Saturday, 3 November 2018

The Boomtown Rats




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The albums covered here are:-

The Boomtown Rats (1977)
A Tonic For The Troops (1978)
The Fine Art Of Surfacing (1979)
Mondo Bongo (1981)
and The Best Of The Boomtown Rats

Scroll down to read the reviews.

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THE BOOMTOWN RATS (1977)

1. Lookin' After No. 1
2. Mary Of The 4th Form
3. Close As You'll Ever Be
4. Neon Heart
5. Joey's On The Street Again
6. I Can Make It If You Can
7. Never Bite The Hand That Feeds
8. (She's Gonna) Do You In
9. Kicks       
                                                 
As I have said in other Boomtown Rats reviews, they were one of the most derivative groups around. Although the lead-off track, the hit single Looking' After No. 1 is a wonderful, frenetic, classic punk single, nothing else about this album is really punk, although The Rats had been toting the punk attitude around Ireland since 1975. Their influences were manifold - Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Thin Lizzy, Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, Steve Harley, Lou Reed, Mink De Ville, The New York Dolls, Sparks, Alice Cooper, glam rock, Dr. Feelgood....the list goes on and on. They are all on this debut album of theirs, all over it.

Mary Of The Fourth Form was also a hit, but it is not punk at all. To me it sounds a bit like The Sweet circa 1974-75. It has glam rock merging into heavier rock feel about it. Close As You'll Ever Be is a New York Dolls-ish glammy rocker. It has killer riffs and a David Johansen influenced vocal from Bob GeldofNeon Heart has a cowbell and chunky guitar riff sound and a Lou Reed meets the New York Dolls vocal. This stuff isn't punk, even though the band found their way on to the back of the punk bandwagon and had "Rats" in their name. This is glammy, riffy rock. Not that it isn't enjoyable. It is. Very much so. In many ways, The Rats were musically much better than your average punk band.

  

Joey's On The Streets Again is one of the album's two extended, cinematic tracks. It is packed full to the brim with Springsteen-isms, even down to the bullhorn Clarence Clemons-style saxophone. It is also a copper-bottomed predecessor for the massive hit "Rat Trap", vocally, lyrically, musically and stylistically. I Can Make It If You Can has Geldof sounding like Steve Harley on the other lengthy number. It even quotes Springsteen from Thunder Road in its "screen door slams" line. It also sounds so much like The Rolling Stones on 1974's It's Only Rock n Roll album.

Never Bite The Hand That Feeds has a Status Quo-ish riff and some Dr.Feelgood vocal and riff aspects to it. (She's Gonna) Do You In is a Stonesy bluesy rocker with a glam rock drum intro, a blues harp burst and some Alice Cooper-isms in the vocals somewhere too. It even has a bit of prog-rock keyboards right near the end. Kicks finishes the album off with Bob ranting about not being able to buy drinks at sixteen in another New York Dolls influenced vibrant, lively rocker. As I said, this wasn't punk. It wasn't mainstream rock either. This certainly was not a bad album at all, it was adventurous and inventive, despite its many influences. Bizarrely, the most punky of the material is to be found on the "live 1975 demos" dating from 1975 that come as bonuses on this edition, particularly Doin' It Right. They showed The Rats to be somewhat ahead of their time although none of that stuff appeared on this album. My Blues Away is totally Stones blues circa 1964 though.

Many people have had problems with the remastering on these 2005 remasters, saying they are too loud, too "bright", too tinny. I know what they mean, to an extent, there is a tinniness to it, in places, but they have managed to push up the bass too and give it some "oomph". From my memory my old vinyl copy of it was tinny anyway, back in 1978. It probably was recorded that way and always will be.

  

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TONIC FOR THE TROOPS (1978)

1. Like Clockwork
2. Blind Date
3. (I Never Loved) Eva Braun
4. Living On An Island
5. Don't Believe What You Read
6. She's So Modern
7. Me And Howard Hughes
8. Can't Stop
9. (Watch Out For) The Normal People
10. Rat Trap            

As I have said in other Boomtown Rats reviews, they were one of the most derivative groups around. No-one quite knew what they were, though, even themselves, I am sure. They definitely caught firmly on to the punk coat-tails, although The Rats had been toting the punk attitude around Ireland since 1975. So they were ahead of that game in a way, but not much of their output was punk, apart from their frenetic, wonderful first hit single from their debut album, Looking' After No. 1. Quite a lot of their material was more influenced by The New York Dolls and The Rolling Stones, and was often even a bit "glam rock"-ish in sound.

