"I never expected five years of sh*t to end up as an album," admits a typically blunt Bob Geldof, referring to "Sex, Age & Death," his first North American release of new material since 1993's "Th
"I never expected five years of sh*t to end up as an album," admits a typically blunt Bob Geldof, referring to "Sex, Age & Death," his first North American release of new material since 1993's "The Happy Club" (Aug. 27, Koch). Confessional, confrontational, and compelling, it's also his first musical account of the emotional devastation he experienced after the breakup of his marriage to flamboyant British TV personality Paula Yates. "It's so intensely personal that it's kind of odd even talking about it objectively," he says.
Born in the Dublin suburb of Dun Laoghaire, the former Boomtown Rats frontman rose to international fame in the 1980s as a fundraiser for famine-stricken Ethiopia. He co-wrote (with Ultravox's Midge Ure) the star-studded Band-Aid charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and organized the massive Live Aid concerts that followed. After raising more than $100 million in aid, Geldof was knighted and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He's still the chairman of the Band-Aid Trust, and works closely with good friend Bono on efforts to cancel Third World debt. But in recent years Sir Bob has made more headlines -- particularly in Britain's salacious scandal sheets -- over tragedies far closer to home.
Geldof married Yates in 1987, but the two had been a couple since the late 1970s. In 1994 her affair with INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence led to a bitter divorce and custody battle over their three daughters. Acrimony turned to tragedy in 1997 when Hutchence, under the influence of alcohol and drugs, hanged himself in a Sydney hotel room. A heartbroken Yates also turned to drugs, and died of a heroin overdose in September of 2000. Geldof is now caring for all of his children, as well as Tiger Lily, the daughter Yates had with Hutchence in 1996.
At his lowest point during these traumatic years, Geldof found himself mired in a deep, paralyzing depression, unable to record or even listen to music. "All of me was just one emotional mass of pain," he reveals. "I was really sub-human. I was existing on a very primitive level of breathing out, and then desperately remembering to breathe in again -- I didn't care about making records. I didn't care about anything. I cared about my children. And that's when I would come up out of this thing, because they had to be taken care of."
Geldof credits good friends with aiding his personal and musical reemergence, including former Rats bassist Pete Briquette, who performs on and produced the new album. "His way of helping was to move in with some recording things," he recalls. "He stayed there for a long, long time, just doing his own work down in my basement. And when I was forced to move from house to house, he would be there with his gear and follow. And bit by bit, it was him doing his own thing that made me listen to music again. I sort of became alert one day to what he was doing. And that was the process."
Briquette, who has also produced electronica wiz Tricky, had appeared on and co-produced Geldof's last solo effort, as well as his Celtic-flavored, critically acclaimed 1990 set "The Vegetarians of Love." The new album finds him reunited with fellow "Happy Clubsters" Alan Dunn (keyboards), John Turnbull (guitar), Bob Loveday (violin), and Niall Power (drums), for an eclectic, and often eccentric, mix of acoustic folk, '60s psycho-pop, trippy techno grooves, and '70s-style guitar/piano rock. Former Queen drummer Roger Taylor also makes a guest appearance. "I wanted old, analog, warm sounds," says Geldof. "And I stripped away an awful lot of stuff in the end and left it fairly spare."
That simple yet polished production brings Geldof's biting and often bitter lyrics to the fore. The visceral opener "One For Me" features a catchy Beatles-esque chorus that belies its pointed digs at Yates: "Sell a photo of you laughing / The more you hoot the more they pay / You don't even need to get your clothes off anymore / You're a bit too old for that stuff now anyway." And in the bluesy, Dylan-leaning "Inside Your Head," Geldof takes on Hutchence (or his ghost): "You got a life, you left me for dead / So why put a noose around your neck? / What the f***'s going on inside your head?"
