Colored By", DA lament how easily preachers can scare people away from "the real thing" by tacking their own, unnecessary rules on the end. In "Through the Speakers", DA wonder how to get their message across in a song without turning listeners away.
  • Drone of Dread: The song "¡Alarma!" opens with thirty seconds of buzzing synthesizers.
  • It's All About Me: The narrator of "Faces to the Window" sees starving children while he's eating his breakfast. He complains that they're ruining his meal and even prays to God to relieve him of this terrible burden—and he does nothing to help the children.
  • Eyeless Face: The cover art is a photo of the band, with their eyes airbrushed out.
  • Flat Character: As a satire of just how shallow many Americans' faith is, they're depicted as literal cardboard cutouts, both in the song "Props" and in the liner notes story.
  • Foreign Language Title: ¡Alarma!. They even included the punctuation so we'd know it's Spanish.
  • Fountain of Youth: At one point in the liner notes story, a whole church congregation turns into crying babies before the narrator's eyes.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The cyclops in the liner notes story takes on a greater significance in Vox Humana.
    • "Shedding the Mortal Coil" is from the perspective of a dying man. Fearful Symmetry reveals that the narrator of the entire Alarma Chronicles is a Dead Man Writing.
  • Glory Seeker: The narrator of "Big Time/Big Deal", who wants to preach the Gospel to the entire world, and hopes to become super-famous while doing it.
    I want the big time, it's not for everyone
    I want the long line, to tell them what I've done
  • Head-in-the-Sand Management: In the liner notes story, Reverend James Cursory reassures his church congregation that everything is okay, there are no problems—and the rampaging giant outside is just their imaginations. All they need to do is sing and feel good, and their imaginary problems will go away! The giant levels the church while they're singing.
  • Hypocrite: Hypocrisy is a recurring theme of the album. "Hit Them" deals with it most directly, describing how the Gospel message is only effective if the messenger also demonstrates God's love through their own actions.
    Words have their place
    But live what you say
    God can have his way
    When you hit them with love
  • Intangible Time Travel: Well, without the time travel. As the narrator wanders the city in his dream-vision, he's invisible, inaudible, and intangible to everyone in the city. However, he's still convinced that the cyclops could hurt him.
  • Literary Allusion Title: "Shedding the Mortal Coil", an idiom from Hamlet.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Ghost of the Heart". Lyrically, it's a hopeful song about overcoming one's own vanity and hatred with God's help—and those verses are set to the creepiest music on the whole album.
  • Manchild: "Baby Game", a satire of Christians who never bother to learn any theology and persist in believing exactly the same thing they did as children.
  • Miniscule Rocking: "C&D Reprise" is under a minute long, "Shedding the Mortal Coil" is just over a minute, and "Props" is just under two minutes.
  • The New Rock & Roll:
    • "Colored By" references the moral panic that got whipped up when it was believed that music with a strong beat was inherently dangerous.
      Down in Africa they beat the drum
      They like the big beat
      White man through the P.A. says "Don't beat that drum"
      They tell him "Go back, where does it say that?"
    • The album cover actually did inspire a minor fit in Real Life, since Moral Guardians thought the Eyeless Faces looked "Satanic".
  • No Ending: Right there in the chorus of "Endless Summer".
    We were looking for an endless summer
    We're still looking for an endless summer
    It's no surprise we'll be looking endlessly
  • Non-Indicative Name: From the story in the liner notes:
    I stood before the gates of this city where a sign announced the ironic name of the place: "Light of the World." It had to be some sort of bizarre joke, as the only light emanating from it was dim and pallid.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: In the story from the liner notes, an obscenely wealthy man—wearing furs and numerous gold rings—kicks a homeless beggar off his doorstep. The narrator is horrified by this, then finds an identical set of gold rings on his own fingers.
  • Only Sane Man: In the liner notes story, the narrator finds himself in a World Gone Mad, and finds he's the only one to recognize how messed-up the place is. The narrator outright calls himself "the only sane mind in this mad world."
  • Peaceful in Death: The narrator in "Shedding the Mortal Coil", who considers his mortal existence "out of date" and "unnecessary".
  • Proscenium Reveal: The short, odd "Props" ends with stagehands rolling up the sky and putting it away, then all the bystanders (revealed to be cardboard cutouts) fall over.
  • Shout-Out: "Endless Summer"—the title is a Beach Boys reference, and the lyrics mention "Surf City", "Drag City", and "Dead Man's Curve".
  • The Shut-In: "My Room" is a satire of Christians who only socialize with other Christians and avoid anyone outside the church. So the lyrics exaggerate it to the point that the narrator lives his entire life inside his room—except to gather in another room with other shut-ins.
    There's many little rooms, with people like me
    We often get together, in a bigger room
  • Song Style Shift: "Cloak & Dagger". The verses and chorus are zippy "spy music"; the extended outro slows down to half-time, with a languid guitar solo playing over it.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Bassist Marty Dieckmeyer sings lead on "Props".
  • Taken for Granite: The photo montage inside the album gatefold includes one of the band members transformed into a white statue.
  • Title 1: The album was subtitled The Alarma Chronicles Volume 1, because DA planned from the get-go for this to be a four-part series. Impressively, they stuck to the plan and actually completed The Alarma Chronicles by 1986.
  • World Gone Mad: In the liner notes story, the narrator dreams of an alternate world that's a twisted parody of the flaws of American Christians. The inhabitants see nothing strange when preachers mix patent nonsense into actual passages from the Bible, and they fully believe that positive feelings are the solution to all life's problems.