Monday, 10 December 2012

Top 102 Albums. No 84. A Tonic for the Troops.

Top 102 Albums. No 84. 
A Tonic for the Troops - The Boomtown Rats.

Time has not been kind to The Boomtown Rats. They are generally written off as a side project of that famous philantrophist and controversialist Bob Geldof. But there was a time when they were one of the biggest bands in the world, and whats more, they came from just a few miles away. I even saw Johnny Fingers in his trade mark pyjamas walking past Trinity College when I was in Dublin City Centre shopping with my family. That practically made me a celebrity.

It's funny, I can be listening to this album and it is passing me by and I think that the sound is sort of beefed up seventies FM rock and that Geldof remains far outside the songs, wry, often precisely observant, but almost disengaged. He doesn't give much away and my favourite records tend to be one where the singer has given so much away they can barely keep going.

But then a chord or a sax break unlocks something and I'm eleven years old and it sounds like the most exciting music in the world. It's flash and polished but also thrilling music. And Geldof is already wrestling with life and death issues - suicide, domestic violence, the lying media, social deprivation, euthanasia and whether or not Hitler loved Eva Braun.

Driving past The Five Lamps on the way down to my grandmother's I would feel a frisson of excitement. These are "the Five Lamps boys", these are the high rise blocks, that could be "little Judy" there with her hands deep in her coat pockets and her mouth pinched by the cold wind of hopelessness.

It's funny, angry, literate and knowing pop. The bile in the line "Oh ain't you glad that we live on an island" a song in which Bob seems to be telling us to kill ourselves was right on target. Still is. He may have written a better suicide song (Diamond Smiles) and a better evisceration of 'this septic isle' (Banana Republic) but it was great to hear one of our own say that the place was a shithole.

He may have been "a little too ambitious maybe" but Bob's heart was in the right place, just like Adolf's.

And just for another bonus track here's Bob "Citizen Smith*" Geldof railing against the "Police and Priests."



  1. Thanks for reminding me that I loved the Boomtown Rats; true that St Bob was reinvented after the Live Aid stuff.
    He used to rehearse his raggle tangle solo stuff at the same north London Easy studios that MM frequented in the early days. I remember that we were all shocked at how shite it sounded; like a poor man's Waterboys.
    I saw The Rats a few times as a kid and was always taken with Geldof's intensity; he was steeped in Van the Man but you could tell from his detailed street tales that he had a keen eye on Springsteen. It gave his small dramas a romantic sheen that I'm sure was intended... I agree that his ambition was admirable but over reaching; the social commentary and political rants married to to ever broadening musical templates eventually f*cked his focus for me; one minute the Pogues, next 10cc...
    The early dramas were intoxicating, exciting and incredibly engaging...

    1. Can't believe i got through this without mentioning Springsteen. I had the lines in my head but they didn't make it out. Rat Trap is one of the great Springsteen songs, except it's not Springsteen.
      Never felt remotely attracted to his raggle-taggle incarnation.
      I just thought the Rats defined cool for an 11 year old. I mean, one of them was called Pete Briquette. I almost chocked laughing when I realised he wasn't French. (last week!)
      Best solo Rat - Gerry Cott - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEmypglIku8

  2. I loved rat trap and the whole ripping up the grease photos on top of the pops when they knocked them off number one.
    I remember the time someone explained what i don't like mondays was about and it hit me that sons meant something more than something to sing along to and so began 30 + years of being obsessed by lyrics. Geldof's book Is That it is a great read especially about the Boomtown Rats. One of great singles bands

    Trev check out his latest 2 solo lps music clearly made for no-one else but himself