Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Best Irish Albums: NINE

THE BOOMTOWN RATS – A Tonic For The Troops (1978)

Best song: “Rat Trap”

Quite frankly, A Tonic For The Troops is one of the greatest bad-taste records I know. A mess of an album. Yet a clear post-punk classic that sounds equally patchy, maddening, catchy, and intoxicating.

Bob Geldof’s Boomtown Rats are largely forgotten or, at best, severely underrated. And if someone somewhere still talks about the band, it’s all about “I Don’t Like Mondays”, The Boomtown Rats’ memorable, poignant chart-topping single about a 16-year-old Californian girl who shot 11 people in the street simply because Monday wasn’t her kind of day (true story, by the way). A classic, of course, but as it happens, there’s more to The Boomtown Rats than their biggest hit.

And I’m talking about their sole and undisputed masterpiece, A Tonic For The Troops. Interesting that the album was released in 1978, the year punk was still in full swing; interesting, because the record sounds as if punk was already a thing of the past. A Tonic For The Troops is the sound of glam-rock and rockabilly filtered through the spirit of 1977; add to this Bob Geldof’s rough, self-assured, playful vocals and witty, often tongue-in-cheek lyrics, and you pretty much get the picture.

The level of energy is astonishing; the hooks, both vocal and instrumental, just keep jumping at you out of nowhere. The hilarious “(I Never Loved) Eva Braun”, sung from the point of view of Adolf Hitler, is a riot. Of course, there’s something absolutely ridiculous, over the top about it, but those melodies are irresistible. The punky “She’s So Modern” is a concise energy rush. “Don’t Believe What You Read” is smart and catchy Brit-rock. And “Can’t Stop”? “(Watch Out For) Normal People”? Slovenly, hysterical, unforgettable. 

But the whole thing wouldn’t have been nearly as good as it is were it not for the last song, the overblown epic “Rat Trap”. It’s an existential anthem with terrific lyrics, driving onslaught of melodies and a sloppy sax-fuelled groove that concludes the record on a very becoming, wild note. A totally deserved No.1 hit. And now that it's playing in my head... 

“It’s a rat trap, Judy, and we’ve been… CAUGHT!..”

Jesus, a record like that. No subtlety anywhere in sight, but just mind-numbingly great. Should probably be even higher on my list.

Irishness? Hell no.

RECOMMENDATIONS: No one gets forgotten for nothing. The Boomtown Rats’ problem was the obvious lack of truly compelling LP's. Yes, they had quite an impressive run of UK hit singles, but I wouldn’t know what other albums to recommend. Try maybe The Fine Art Of Surfacing (1979; features “I Don’t Like Mondays”), it’s their second most consistent proposition. But I would suggest sticking to A Tonic For The Troops. For post-punk rarely got better.

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