It’s almost possible to forget that, at some periods during his lifetime that has mostly involved charity work, campaigning and so forth, Bob Geldof actually made some music too. The Boomtown Rats had a reasonably successful run, even if their career could be summed up by that song about Mondays, and his solo career had similar fortunes. However, it seems that the Irish singer-songwriter is always going to be remembered for Live Aid and Live 8. With his first album of new material for nearly ten years, How To Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell, he has another chance to capture people’s imaginations with songs rather than speeches.
Upon many listens, one thing that’s clear is that Geldof refuses to take one easy road; many influences are showcased throughout the ten songs (plus rather annoying hidden track – the less said about it the better). He’s also decided to put aside any temptation to write politically and has instead opted down a broader and accessible route altogether. The results are fairly mixed.
To Live In Love is very continental sounding, swooning and serenading its way over the course of four minutes and will almost certainly have a love/hate effect on the listener. Dazzled By You, right down to its gospel-tinged backing vocals and waltz-like rhythm, feels a bit like filler whilst Silly Pretty Thing is the obvious ‘radio single’ as it were – jaunty, string-laden and by far and away the most upbeat song on the entire record as it bounces with life and enthusiasm.
This is all well and good but when the final three tracks, all tinged with folk and country undertones, are so superior you’d have to say that the seven songs before this point have been nothing more than a warm-up. Mary Says is very intimate sounding with Geldof proclaiming that “everybody’s always saying goodbye”. Blow sees him sing mostly in a not-too-bad-for-his-age falsetto against a rather dreamy wave of echoey guitars and glockenspiel. Here’s To You ends the album with a breezy fluster that doesn’t feel too dissimilar to a Wilco song, oddly enough, yet it’s here where you sense that Geldof feels most comfortable – highly melodic and arguably not feeling like he has to impress everyone like some of the other tracks on here.
On the basis of How To Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell it would seem that Bob Geldof has no real major objectives at this time, in contrast to the album’s tongue-in-cheek title, and all he wants to do is write good songs. As such, the experimentations, and their hit-and-miss nature, doesn’t make for an album you want to play over and over again; in fact, a fair amount of tunes are rather forgettable and don’t really offer much. However, should Geldof continue to write songs in the manner of the final three songs, hidden track aside, then there might yet be one more career re-birth in him.