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Record Review Sample

Review:  How to Compose Popular Songs that Will Sell

ARTIST: Bob Geldof - [Album]
DATE: 03-09-11
REVIEW BY: G. Murray Thomas
ALBUM: How To Compose Popular Songs Which Will Sell
LABEL: Mercury/Fontana/Vagrant/Universal

The title is, no surprise, ironic. Not that the songs on this record could never be popular, or sell; there is no attempt to write a blatant hook, but a number of the songs do end up being catchy. Nonetheless, it is obvious that they were not written with either goal in mind. They were, instead, written for that noblest of goals, to express the songwriter's feelings.

A more accurate title (I almost said "better,” but, as a title, the current one is pretty darn good) might be: How to Write Well-Crafted Songs Which Tell an Emotional Story. Those are the two key elements here – the quality of the songwriting, and the emotional arc the songs themselves capture.

Bob Geldof is probably best known as the organizer of Live Aid back in 1985, as well as several other pairings of rock music and social/political activism. That far overshadows his musical accomplishments which, to most people, are limited to "I Don't Like Mondays," the one big hit from his old band Boomtown Rats – if they even remember that song, and that he wrote and sang it. Beyond that, I doubt many people can associate him with any specific music. How to Write Popular Songs Which Will Sell is an attempt to rectify that, to remind the public that Geldof is a musician, a songwriter, and a pretty good one at that.

Geldof covers a variety of styles here, from the dirty blues of the opening tracks, "How I Roll" and "Blowfish," through Eighties-style electro-pop ("She's a Lover" and "Systematic 6-Pack"), to ethereal folk ("Mary Says" and "Blow"). Throughout, he chooses instrumentation which fits the styles: blown out harp and distorted guitar on "Blowfish,” accordion on the French-flavored "To Live in Love” and organ on the gospel tinged "Dazzled by You." 

This is not a concept album – all the songs stand alone – but there is still a definite emotional arc to it. This arc runs from despair to emotional peace. A hidden track at the end, which tells Geldof's biography in a boozy sing-along, provides the background for this arc – divorce, alcoholism, new love, sobriety. Key songs along this arc are "Blowfish" ("I'm drinking like a blowfish") and "She's a Lover" ("She's a lover/ she's a  smoking gun/ Bang bang/ You're done") at the despairing beginning, through "Dazzled By You" ("In the midst of my despair/ I was coming up for air/ And I was dazzled by you"), and ending with "Blow" ("Love will find a way to you") and the all encompassing love of "Here's to You."

This is an album of assured competence. It gives a solid picture of Geldof's songwriting  talents, and the emotional trials of his recent years. However, it delivers no knock-out blows. The songwriting is solid, but not dazzling. In the end, I fear that it not only may not sell all that well, but that it won't make enough of an impression to change the public perception of Geldof. It deserves to at least do that much.