Throughout Sex, Age & Death, the former Boomtown Rat can't seem to decide whether the state of the world makes him want to kick some ass or curl up and cry. Somewhat surprisingly, the once-prototypical New Wave nihilist is often easier to take when he chooses the latter approach. With their preachy tone and cryptic narrative structure, songs such as "One for Me," a bitter diatribe against an unnamed aging starlet, and "$6,000,000 Loser," a post-millennial update on the TV character popularized by Lee Majors, will do little to shake the "Saint Bob" tag Geldof has reluctantly worn since creating the Live Aid concert series.
Even at his most sanctimonious, though, Geldof still has a way with words that renders more palatable his observations in "Pale White Girls," which mixes sensual and Catholic images in its portrayal of heroin-chic lovemaking, and in "The New Routine." One of the more lyrically interesting creations in this collection, the latter tune finds Geldof rhyming "unconscious" with "nauseous" before whispering, "It's not exactly Ovaltine/But welcome to the new routine/What d'ya have to do to get a drink here?" Equally intriguing is the existential limpness of "Mind in Pocket," in which the singer muses that he'd rather talk to a fully clothed person for free than to a "totally nude girl" for a dollar. "I'm in a topless mood," he explains over an ominously funky arrangement, "but my dick can't be bothered."
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Fortunately, the tunesmith hasn't totally lost his sense of adventure, as evidenced by the sprawling "Mudslide," a mini-opus on the emptiness of modern living. It's delivered in distinct movements that would sound almost orchestral if not for the anthemic guitars and cathartic bellow that drive what passes for the number's refrain. Less bombastic sentiments propel "Cool Blue and Easy," a bonus track available in North America only, and "10:15." Mixing acoustic guitars with mellow synthesized beats, both tunes suggest the work of nouveau folkie David Gray with an attitude. The latter finds its speaker breaking down in tears after sharing a night of tea and sympathy with a doting lover who plays him Bob Marley and reads from Baudelaire. On the former, Geldof finds more proof of God's existence, this time amid symbols of urban decay that include a drunkard's "sparkling piss." Like most rockers who've found religion, Geldof comes off best when he shows us the details that fuel his devotion rather than spouting sermons disguised as songs.