Wednesday 22 November 2017

Tell me why . . . Bob Geldof's latest musical output has been truly electric

John Meagher, Rock Critic

'It's no wonder Bob Geldof knows so much about famine. He's been dining out on 'I Don't Like Mondays' for 30 years." Russell Brand's pithy put-down at an awards show in which Geldof received a Lifetime Achievement gong didn't go down too well with the former Boomtown Rats frontman.

But even Sir Bob may have recognised that Brand's gag summed up what many people think -- his music career effectively ended when his punk upstarts split in the mid-1980s.

Such a reaction is understandable when one considers that the Dubliner has long been famed as a campaigner, a TV production guru and a motor-mouth who has made an art form out of being controversial. And -- let's face it -- it has been the best part of three decades since his music last troubled the singles charts.

But perhaps it's time to reappraise the artistic merits of a man who forces even the most anodyne observer to have an opinion of him. If you find yourself in the bargain basement of your local record store -- if you can find a record store nowadays, that is -- you could do a lot worse than pick up a copy of Geldof's last two albums or catch his set when he plays Electric Picnic.

Sex, Age & Death, released in 2001, is a piercingly dark portrait of a life at the lowest ebb. Geldof doesn't shirk from addressing the death of his ex-wife Paula Yates and the devastating impact it had on him. The lyrics are often so brutally frank and angry if feels voyeuristic to listen to them.

But it's clear that Geldof must have found the process of writing songs so nakedly honest to be cathartic. He had refused to talk about Paula's death in interviews up to that point, preferring instead to express his thoughts on such private matters in what, at the time, he loftily termed "the heightened language of music".

Sex, Age & Death is far from a masterpiece -- too many of the tracks are tuneless and half-baked -- but it's always compelling. As an exercise in bleakness, heartbreak and vitriol, it can be filed along side Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks and Beck's Sea Change.

Perhaps potential buyers were put off by the brutal honesty (and the fact the album didn't have any potential hit singles) because its best chart placing in the UK was a pitiful number 134.

Geldof took 10 years to release another album and the acidly titled How to Compose Popular Music that Will Sell also fell on deaf ears when it was released in February of this year. It limped to number 89 in the British chart.

Popular Music is a very different album to its predecessor. Much of the anger of before has been replaced by an acceptance of how his life has panned out and the record is shot through with loving portraits of his long-term French partner Jeanne Marine.

One song, 'To Live in Love', patently, is about the contentment he feels with Jeanne, while another, 'Systematic 6-Pack' -- a hilariously self-deprecating number -- revels in the joy of sex.

Here's Bob's own description of those new songs: "(They concern) that almost wild surprise, the corny realisation that someone loves you and you love them." Just about as different from Age, Sex & Death as you can get, then.

It's likely that Geldof will dust down some old favourites at Electric Picnic tomorrow and some have stood the test of time. 'Banana Republic' -- a scabrous indictment of corrupt Ireland in the late 1970s -- is just as relevant for 2011.

Bob Geldof plays Electric Picnic tomorrow at 9.30pm

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