As I said, their influences were manifold - Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Thin Lizzy, Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, Steve Harley, Lou Reed, Mink De Ville, The New York Dolls, Sparks, Alice Cooper, glam rock, Dr. Feelgood....the list goes on and on. So, they were a sort of jackdaw-styled group, collecting and expressing influences all over the place. Because of that, they never quite gained as much critical kudos as other groups.

By the time of this, their second album, however, they had notched up several chart singles and on here we found their first big number one single, so, although they didn't get so much cognoscenti respect, they certainly clocked up the sales. For many "non punk" music fans, they were a way of dipping into punk, a bit like they did with Blondie.

                                    
The opening track, Like Clockwork was a quirky hit single that was quite difficult to categorise. It has a strange staccato beat, some Stones/New York Dolls vocals and even some ABBA-style keyboards in places. It certainly wasn't punk, and not really new wave either. For me, it reminds me of Sparks in both its Russell Mael vocals at times and its madcap musical characteristics. Blind Date is more punky, with pounding drums and a chunky, riffy backing. It is very Graham Parker-esque in Bob Geldof's vocal delivery. It also has some Dr. Feelgood-style bluesy harmonica in it too. (I Never Loved) Eva Braun is something of an oddity, a bizarre song sung from Adolf Hitler's point of view. Again it features European-style ABBA keyboards and a quirky, jerky rock beat. Both musically and lyrically it doesn't seem to know what it is all about and doesn't do it for me. The breakneck, supposedly "punky' bit in the middle just annoys me. At times I think it is promising, at other points I just think it is a mess.

Living On An Island is quite catchy in places, despite some cod-Caribbean parts. It is another lyrically odd song about committing suicide on a tropical island. Don't Believe What You Read is a fast-pace, slightly punky rocker but with no real punk attitude, being too full of high-pitched, silly sounding backing vocals. Again, I'm not really sure what this song was trying to be. Geldof's contrived vocal continued on the hit single, She's So Modern, which I really liked at the time. It has a hatful of energy and new wave vigour, with some punky riffs, perplexing lyrics and a singalong chorus. It is almost "glam" in many ways. Glam's snotty little cousin. Me And Howard Hughes is a catchy rock number about the millionaire recluse. The backing vocals are once more somewhat annoying, though, and the acoustic guitar solo is very Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel. The handclaps are so glam too. Can't Stop tries to be punk but with added nutty sounds and crazy keyboards. (Watch Out For) The Normal People is in the same vein, but with less silly noises apart from some superfluous "woo-woos". Unfortunately, I find both of these tracks irritating. Sorry. Some people probably love them, however. Oh look, they're ok, just not punk.

    

Then there is the album's tour de forceRat Trap, the big number one that was hailed as the first "punk number one". Stretching it a bit as it is full of wailing saxophone, Springsteen-esque street rock drama and plenty of Phil Lynott-isms in the vocals. For me, this is far of a Thin Lizzy pastiche than the usually quoted Springsteen one. Either way, it was a truly great single. Probably the group's finest song. It is miles ahead of anything else on the album. I loved it back then and I still do. I never tire of it.

This album was actually released several months before The Jam's All Mod Cons, The Clash's Give 'Em Enough Rope and Siouxsie & The Banshees' The Scream, so it was ahead of those albums, chronologically, yet it simple doesn't come close to competing with them, musically. It certainly was not what punk was about, neither was it new wave, or post punk. It did fit into any of those genres and I have to admit, although I bought it at the time, on the back of the singles, it is not an album I ever return to much. The sound, despite remastering, has always been pretty tinny too.

