The Boomtown Rats' 'Citizens of Boomtown' Is a Failed Stab at Relevance

Photo: Courtesy of Beautiful Day Media

After listening to the Boomtown Rats' Citizens of Boomtown, you can't help but wonder if another vanity project is the kind of activism we need to combat the injustices of the world.

Citizens of Boomtown
Boomtown Rats


20 March 2020

Strange to think that Bob Geldof was once a semi-famous new wave singer. Live Aid and telling the public to "give us your fucking money" have rendered him more visible and better-known than he ever could have been from plays on oldies stations and appearances on The Best New Wave Compilation / Playlist Ever. In the UK and Ireland, at least, he is only a few tiers less famous than his friend and fellow Live Aider, Bono. Yet from a musical perspective, it might be argued that the Boomtown Rats have perhaps unwarranted stature based on merit alone. "I Don't Like Mondays" is fine, and "Rat Trap" is okay, and "She's So Modern" is probably better than either, but stuff like the cod reggae of "Banana Republic" just don't get there. Let's face it, better bands than this have been forgotten. But Geldof the celebrity, and how one is unable to view this record aside from that, is a bigger issue.

I could talk about how Live Aid was a vanity project that helped the careers of those involved as much as it did African children, or how what looked pro bono was as much pro-Bono. I could discuss how sticking plaster fundraisers merely mask the glaring structural issues that actually cause such suffering and only serve to assuage our guilt at our complicity in these travesties. Then there's how Boomtown Rats skirted self-awareness when they called the group who recorded "Do They Know it's Christmas?" Band Aid, or how a sizeable chunk of the world's hungry don't give a damn that it's Christmas and would prefer their food without a side order of Christian propaganda, but what would be the use of that?

It's been said that bands that came out of punk each had at least one single in them, and credit where credit's due, the Rats had more than one. But that was 40 years ago. What do you do if you're Bob Geldof and your significance peaked when you went on TV and demanded money from us? Chase semi-relevance in a musical landscape radically different from the one into which your band last released an album (1984's In the Long Grass). That must be a common problem for bands known primarily as one-hit wonders.

Peter Perrett of the Only Ones apparently didn't leave the house for a few decades for, let's say, personal reasons, but then his one single was "Another Girl Another Planet", a punk record as unimpeachably great as "Night Time" by the Strangeloves. Make a piece of art that good, and you can waste the rest of your life as you wish. Should you choose to pop your head above the parapet, then we should listen. But if you release a few pretty good singles and a bunch of albums with diminishing returns, then if you're not a celebrity like Bob Geldof, nobody is going to care.

Geldof's celebrity is not just due to his involvement in charity events, though. He spent a good portion of the 1990s as fodder for the UK tabloids, largely through his relationship with Paula Yates, who was, unfortunately, a victim of the tabloids' tendency to elevate people to destroy them. So, I think it's fair to say that Bob Geldof has been for some time more known as a celebrity than as a musician. This celebrity is, shall we say, both in the way of this record, and most of the reason that it's of any interest.

Is the record any good, though? No, no, it isn't. The thing is, it's competent, and in a way, that's worse than if it were not. Bands who have limited ability and try to sound like other bands often come up with something new, something their own. An example would be Public Image wanting to sound like krautrock and dub but ending up sounding like only themselves. But here you get the impression that this is exactly what the Boomtown Rats want to sound like.

The opener, "Trash Glam Baby", sounds like a song Suede would have rejected. It's like "Please Mister Postman" soaked in some sort of indie/glam dishwater. The second track, "Sweet Thing", also carries a peculiarly Britpop-ish feel. It's an ugly listen, a crummy Graham Coxon-ish riff to begin, then some piano that sounds like they had the idea that the piano in "I Wanna Be Your Dog" was good but without actually considering why that might be. "Monster Monkeys", seems like them sitting in the studio with a pair of bongos and then deciding that they might as well try a "Sympathy for the Devil" type deal, but then stealing a verse from the Happy Mondays. Another example: "Rock n Roll Ye Ye" is "Ziggy Stardust" with some "I Love Rock n Roll" sprinkled in. Then there's a breakdown where he sounds like Bob Dylan singing "Knocking on Heaven's Door". And so it goes on. And on.

I want to say that the worst thing about this is that it's boring, which it is, but the actual worst thing is how it assumes the listener will be satisfied with such laziness. Ripping off very obvious rock songs is asking to be deemed irrelevant, and their attempts to sound contemporary are poor at best. If you must acquire this, then you might have fun with your friends picking out which songs they ripped off, or pay homage to or whatever.

And so back to the politics. The head of this "revolutionary council", as Bono calls them, claims to have always viewed rock 'n' roll as a form of musical activism. That appears to be Geldof's primary excuse for this record's existence: "Once again the financial systems destroyed the world and the lives of the countries within it … Who will sing those blues. The blues of the NOW!" (sic). These are odd claims to make about what is a really quite generic rock record. Generic rock isn't inherently bad (AC/DC are a testament to this), but neither is it Gang of Four. After listening to Citizens of Boomtown, you can't help but wonder if another vanity project is the kind of activism we need to combat the injustices of the world. If you feel the need for activism, then there are far better ways to go about it than by giving these guys your "fucking" money.





90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.


Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.