It’s So Twentieth Century: The Boomtown Rats’ Tonic for the Troops

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Nothing can make a guy feel older than listening to an old favourite song that heralds a time now far in the past.  In Asia’s “Heat of the Moment,” John Wetton sings “And now you find yourself in ‘82”; at the beginning of Styx’s “Borrowed Time,” Dennis de Young shouts “Don’t look now, but here come the eighties!”

But even further back in time is The Boomtown Rats’ “She’s So Modern,” whose chorus is delightful: “She’s so twentieth century/She’s so nineteen-seventies/She knows the right exercise/She knows the right clothes to wear.”  Nothing like being “so nineteen-seventies!”  But it’s a great song, one of many on the Rats’ second album, A Tonic for the Troops.

Punk?  Not So Much

I used to think the Rats were punk, and I’m sympathetic to those who still so consider them.  The punkiest thing about them is the lyrics – you know, about stuff like Hitler’s mistress, and suicide, and imperialism.  And the music certainly had the spirit and drive of punk.  But these guys were terrific musicians, and their songs were carefully crafted pop artefacts.  Highlights on this album include “She’s So Modern,” “(I Never Loved) Eva Braun” (the “I” of the title is, of course, Hitler, who is the narrator of the song – really!), “Me and Howard Hughes,” and the British hit “Rat Trap,” a story of young people lost, one of Bob Geldof’s best repeated subjects (right back to the first album’s classic “Mary of the Fourth Form”). 

Fine Production, Too

I had forgotten, till I looked back at the albums (sure, I have them all on vinyl, having bought them as they came out), that the first four Rats albums were co-produced by Mutt Lange – that guy sure got around in the seventies and eighties! – and the next couple by Bowie’s own Tony Visconti.  That explains why, among other things, the records always sounded so good.  But it was the songs that made them great.  A Tonic For the Troops was the album right before the one (The Fine Art Of Surfacing) that contained their worldwide hit “I Don’t Like Mondays,” and while I think I now have to acknowledge that Surfacing is clearly their best album, Tonic, the first one I bought, remains a sentimental favourite.  If you want to hear what Bob and the boys sounded like before he became Sir Bob, even before Live Aid made him “Saint Bob,” check out this wonderful record.


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