David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 231: The Boomtown Rats (Here's A Postcard)

March 4, 2023

Time to talk about the dreaded "comeback" albums. You know, the studio albums released by bands years after their squabbles, differing interests, and boredom with the music industry caused them to break up.  Almost always the "comeback" studio album does not feature all of the original members, or even all of the members at the time of the break-up. We all have bought a bunch of them, hoping to find the original magic:

  • The Cars - Move Like This
  • The Go-Go's - God Bless The Go-Go's
  • Devo - Something For Everybody
  • Blondie - No Exit
  • The Who - Endless Wire
  • Steely Dan - Two Against Nature
  • Blue Öyster Cult - The Symbol Remains

As a general rule, these reunion albums end up being a bit disappointing, almost certainly because of the changes that occurred within the fan base, as much as the band. For me, one of the most disheartening reunion albums comes from The Boomtown Rats, 2020's Citizens of Boomtown.

As a fairly ardent fan of The Boomtown Rats the first time around, I should have wanted an album that still seemed rooted in their place within Boomtown. When they were great, they were phenomenal: "Joey's On The Street Again," "Rat Trap," "I Don't Like Mondays," "Diamond Smiles," such songs bore great pop sensibilities surrounded by untypical arrangements and social criticism. However, even when they were phenomenal, they were irritating, most famously not "playing" "Rat Trap" when forced to "air play" on Top Of The Pops (maybe such actions seemed edgy at the time, but Bob Geldof playing the Candelabra as if a saxophone certainly minimized session man's Alan Holmes' participation on the album). Song sequencing and integrity didn't seem to matter when they pulled two songs from their debut album to be on the U.S. version of A Tonic For The Troops. Later, when Geldof oversaw reissues of their 6 studio albums from 1977 to 1984, he re-sequenced each of them.

Ultimately, I don't think I could ever completely give my heart to them because they seem to revel too much in being the sneering, post-apocalyptic rats that survive long after the boomtown is cleared out. The cover for In The Long Grass, which, in my opinion, despite some poor production is their best album, seems indicative of the problem: Guys, couldn't you clean up just a little?

So, all of this is to say that "coming back" in essence still as the "citizens of boomtown," sans keyboardist Johnny Fingers, sacrilege in itself given his role in "I Don't Like Mondays," their most famous hit, was very calculated, and perhaps resonated with their more fervent fan base. For me, less so.

Citizens of Boomtown begins firmly in Boomtown, "Trash Glam Baby" summed up by its first line "Oh, no, another shit Saturday night," bored teenager, Billy, perhaps transplanted a half century later from the boredom of his "Rat Trap." The album then ends with the actual song "The Boomtown Rats," an ode to St. Boomtown, "the patron saint of crap." And for the most part in between is some crap and shit, "Rock 'n Roll Ye Ye" and "Get A Grip" most notably.

The album's saving graces come in the middle of the album, most notably with "Here's A Postcard," which could have sufficed as the sole communique from Boomtown. In fact, the title is positively sweet as the singular concept: "hey, haven't talked to you in awhile. Here's a postcard from Boomtown."

The postcard captures a lovely summer day, our rats hanging out. They're still a little misogynistic and un-p.c., telling us about the unnamed woman "walking down the street/hi-heeled shoes and her mini-skirt/and her heat," or later, when commenting on the women with "nothing on" in the bar, "On days like this it's good to be a man."  Despite that, the rest of the summer day in sweltering Boomtown is as enticing as the "ice cream music in the park [with] ice cream melting in the park," the day moving "on like in a passing dream."

Musically, "here's a postcard" carries this lovely summer day, dropping "just as quick to cooling night," acoustic guitar at the center, not feedback or slashed electric guitars, hand claps, lots of "yeah" from the background singing. It is so catchy, I am not sure I would ever leave Boomtown if it was always like this. The lyrics pretty much disappearing in the sweltering heat, until we get the lovely coda, "here's a postcard/of a summer's day," sung by the background choir, Geldof's lone lead vocal, mostly lost in the haze.

"Here's A Postcard" was proceeded by "Passing Through," which also conveys the right sentiment about Boomtown 40 years past its prime. Too bad, Geldof and company couldn't find other more fleeting ways to invoke us back to Boomtown. In the end, we don't find enough to want to stay. Too bad the band asks "don't you want me, babe?" on "Monster Monkeys," the same song where we are told that "Seven days I wandered with vomit on my soul. . . blood on my pillows." Uh, no thanks, Bob and the boys, just keep sending that occasional postcard.

The Boomtown Rats. "Here's A Postcard." Citizens of Boomtown. BMG, 2020. Link here.

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See complete list here.