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THE FINE ART OF SURFACING (1979)

1. Someone's Looking At You
2. Diamond Smiles
3. Wind Chill Factor (Minus Zero)
4. Having My Picture Taken
5. Sleep (Fingers' Lullaby)
6. I Don't Like Mondays
7. Nothing Happened Today
8. Keep It Up
9. Nice 'N' Neat
10. When The Night Comes   

First of all, there is nothing wrong with this remaster, despite what seems to be popularly thought. It is full, clear and LOUD, as it should be. Diamond Smiles sounds particularly good. Big and bassy. Barely a treble note in earshot. Ditto Someone’s Looking At You. What is it with all these 50-60 somethings bleating on about rock music hurting their eardrums. Unbelievable. I am 61 now. The louder the better.

Now, to The Rats. I was never quite sure what they wanted to be - Thin Lizzy, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, Willy De Ville, Lou Reed, Tom Petty, The Stones, Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, Richard Hell, Eddie & The Hot Rods, The New York Dolls? They were all of these but none of them. To me, they never forged their own identity. I keep saying it again and again on my reviews of their work, so I apologise for sounding like a broken record. They were always a "half way decent" band as far as I was concerned. Certainly not top quality. That is just my opinion, however, for many they were the best thing around in 1978-79. 

This album followed a couple of months after the group's huge number one hit with I Don't Like Mondays and, by late 1979, "new wave" was de rigeur, as opposed to punk, so there was precious little of the latter on here. In fact there was none. This was where the Rats finally threw off their "punk" credentials for good. It was certainly not a punk album, neither was it, in my opinion, much of a new wave one. 

                   
That said, there are still a few killer tracks on here - the tongue in cheek, anthemic pop of Someone’s Looking At You, the sad, evocative Diamond Smiles, which was always my favourite track on here, the big now-iconic chart hit I Don’t Like Mondays and the mini-epic When The Night Comes. The latter ploughed the same overblown Springsteen-esque "street anthem" furrow as Joey's On The Street Again and Rat Trap from the two previous albums. It still has something about it, though.

Nothing Happened TodayWind Chill Factor (Minus Zero) and the riffy, Stonesy Keep It Up are all acceptable "new wave"-ish numbers. Having My Picture Taken tries to be a piece of new wave quirky pop, but it ends up sounding a bit silly, with a highly affected Bob Geldof vocal, while Nice 'N' Neat and Sleep (Fingers' Lullaby) have feel of "filler" about them. As an aside, I am sure the riff from Keep It Up is based on Bruce Springsteen's Badlands.

Despite my misgivings about the Rats in general, this was probably their best album, despite a certain patchiness.

   

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MONDO BONGO (1981)

1. Mood Mambo
2. Straight Up
3. This Is My Room
4. Another Piece Of Red
5. Go Man Go!
6. Under Their Thumb Is Under My Thumb
7. Please Don't Go
8. The Elephants' Graveyard
9. Banana Republic
10. Fall Down
11. Hurt Hurts
12. Whitehall 1212               

After three patchy but occasionally brilliant albums, The Boomtown Rats started to get very near to rock bottom on this decidedly unimpressive album. Firstly, the sound quality is positively dreadful but that is something that can be alleviated slightly by good material. Unfortunately that is not the case here, not at all. In trying to keep up with contemporary music trends, the always derivative Rats just lost their way, completely. The album is, to put it politely, a total stinker.
                          
Mood Mambo is a bizarre attempt to "go tribal" as Bow Wow Wow meets Lene Lovich and The Slits at a Taking Heads "Remain In Light" gig. Taken in isolation, it is ok, but I don't quite get the point of it, because nothing else is remotely like it on here. Straight Up is lively enough, but its production is appallingly tinny, its guitar riffs overwhelmed by shrill synthesiser ones. This Is My Room is a dirge-like mess that requires no further comment.

  

Another Piece Of Red has admirable, anti-British Empire sentiments and is one of the album's higher points, but once Geldof's voice is questionable. "They're calling for an umpire, it really isn't cricket..." is good line, though. Whatever Go Man Go! may have had is buried under a weight of muffled synthesisers. When Geldof's vocal kicks in, it is positively awful. I am, as any reader of my reviews will know, a very positive writer on the whole, but, I am sorry to say this is garbage. It is briefly redeemed by a good saxophone solo, but that's all I can say in its favour. They try to turn it into Rat Trap at the end and fail miserably too.

