Before we begin, let’s establish one thing about Bob Geldof. Despite what popular opinion will have you believe, in their day, Bob and his Boomtown Rats were unbeatable at composing popular songs that sell. ‘Rat Trap’, ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’, the ever-relevant ‘Banana Republic’, these songs all prove the man’s pop credentials. Although known for a questionable voice and irritating activism, Geldof’s back catalogue suggests a man who could still knock out catchy tunes with clever lyrics.
What a shame then that his first album in a decade fails to marry these qualities. Where Sir Bob seems capable of a decent melody, there’s a distinct lack of anything to say. Take lead single ‘Silly Pretty Thing’ for example. An odd island of pleasure in a sea of ennui, Geldof gets beyond an introspective growl and sings with some purpose: “Everything’s just right, It makes you want to fill your lungs and sing. And ooh …You silly pretty little thing”. A similar stumbling block stops ‘To Live In Love’ – an otherwise enjoyable waltz marred by mawkish lyrics.
At the opposite end of the scale, the more experimental offerings present on ‘How To Compose…’ fall flat in their attempts to be artful. The harmonica led ‘Blowfish’ and ‘Systematic 6 Pack’ are commendable in their conviction, but otherwise obtuse. When songs start reminding you of Tin Machine, there’s something suspect going on. Although more can be said to malign this record (soulless production, often tactless accompaniments), Bob sounds eager to impress. On occasions, ideas are executed well. ‘Dazzled By You’ gives him room to croon, convincingly so. Likewise, opener ‘How I Roll’ makes knowing use of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Summer In The City’ to paint a darker, self-deprecating picture of his loudmouth-self. Although there’s evidence here that Geldof could still compose those elusive songs that sell, nothing on this album ever hits that mark.