THE BOOMTOWN RATS: "The Boomtown Rats" (Ensign ENVY 1).
CHRIST, what will we label them? Rock and roll, rhythm and blues, pop new wave? All tags apply but no one alone totally fits the bill as a true representation of what the Boomtown Rats are about. Listen to this excellent debut album once and you'll reel in confusion; spin it again and you will squeal in delight. I must also emphasise that, while the Rats summon all those styles, with sporadic traces of Dylan, Stones, Beatles, Feelgoods, Springsteen and much more besides, their adaptation is not one that can be called derivative. This band picks the cream and churns it to create their own identity - one that will become clearer with each album, I'm sure.But what is most heartening about "The Boomtown Rats" is that it shows that the band have left room for real artistic progress in the future, at a time when very few new wave bands think about where they'll be five minutes from now (an admirable immediacy but one that leads only to a short-lived existence).
The Rats have been compared heavily to Dr. Feelgood when, in fact, they are the time-warped (though great nonetheless) Feelgoods taken a vital and imaginative step further. The potential for this band is pretty unnerving. For the present, though, we have this album to talk about. It encapsulates present (new wave), past (.Sixties R&B) and future (the scintillating combination of both with well thought-out lyrical and musical arrangements). New wave followers will undoubtedly pick up on the '77 pop 'n' energy feel of "Lookin' After Number 1", "Mary Of The Fourth Form", "She's Gonna Do You In" and, with slightly less enthusiasm, "Neon Heart", while staunch R&B fanatics can get their fulfillment out of things like "Kicks", "Close As You'll Ever Be" and "Never Bite The Hand That Feeds", the only duff track on the album-adequate but just not up to the set standard. For the future, we must look to the sharp arrangements of those tunes as well as referring to two beautiful ballads on the album, "Joey's On The Street Again," one in the Morrison / Springsteen / Lynott / Parker / Costello mould, and the even more poignant "I Can Make It If You Can,"
which seems to be heavily influenced by Dylan vocally. How encouraging it is to see a band tackle two such songs when the river is running, even gushing, in the opposite direction. Vocalist Bob Geldof is undoubtedly the mainman in the Rats. His lyrics, particularly on "Kicks" and "Joey's On The Street Again", display acute awareness of what is happening on the street and in the home. The chauvinism and sheer bloody-mindedness of "Lookin' After Number 1" will no doubt win him a few enemies.
As a singer, his asset is knowing the limitations of his voice rather than stretching and blowing the gaff, so he works well within a set framework, embellishing the top vocal with some nifty harmonies (as on "Neon Heart' and "Mary Of The 4th Form",
with its great childish chant outro).
He enjoys a healthy relationship with the rest of his competent band, trading vocal bursts for guitar licks with Cott and Roberts, a la Jagger and Richard. I'd like to see Johnny Fingers' potential exploited more. On this album, he seems a little tied down, playing a fairly predictable role rather than expanding the music to an even broader horizon. Naturally, with a neo-new wave band, the rhythm section is solid, with Pete Briquette and Simon Crowe providing the backbone.This rates as one of the best debut albums in years. It'll certainly be recognised as one of this year's outstanding releases and the Boomtown Rats will be hailed as one of the best new bands to arrive in ages. I'd bet my Thin Lizzy collection on it. -
(H.D. MELODY MAKER AUGUST 27TH 1977)