But Geldof insists the songs aren't meant as personal diatribes. "It's not anger at the specific people involved. It's just anger that this happened at all, and in the way it did," he explains. "It's just another little human failure, isn't it? I mean, the falling away of love. But the consequences of that, in our specific case, were hugely profound. Grotesque, even. And extreme." He sees the tabloid-ready love triangle as a cautionary tale of fame gone awry, calling it "a late 20th century Shakespearean morality play. I can't think of a greater cast of characters that he could have come up with, in what are supposedly archetypal late 20th century jobs that people want to do. And then all the contemporary factors of drink and drugs and all that."
The album was actually completed, but not released, before Yates' death. "I'd made the record before she died and I never got a chance to play it to her," Geldof says, with regret. "And I wish I had because she'd have liked it for one. Two, she'd have been flattered. She'd have been flattered that I'd wrote these sh*tty songs about her, you know. She used to love my music. I'd come in and she'd be playing an album. I'd be embarrassed, you know. But I think she'd have liked it. So it's a drag. I never got to play it to her."
Those who have heard "Sex, Age, & Death," which was released last year in the U.K. by Eagle Records, were initially startled but ultimately impressed by its unflinching and often unflattering lyrical honesty and infectious, adventurous soundscapes. It received stellar reviews and was nominated for the prestigious Technics Mercury Music Prize. The Koch version contains two bonus tracks, "Cool, Blue & Easy" and "Voodoo Child," as well as the original 10 cuts.
From the haunting seduction of the Leonard Cohen-style ballad "Pale White Girls" to the raunchy funk of "Mind in Pocket," no two songs sound quite alike. And while loss, rage, and despair permeate the set, "10:15," Geldof's erotic lullaby to his current love, French actress Jeanne Marine (to whom the album is dedicated), suggests a romantic redemption.
Geldof's recent trips to Africa also show their influence. The dreamy, Pink Floyd-ish "Mudslide" begins as a whispered, stream-of-consciousness poetry slam then builds to a majestic, cinematic chorus. The throbbing and chaotic "Scream in Vain," gets even more specific, employing techno beats, tribal drums, and guitar crunches to convey the danger of an oddly named street in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
"I'm particularly impressed with the quality of the music and the sophistication of the lyrics," says Scott Kuchler, label manager for Koch Entertainment's Progressive Division. "It's an adult album for an adult audience. It takes someone who has lived a bit to write songs as deep and as moving as these."
And Geldof certainly has lived: enough to have written an acclaimed autobiography with the ironic title "Is That It?" by the age of 35. Now 50, he could fill volumes with his activities of the last 15 years. Business ventures -- such as television production companies Planet 24 and Castaway (owner of the "Survivor" series), media and advertising company Ten Alps Communications, and Internet travel retailer deckchair.com -- have kept him busy and made him a wealthy man.
But 17 years after Live Aid, Geldof still finds time for activism. He and Bono formed the pressure group DATA (Debt, Aid, and Trade to Africa), and brought their thoughts on debt relief to the G8 Summit in June. "Because celebrity is a currency -- unfortunately it's so pathetic in this world -- we have access," he acknowledges. "And so we understand the issues. We're the Mutt and Jeff of Third World debt, you know. He's enamoured of the world and I'm enraged by it. But we both arrive at our different emotional channels at the same conclusion."
Next month Geldof will be returning to a most familiar emotional channel -- the stage. On Sept. 4 he'll be performing at the raucous Stroud Fringe Festival in Gloucestershire, England. Then he'll swing across the pond to kick off his North American tour Sept. 20 in Toronto. Dates in Australia have also been confirmed. And despite their painful origins, Geldof is excited about performing the new songs in concert. "It's difficult to do them, so I don't know why I'm looking forward to it," he admits. "And there's an element of embarrassment because they're so personal. I know there's people there, and it's weird. But it is quite cathartic doing them live."
Old time fans hoping to hear Boomtown Rats hits like "Rat Trap" and "I Don't Like Mondays" (both No. 1 hits in the U.K.) or solo favorites like "The Great Song of Indifference" won't be disappointed. "There's 27 years of songs, so you can do all the other songs," Geldof says. "And they all have to mean something, or else I can't do them. I'm not a pantomime artist."