Under Their Thumb Is Under My Thumb is a strange attempt to ska-up The Rolling StonesUnder My Thumb. Actually, it is one of the album's more listenable tracks, with a Specials sound to it. Please Don't Go tries to sound like The Velvet Underground and doesn't really sound like anything. It is terrible. The Elephant's Graveyard was a minor hit single and is one of the album's better tracks, with Geldof doing his affected Graham Parker-style voice (but nowhere near as good as Parker's). Indeed he almost sounds as if he is losing his voice on the "guilty till proven guilty..." chorus part.

  

Banana Republic was a big hit single and is undoubtedly the best offering on here. It is the Rats' shot at joining in with the white reggae thing that The Police and The Clash had enjoyed success with. It is atmospheric and effective. It is also the only track on here with remotely decent sound, as if it had been recorded at at a different time, in a different studio (which may well have been the case, as it was a pre-album single).

Fall Down is a plaintive piano-backed ballad that shows up Geldof's voice no end. Hurt Hurts has a pounding drum sound and some reasonable guitar to half lift it out of its tinny sonic morass. Whitehall 1212 is actually reasonable Sandinista!-style dubby instrumental to end on a high(er) note.

Look, there are several Boomtown Rats tracks that I really like, even Banana Republic from here, but otherwise I can't avoid but say it as I hear it. This was a dreadful album in 1981 and it is now.

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THE BEST OF THE BOOMTOWN RATS

1. She's So Modern
2. Mary Of The 4th Form
3. Rat Trap
4. Lookin' After No. 1
5. When The Night Comes
6. Someone's Looking At You
7. Joey's On The Street Again
8. Banana Republic
9. Dave
10. I Don't Like Mondays
11. Like Clockwork
12. (I Never Loved) Eva Braun
13. Neon Heart
14. Never In A Milion Years
15. Diamond Smiles
16. Drag Me Down
17. I Can Make It If You Can
18. The Elephants' Graveyard
19. Fall Down    

As I have said in other Boomtown Rats reviews, they were one of the most derivative groups around. No-one quite knew what they were, though, even themselves, I am sure. They definitely caught firmly on to the punk coat-tails, although The Rats had been toting the punk attitude around Ireland since 1975. So they were ahead of that game in a way, but not much of their output was punk, apart from their frenetic, wonderful first hit single, Looking' After No. 1. Quite a lot of their material was more influenced by The New York Dolls and The Rolling Stones, and was often even a bit "glam rock"-ish in sound.
                                              
As I said, their influences were manifold - Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Thin Lizzy, Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, Steve Harley, Lou Reed, Mink De Ville, The New York Dolls, Sparks, Alice Cooper, glam rock, Dr. Feelgood....the list goes on and on. So, they were a sort of jackdaw-styled group, collecting and expressing influences all over the place. Because of that, they never quite gained as much critical kudos as other groups.

  

What was never in doubt, however, was that they produced seriously good singles and they are all on here - the glam-rock-ish Mary Of The 4th Form; the quirky Like Clockwork; the lively and more punky, but commercial She's So Modern and the huge mini-masterpiece of new wave brilliance that was Rat Trap. Then there is the completely unique I Don't Like Mondays, with its big orchestration and superb Bob Geldof vocal; the white reggae of Banana Republic; the new wave rock of The Elephant's Graveyard; and two really great, underrated ones in the catchy Someone's Looking At You and the sad, evocative Diamond Smiles.

  

Also included is the blatantly Springsteenesque, Rat Trap predecessor of Joey's On The Street Again, the New York Dolls-ish, riffy Neon Heart, another later extended classic in Dave and When The Night Comes which, after Rat Trap this time, tries to repeat the formula.

While having the identity problems I mentioned earlier, it still didn't stop The Rats being red hot for a few great years between 1978 and 1981. They were a great new wave chart act and I can testify, having seem them live in 1980, that they put on an excellent show. They could play too, something that was often overlooked.

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