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Bob Geldof Gets Ironic; Streets Exit in Style: CD Reviews

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"Live: The Storyteller"
The cover of "Live: The Storyteller" by Todd Snider. The CD set, released in February 2011, has Snider backed with a full band. Source: Shorefire Media via Bloomberg

Feb. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Bob Geldof, the man behind Live Aid and Band Aid, has again done something remarkable.

He has made a halfway decent album.

It was looking likelier that Africa’s poverty would end than that Geldof, now 59, would fulfill his early musical promise. The title, “How to Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell,” is taken from a book by Leslie Sheppard. Geldof offers wry observations about life, love, fame and fortune. Many tracks are appealing -- and sound a lot like somebody else. That’s no bad thing.

“Blow Fish” has a hint of Tom Waits; “Here’s to You” has a twist of Lennon. Still, nothing has the immediacy of “I Don’t Like Mondays” or “This is the World Calling.”

Geldof has had a rocky road since the Boomtown Rats split. His solo debut “Deep in the Heart of Nowhere” had help from friends Eric Clapton, Midge Ure and Annie Lennox. It didn’t set the world on fire. “Vegetarians of Love” and “Sex, Age & Death” fared worse. The compilation “Great Songs of Indifference” is his best, followed by this one. Rating: ***.

U.K. musician Mike Skinner says the fifth album by The Streets, “Computers and Blues,” will be the last under that alias. It’s a high note to bow out on.

Skinner’s rap avoids machine-gun swearing and macho swagger. He peppers his songs with references from Brixton, not Brooklyn. Stateside listeners needing a translation of the Britspeak might therefore pass on this CD, which would be a shame because it’s full of street-smart observations.

There are cautionary tales about the dangers of using satellite navigation for finding your way, Facebook for friendship or search engines for answers.

“You can’t Google the solution to people’s feelings,” Skinner says in “Puzzled by People.”

Rating: ****.

Those who like the Streets’ geezerish tales also might savor “Live: The Storyteller” by Todd Snider.

In live shows, the Oregon singer adds comical anecdotes between his alt-country songs. This double CD contains the best. Snider’s sob story of quitting the high-school football team after eating psychedelic mushrooms is fun.

This is followed by a ditty called “Conservative Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight, White, American Males.” These are just the sort of people, Snider sings, who hate “tree-huggin’, peace-lovin’, pot-smokin’, barefootin’, folk-singin’ hippies like me.”

It’s not a serious political rant, just an anthem for doomed flower power. Arlo Guthrie, watch out: There’s a new kid on the block stealing your “Alice’s Restaurant” shtick.

Rating: ***.

What the Stars Mean:
*****      Exceptional, classic
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

Download fees vary across services. The CDs are priced from $12.98 in the U.S. and 8.99 pounds in the U.K.

Geldof is on Mercury, with the CD out now in the U.K. and on Feb. 15 in the U.S. The Streets album is on Atlantic in the U.K. and will be released by Warner in the U.S. on Feb. 15. Snider’s album is out now in the U.S. and on Feb. 14 in the U.K. on Aimless Records.

Information: http://www.toddsnider.net/fr_home.cfm, http://www.bobgeldof.info/, http://the-streets.co.uk/.

(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Mark Beech in London at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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