Monday, 18 August 2014

7 Inch Singles Collection: Boomtown Rats - Banana Republic

Should white men play reggae?


A-side: Banana Republic
B-Side: Man At The Top
(Ensign 1980)

I alluded to my opinion that Bob Geldolf is capable of making good records in my review of the Band Aid record. As if to back up this opinion I have a number of Boomtown Rats singles, of which this is the first to come up. 

For a while, back in the day, there was a bit of a reverse snobbish attitude to Boomtown Rates - many fans and critics of punk/post-punk would tend to dismiss them out of hand as not being authentic, or not quite up to being as good as other similar bands. I don't know how prevalent this attitude is today, (and, frankly, I don't care), because it's a pretty poor show. I think the problem really stems from the fact that, unlike many more critically acclaimed acts, had commerciality on their side. They knew how to make records that lots of people would buy and listen to and would get played on the radio. I'm not sure what's wrong with that.

I remember clearly first hearing/seeing Banana Republic on Saturday morning Kids TV. It caught my attention then because it felt different and lightly askew from some of the other lighter pop fare that was normally on the menu of such shows. On Banana Republic the Rats flirt with a reggae sounds - many post-punk bands were doing so at the time. Sometimes it worked, other times it was a little more ill-advised. I think that this song falls just about on the right side of that line, in that the reggae is influential rather that pervasive in the sound. (Not that pervasive reggae isn't great when performed by habitual reggae performers). Initially the record lures you in with a slow, soft lovers rock sounds, which suddenly turns dark, when the lyrics start taking about high level institutional corruption among the likes of "police and priests". The music is slightly cheesy but I believe that's there as a deliberate counterpoint to the darkness of the lyrics, mirroring how the dark underbelly of many of the regimes sung about are hiding under a garish tourist-friendly facade. I really liked this song when I first encountered it in 1980, even though I was too young to understand it, I still do like it, but the version in my head is a lot fiercer than what I just heard on the record. So much so that my first reaction on this re-listen was: "Was that it? Surely this used to be better than that".  That's the passage of time for you.

Often on b-sides bands get to experiment a bit more and throw new ideas around a bit. Man At The Top feels very much like that's what Boomtown Rats are doing. It's punkier than the a-side, and has a stronger piano intro with a leading bassline. It feels choppy and mixed up - like bits of different ideas have all been put together in one song, and it's all being held together by one bassline. The lyrics feels squashed into the song - there's very little in the way of melody to catch the ear and hook the listener in.

Overall an OK record that I expected much more of.

Next time some grunge nerds...

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