The Boomtown Rats, here’s one that was far more interesting than I remembered it being. First let’s shelve all we know about that Monday song thing and the Famine-ator, they’re worthy topics some other time, this is all about The Boomtown Rats and 1977.
I picked this album up for £2 on a market stall in Leeds in June ’92 when I was hoovering up everything that was remotely punk and, let’s face it, The Boomtown Rats was only remotely punk. Sure they hit the London scene around that time, swore a lot, had an attention whore for a singer, chucked a lot of ‘tude around and were hated immediately by the more serious elements of the scene. Okay so ‘Lookin’ After No.1′ is a great punk-lite sugar rush but in the end it’s as menacing as a garden gnome, whatever the sentiment. There are also fashionable references to being young and looking for kicks (the track, umm, ‘Kicks’), but The Boomtown Rats really is no punk LP.
Helmed by Mutt Lange and mixed and engineered by Steve Brown* The Boomtown Rats sounds to me as far more of a budget stab at classic widescreen rock a la The E Street Band, there was no way Lange was going to allow any sloppy playing – from memory** the band had a torrid time of it with the perfectionist, particularly bassist Pete Briquette (love the name!).
The Boomtown Rats get massive 1537 bonus points for deliberately misquoting, 1537 fave metaphysical poet, John Donne and the Beatles on the opening track – come on, what more do you fucking want on a LP?!!
I am an island
Entire of myself
And when I get old, older than today
I’ll never need anybody’s help in any way.
Satirising the ‘me’ generation, the lyrics suit Geldof’s winsome whining a treat, it’s a Hanna-Barbera version of punk, no-one’s going to do anything radical here, just bounce around a lot and have a good time. This is what I need sometimes.
‘Neon Heart’ is another excellent one, it’s an angular sneery take on a night out and owes more than a touch to Bowie’s Diamond Dogs in terms of setting and ‘tude. The riff is brilliant and so are the deadpan talkie bits at the end of the lines. This is proper pop rock and very well done it is too, even if the lyric ‘I was fighting to maintain my cool / I walked the thin line between animal and fool’, is so awful it shrivels my dingly-danglys.
The following track, ‘Joey’ allows the band to tap into their inner Springsteens, with maybe a chunk of their mates Thin Lizzy*^ in the melody too. Clarence Clemons should have sued over the sax break in the song and the story of the titular hero. Improbably it really is rather damn good, again. Which makes it decidedly unlike the sexist spew of ‘Never Bite The Hand That feeds’.
Unlike the sexist spew of ‘Mary of the Fourth Form’, (Okay so I’m a hypocrite!) but I do have a soft spot for the the tale of a not-so-innocent schoolgirl, her flirtations and wild nights; think ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’ but with far less class (pun intended). The music and the singing is great on this one, which distracts from the fact that the girls he’s singing about would be 15 at most; dude, not cool at all. ‘(She’s Gonna) Do You In’ is a real interesting one, the guitar tone on it sounding to my tired old ears a bit like fast Eddie Clarke on ‘Bomber’^^, the rest of the song being an energetic shuffle rock.
My favourite track is ‘Close As You’ll Ever Be’, which apes the Stooges but then changes gear into something slicker and funnier, they wrote a great tune for this one too, part Dr Feelgood and part Nick Lowe/Rockpile. It just drips commercialism, but in a good way. The big US-style ballad ‘I Can Make It If You Can’ is instantly forgettable, they even steal the ‘screen door slam’ opening line from ‘Thunder Road’ – it is positively turdlike^*.
All those holier-than-thou critics of The Boomtown Rats were right, this wasn’t any kind of punk LP, the band just hitched a ride on the scene en route to pursuing their own US-styled pop rock. Where they got it wrong was in seeing that as a criticism, this is a good, very entertaining album, occasionally a little clunky and overblown, but very entertaining nonetheless.
That’ll do me.
*of Cult Love and Manic Street Preachers Generation Terrorists fame, later in life as a producer.
**from reading Geldof’s Is That It? I mean, I wasn’t there.
*^Thin Lizzy are thanked in the credits.
^^which would have required time travel as Bomber was two years off.
^*or should that be ‘turdesque’, I confess I’m not sure of the correct derivation here.