Monday, 31 December 2018

The Boomtown Rats - A Tonic For The Troops (1978)

She's so twentieth century....


Released June 1978

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.


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                                                      

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 force, Rat 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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