Don't let the title fool you – Bob Geldof's How to Compose Popular Songs that Sell is not an overt attempt to do just that. Quirky and unusual in content and sound, this 10 track album is not something you are going to hear in the Top 40 rotation on any given radio station. .. which is unfortunate. There are some real gems in this mix.
The album starts out with the impression of a folk-bluesy album – How I Roll is filled with twangy guitars and piano drops, and Geldof in a subdued voice off in the distance. It grows only slightly in tempo and forcefulness as the song progresses and remains very much a blues sort of song till the end. But then comes Blowfish! Heavy on the drums, Geldof's voice distorted to sound reminiscent of Big Sugar’s Diggin a Hole – so much so that I actually went and found their YouTube video to listen to it… there are distinct similarities but enough differences (tempo, lyrics, a very lengthy switch in the bridge etc) to convince me it's not a copycat song.
She's a Lover is back to the quiet folksy-blues feel of the opening song. Geldof almost seems to be whispering at points of this song and unless you actually listen to the lyrics you would brush this off as a sentimental love song due to the tone and texture … but the story of this song is one of betrayal and murder. I suppose it could be a love song – with an unhappy ending.
Suddenly you are transported to the streets of Paris complete with the mental images of sidewalk musicians playing accordions and quaint cafe's with people out of the old 50's movies.. To Live In Love is dreamy, melodic and makes me wish for a summer night with friends and good wine. Geldof's voice is clear and sharp and the guy really does have a nice voice. Background vocals (both male and female) perpetuate the impression of a sing-along with friends at the local cafe.
Tap your toes to the rhythm of Silly Pretty Thing. It has almost a big band feel to it, due to strings, a triangle, bells, rich guitars, and yes even a cowbell near the end. Background singers doing more do-wap than lyrics enrich the fun feeling of this song.
Systematic 6-Pak -my favorite track on the whole album – techno to some degree but still with a heavy driving rock beat. Can’t understand much of the lyrics but to me they're secondary to the vibe and energy of the tune… It’s a driving song. A dance song. A club rave beat or a destination tune on the iPod dock in the caddy convertible. Big sweeping bridge, reminiscent of the Achtung Baby remixes and I love it.
Unfortunately I’m not dazzled by Dazzled By You… this album jumps around back and forth between Dylanesque folk tunes/ballads and what I consider the good stuff. Dazzled By You has a country church choir effect to it with tambourine and all female backup singers, as well as heavy organ interspersed throughout.
Finger picking acoustic guitar sets the tone for Mary Says, another slower ballad type track. Although it's slower and softer, I like this one a lot. More so than its predecessors on the album. The harmonies are silky and well rounded and it just flows well.
With Blowfish being a harder rocking tune, one would think that Blow might be similar. Not so… ethereal, unreal in some ways – Geldof is singing at the top of his range in falsetto so high that at first I wasn’t sure it was him. Wind chimes add to the overall feeling of a summer's breeze through an open window… adding to the lightness of this track
The closing track, Here's To You, has slide/pedal steel guitar along with big strumming acoutic. It's booming and you feel like you're in a large space with some echoing of the music all around you. A somewhat melancholy song lyrically, it still manages to make you feel positive due to the music. "Here's to you my friend, may God protect us till the end… I'm in love with you tonight. So let it rain tonight…” Love will conquer all. There is a surprise ending to this song as well. Geldof with full Irish brogue singing an Irish ditty.
The overall impressions of this album are positive. The songs don’t mimic each other in content, style or sound, so it might seem like a mishmash of songs rather than a concept or complete album. The songs range from ballads to blues, from folk-ish, to out and out rock and techno – it really is a unique mix. However… I really liked it, enough to listen to it often – perhaps not all the songs, but many of them. Well worth checking it out.