From The Smiths to Run D.M.C., 1986 was an unusually rich year for popular music across almost every style. It was a decade of color and style so it’s not surprising that David + David’s Boomtown was lost in the shuffle. Listening now, the songwriting and arrangements hold up incredibly well. Nothing about the album screams 1986 apart from the occasional production touch that pushes it towards Richard Marx territory (a place I am happy to find myself in!). With that in mind, Boomtown is the first album in my Lost 80s series.
Listeners to the cool 80s radio stations might remember “Welcome To the Boomtown” but I was never that cool. I have no recollection of the band’s singles. The album eventually reached Gold status in 1996 after a renewed interest in the group based on both David Baerwald and David Ricketts being members of the Tuesday Night Music Club which launched Sheryl Crow’s success with an album of the same name. That artistic endeavor ended in hurt feelings and accusations of stolen credits as Crow’s fame grew. In a way, that’s the sort of story that would have fit nicely on Boomtown.
Opener “Welcome To the Boomtown” might have tickled Axl Rose’s ears at some point as “Welcome To the Jungle” certainly covers a lot of the same ideas, albeit with a lot louder guitars. The characters in these songs are often lost and searching for something they can’t put into words. These are the people in the shadows on a hot Hollywood afternoon. They live on the fringes longing for the moments before they were swallowed by the cracks.
Boomtown is an album that feels as relevant in 2021 as it did in 1986. From domestic abuse to dealing drugs, the album speaks to the underbelly of the American experience which isn’t as easy as it used to be to brush under a rug. On “River’s Gonna Rise”, the lyrics hit a little too close to home for anyone who watched in horror last month as democracy teetered on the afternoon news:
God ain’t in his heaven, something ain’t right
The TV newsman smiles and says, “The curfew starts tonight”
They’re killing a man from the inside in the broad daylight
While the propped up puppet wags his head
And watches all the proud things die
But the river’s gonna rise
David + David’s Boomtown doesn’t offer false hope nor does it try to be overly dramatic. The writing simply provides an honest look at what is all around us and wraps up neatly in melodic charms. The album ends with a little sunshine on “Heroes”. Sure, the pain and uncertainty of life isn’t lifted from any of the characters but they still find a way to remain “ever hopeful and ever blue”. For me, that sounds like a pretty fair deal of the cards.