Life at 33 1/3: Art before Knighthood


The Boomtown Rats: A Tonic For The Troops (Ensign)

Produced by:

Robert John “Mutt” Lange and The Boomtown Rats


Bob Geldof – vocals, saxophone

Pete Briquette – bass, vocals

Gerry Cott – guitar

Johnnie Fingers – keyboards, vocals

Simon Crowe – drums, vocals

Garry Roberts – guitar, vocals

Released in June 1978

(All songs written by Bob Geldof except where indicated):

“Like Clockwork” (Bob Geldof, Pete Briquette, Simon Crowe)

“Blind Date”

“(I Never Loved) Eva Braun”

“She’s So Modern” (Geldof, Johnny Fingers)

“Don’t Believe What You Read”

“Living in an Island”

“Me and Howard Hughes”

“Can’t Stop”

“(Watch Out For) The Normal People”

“Rat Trap”

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Bob Geldof never was a credible punkrocker but rather a cunning guy who had learned some moves from the Rolling Stones’ videos, sporting a set of matching botox lips to boot.  His voice was no big deal, rather an affected sob going berserk on a trampoline, but it did the job in the theatrical musical environment that the band provided.

Boomtown Rats were an art-pop band, quite clever when they hit the bull’s eye, and this they did for a little while, mostly on this, their second album.  It delivers colourful poses in a new-wave clothing.

It is a varied album stuffed with vocal gymnastics and clever twists.  Three massive hits are included: The Springsteen-pastiche “Rat Trap” (their first no. 1 in The UK), the brash stammering pop pandemonium “She’s So Modern” and the cynically excited “Like Clockwork” that snatches a phrase from John Lennon’s “God”.

The album’s got more going for it than the hits though.  You’ll find just as strong bits in “Living In An Island” (suicide galore!), in “Me And Howard Hughes” (the best imaginary visit to the eccentric recluse Howard Hughes since James Bond gatecrashed him in “Diamonds Are Forever”) and in the priceless “(I Never Loved) Eva Braun” (the happiest Hitler-song ever).

There are fillers of course, but the album is still good.  Fresh and energetic, sparkling and bright, and the subject choices of the lyrics are imaginative.  Sadly their art-pop genes went amok on the subsequent albums, it was all theatrics and high-and low-bouncing tunes going nowhere fast that made for an exhausting listening experience.  Busy stuff short on memorable songs.  This is the main reason why Sir Bob mostly is remembered for one song (“I Don’t Like Mondays”) and Band Aid.

But there was a once upon a time – and its name is “A Tonic For The Troops”.  Art before knighthood indeed!