Friday, 31 May 2019

The Boomtown Rats - Mondo Bongo (1981)

The elephants' graveyard....


Released February 1981

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.

TRACK LISTING (this was the original vinyl album track listing)

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                                            

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 Stones' Under 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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