Disaffected but not punk, eager to please but only on their own terms, a thorn shoved into the skin of church and state, it is easy to view The Boomtown Rats as one of the very few Irish rock bands of the past 45 years that have raised the temperature in the room.
Of course, lanky 68-year-old Bob Geldof has been the focal point since the very beginning – if Van Morrison was the philosopher/poet, Phil Lynott the charmer and Bono the peacemaker, then Geldof was the effusive rabble-rouser.
We know what happened when the band separated after the release of their 1984 album, In the Long Grass, and we know what occurred in Geldof’s personal life following that, but it now seems there comes a time where a rock’n’roll singer has to do what a rock’n’roll singer has to do. In Geldof’s case, it was, in time-honoured fashion, getting (most of) the band back together again.
Whether Citizens of Boomtown is the final hurrah is a moot point. All we know for sure is that, as comeback albums go, it isn’t half good. It isn’t half bad, either, but we’ll get to that shortly.
When it comes to the music, Geldof is, with no small justification, still lookin' after number one
The album starts well with Trash Glam Baby, a nifty, taut collage of Elton Rock’s Crocodile Rock and the band’s own Mary of the 4th Form.
It ends with four clunkers: the hollow if not redundant d’wanna be in my gang call-to-arms of The Boomtown Rats, the below average R&B thrust of Get a Grip, the hugely misjudged K.I.S.S., a Boomtown rap that even with an all-clear certificate shouldn’t have been let out of the studio, and Rock’n’Roll Yea Yea, a song (some dexterous lyrics notwithstanding) almost as stylistically dumb as its title.
The first half of the album is much sharper, tighter. Sweet Thing and She Said No astutely self-reference the sweaty, proto-punk Dr Feelgood-like sensibilities of the band’s 1977 self-titled debut album.
The best songs, however, are slower, textured, less prone to cliché: Passing Through and Here's a Postcard run, respectively, on heady fumes circulated by David Bowie and Lou Reed.
The former song’s guitar lines and piano frills call to mind a blend of Robert Fripp and Mike Garson; the latter song is Geldof’s cute hybrid of Velvet Underground/Jonathan Richman, the track’s sparse lyrics and clipped guitars cherry-topped with a harmonised coda of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
It’s a pity the remainder of the album doesn’t reach similar heights, but that’s Geldof for you: when it comes to the music, he is, with no small justification, still lookin’ after number one.