Album review

I’ve finally translated my album review. Writing music reviews in English is about the trickiest thing I can imagine, which is why it took so long…

It was so worth the long wait. “How to compose popular songs that will sell” is Bob Geldof’s fifth solo album, and nearly ten years have passed since the last one. The new album sounds light-hearted, optimistic and open. The songs are diverse and powerful, with a never ending list of references and quotations. The title, a quotation itself, comes from a book written by Leslie Sheppard in the ‘thirties, who wanted to provide a practical handbook for composers. Even if I hadn’t waited for this album it would have put a smile on my face before the first listen, simply for the funny and brilliant title! Each of the eleven very different songs is unique and distinctive, and the album as a whole shows that alongside with everything he has achieved, Bob Geldof is a songwriter and musician. First and foremost, if anyone asks me!

The first song How I roll is one of my favourites – a perfect opener for this brilliant album. There’s the obvious reference to the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer in the city, but unlike in the old summer hit, “How I roll” hints that life isn’t only about going out at night and finding a girl: “Out there somewhere in the city there’s people living lives without mercy or petty – it’s how they roll.” While the rhythm and melody of this song comes across as bright and light-hearted, the image of being woken by the devil scratching underneath the floor tells a different story. “I think these pills have been good for me, I think they banished all my blues into infinity…“

The second track, Blowfish, is unexpected both musically and in its lyrics. There’s a pretty heavy rock guitar, synth pomp and a fat bass, underlined by an intricate rhythm. This song is a real grower: Every time I listen to it there’s more to discover. I can’t make sense of the lyrics, but I absolutely love the bluesy-rock sound and weird distorted voice. Makes me want to turn up the volume and dance! 

The atmosphere of She’s a lover reminds me of “Sex, Age and Death”. Dark, ominous, haunting. I like the distinctive guitar and – like on many tracks on this album – the striking backing vocals.

The next song To live in love with its beautiful accordion, violin and almost chanson-like vocals takes me to France. The images! This song is the soundtrack to a Fifties roadmovie in the south of France. Sunglasses and hair scarves, speeding around bends in a cabriolet, pencil skirts, Martini time in Monaco. Everything fits together in this song, l’air, the instruments, intonation and the way Bob “vocalizes” the final consonants. “Lovvvve”, “definnneddd”, “meaninglezzzz”. Funny and beautiful at the same time! Here’s another brilliant line from this album: “To live in love is life defined” – so positive and life-affirming.

If Bob followed the advice of Leslie Sheppard, Silly Pretty Thing must be in G major, which according to Sheppard expresses “youth, gaiety and high spirits”. There’s this extremely catchy melody, paired with a violin that reminds me of the sticky “Oh Baby” by Bruce Channel. The song also contains all the other ingredients a happy song needs: violin, glockenspiel, chimes and handclaps, together with an almost funky guitar and a bouncy bass. The fascinating thing is – it works! The song puts me into a good mood immediately – almost against my will! “We believe in all that stuff like love and gentleness and peace, so today’s the day we’re going to come out and declare our victory” – yes! I love the lines about the moon getting drunk and dancing a moon song after dropping his clothes down on the empty streets. This is for the days when you know we’re here to have fun and laugh, not to be miserable.

Next one is Systematic six pack – oh man, what a song! This one is quickly growing on me. It sounds like Peter Gunn meets Reservoir Dogs (or rather: ducks). Trying to make sense of the lyrics, I come to the conclusion that this song is entirely about men. It is apparently about age, about 58 and a half, too, which is also the alternative album title. There’s a bizarre official video to this song (needless to say there are about nine or ten men in the video and only two women, one of them dead) that plays with all the stereotypes men are associated with – men in cars, men playing cards, hurt male pride, men and justice – a pastiche of male-ness. The key character by the way is being played by Rhys Ifans with khol eye liner and a mother Theresa t-shirt. If you don’t like this song, watch the video (just remember it’s only film blood) and listen again. I hope to hear this live, as it makes me want to dance. And know more about… men!

Dazzled by you is probably the songs with the most beautiful title. It’s simple and logical in its structure, and it’s the perfect song to sing along to at a gig and carry it home in your heart. I first heard it being played live and it kept popping up again and again in my head for days after that.

Then, what can I say: Mary Says absolutely takes my breath away. A secret gem, a timeless masterpiece that touches me deeply. With its gentle instrumentation, this song is about Mary, who can smell the end of the summer. “’I’ll write a book of poems if I go hungry’ – she looks around just once before she leaves” – again it is about farewell and the moon and the stars. And about so much more – round, warm, organic. This song should never stop.

The next song Blow is another fragile, tender song, sung in falsetto, utterly beautiful and with some strong comforting images. I love the guitar and violin that wrap me like a warm blanket and the hypnotic piano. Again, the moon shines down from above and casts its silvery light onto the universal solace “love will find a way to you again”. Sigh.

Here’s to you seems to be the major fan favourite, according to an unrepresentative study in the social networks. Great guitar! Another song on a hopeful and happy note. It is all there – friends, God, protection, love, life, every single living thing, the sky, the wind, the sea, the rain and a happy cheerful whistle. But the bottom line is: “I’m in love with life tonight”. It’s all it needs to say.

The eleventh and “hidden” song is Young and sober. It goes through the “five decades of the Bobary” – hilarious! Bob does his “Father Ted” thing before and after the song. I absolutely love the idea that this last song closes with the verse about the year of 05 and the beautiful new wife who made the man once again young and sober. A nice reference to the last album, which finished with the song 10:15 and the word “love”.

There’s a final little joke about a red Ford Escort blocking the toilet. While the devil was still scratching underneath the floor in the first songs of the album – metaphorically speaking – , there’s this wonderful lightness and ease in the last tracks. The Ford Escort lets the album end not only on a happy, but even on a giggly note. It is good to know the happy, optimistic and relaxed Bob is back!

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