Who does Bob Geldof think he is, anyway? We know him as the Irish rocker who was lead singer of the Boomtown Rats (a hot band in Europe during the late ’70s) and as the widely honored humanitarian who organized big-time colleagues to join in two projects — Band Aid in 1984, Live Aid in 1985 — that raised money to fight hunger in Africa. But here, on this long-delayed follow-up to the unfortunate solo album he released in 1986, Geldof seems to think he’s a combination of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Van Morrison, with traces of Elvis Costello thrown in.
Or at least he sounds like those folks. At the start of ”The Great Song of Indifference” (The Vegetarians of Love first single), his low rumble is a spooky double of Cohen’s. The first track on the record, ”A Gospel Song,” finds him draining the color from his voice in a Dylan imitation that reaches almost supernatural heights in the mostly spoken — or is it ranted? — vocal part of ”Thinking Voyager II Type Things” (a title that’s distinctly un-Dylanesque, because it’s much too dumb). Van Morrison lurks nearly everywhere, as does the merry sound of Irish fiddle and accordion, poured over song after song like too much rum sauce on a cake.
But enough bad news. The songs are far catchier than average. There’s not a dud in the lot, and some are even pretty wonderful. Take ”A Gospel Song,” for instance — it moves in measured, bittersweet steps, as Geldof mourns a lost love. But he doesn’t mourn her directly. Instead, he tells a friend how to treat her: ”If she’s leaving, you’d better let her go.” ”The Great Song of Indifference” is fetching, too, as Geldof pretends he just doesn’t care about anything, not culture, not religion, not the suffering Third World, not the environment. He’s making sardonic fun of people who think that way, of course, and the song’s heedlessly perky chorus helps him sharpen his point.
His arrangements, in styles stretching from rock and folk to Irish, glow with loving detail. In his lyrics, Geldof might indulge a bit in none-too-profound, self-important little ironies, many of which crop up in that interplanetary meditation about Voyager II; mortality, he opines, is nothing more than the ”cheap price we pay for existence.” Oh, sure. But really there’s strong enough music here to make this a pretty superior pop album — which it would be if Geldof stopped aping other singers and, as he sails toward artistic maturity at age 36, decided once and for all just who he thinks he is. B-
The Vegetarians of Love