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Boomtown Rats - Profile

  by Tony Gaughan

published: 15 / 1 / 2014

Boomtown Rats - Profile


Tony Gaughan looks back on the career of the Boomtown Rats, whose six albums have just been released in a box set, the latest in the 'Classic Album Collection' series

The new ‘Boomtown Rats Classic Album Collection 1977-84’ is another of the ‘Classic Album’ mid-price box sets, which appear to be coming thick and fast and give music lovers a chance to purchase entire collections for pretty much the price of a double or triple album. This is an essential purchase for fans, even though it would appear it comprises of the 2005 re-mastered versions rather than brand new versions. This is pretty much the 'Rats' in their entirety, with eacnh of their six albums appearing in neatly replicated gatefold sleeves. There are 88 songs including bonus tracks in total, and they are housed in a neat little box for them to live in- a great start! Their self-titled debut from 1977 was released two years after they had formed in Dublin. The first track ‘Lookin’ after No. 1’ with Bob Geldof's opening line of “The world owes me a living/I've waited in this dole queue too long” pretty much ticked all the boxes for the punk revolution, and the band were catapulted to instant fame and being regarded along with bands like the Clash, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones as an important part of the early punk scene. ‘Mary of the 4th Form’ (Single Version’) concludes the album, along with some demos from 1975 which clearly define the influences of the Rolling Stones, particularly on ‘Doin ‘ It Right’ and a live version of Robert Parker's blues classic ‘Bare Footin’ . ‘Tonic for the Troops’, the 1978 follow-up, was another great album, but clearly the band were looking for global success, leaving a few of their early punk roots behind and going for the pop market. It again has a really strong opening track in ‘Like Clockwork’, and was well-received. Geldof's battles with the press who had begun to have issues with the mouthy Irishman was epitomised on ‘Don't Believe What You Read’, but he was soon to have the last laugh with the band’s first UK No 1 ‘Rat Trap’, which propelled the Irish rockers to new heights,. The album also spawned the hit ‘She's So Modern’. Bonus tracks include the B-sides of ‘Do the Rat’ and ‘D.U.N. L.A.G.G.H.A.I.R.E’, a John Peel session track ‘Neon Heart’, which also appears on their debut album, and it is closed by a live version of ‘Rat Trap’. ‘The Fine Art of Surfacing’ (1979), like the previous two albums, again has a strong opener in ‘Someone's Looking At You’, which reached number 4 in the charts. The band’s other huge hit and second number one, the brilliant ‘I Don't Like Mondays’, told the tragedy of a sixteen year old American schoolgirl on a shooting spree at a children's playground in California. Another notable track was ‘Diamond Smiles’, which itself caused controversy after staff at a Glasgow hospital claimed the lyrics about a suicide of a glamorous debutante named Diamond were exploiting “real life suicide”. The song, however, despite this, charted at no 13 in the UK charts. Bonus tracks include B-sides of the singles and a live version of album track ‘Nothing Happened Today’. ‘Mondo Bongo’ (1980) was considered as commercial career suicide and the beginning of the end for the Rats. They had been UK's best-selling band at that point, and after the success of ‘I Don't Like Mondays’ it was thought that they were about to “really” break America. Their regular producer Robert "Mutt" Lange, who had been responsible for the first three records, was, however, sacked for being a "control freak", and his place in the hot seat was taken by David Bowie's producer Tony Viscont, who completely changed the process of recording. The end result was a somewhat patchy collection with occasional elements of brilliance, but there were few and far between. Out went the pop element, and in came a heavy reliance on percussion on this mambo-inspired record which had too many instances of blandness. This was particularly noteworthy on the very strange choice of first single ‘Mood Mambo’, but, however, ‘Banana Republic’, a barbed dig from Geldof at his native Ireland, and to a lesser extent ‘The Elephant's Graveyard’ provided a lower chart presence for the band. There are more B-sides, and a live track ‘Another Piece of Red’ again closes the 2005 remastered album. ‘V Deep ‘(1982), their fifth studio album, saw the departure of guitarist Gerry Cott, taking them back to a five-piece. The band stuck with Tony Visconti twiddling the studio knobs. It has an experimental opener in ‘He Watches It All’, which features some synth pop again with a lush layered arrangement. Arguably the weakest of the Boomtown Rats’ albums, the band appeared to be dabbling with so many sounds they had lost direction. ‘The Little Death’, with its whispering vocal and jazzy vibe and clarinet and finger clicks aplenty, was never going to be confused with the Dublin five piece's previous efforts. They did, however, again manage to pull a couple of minor hits from the sessions, most notably on the reggae-laden ‘House on Fire’, which charted in the UK at no. 24, and the disco rap vibe of ‘Skin on Skin’. Bonus tracks include B-side ‘No Hiding Place’ and a dub version of ‘House on Fire’. After a couple of years out, the Boomtown Rats resurfaced in 1984 with their sixth album ‘In the Long Grass ‘, which saw them partially back on track. There was again a strong opener in ‘Dave’ , but the fantastically catchy ‘Drag Me Down’ disappointingly could only reach number 50 in the UK charts. With Geldof now having more important 'world' matters to attend to, curing world poverty with the Band Aid single ‘Do They Know It's Christmas? and later the Live Aid event, this record clearly suffered, even though it was a strong record. ‘A Hold of Me’ and ‘Tonight’ saw Geldof getting back to his best writing under the watchful eye of Pink Floyd producer James Guthrie. Again it features bonus tracks, including the single ‘Dave’ and an unreleased home demo of a one minute track called ‘She's Not the Best’. . As a collection of six classic albums, it is certainly worth both the true and novice fan purchasing alike.

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