Joy of joys……………this week’s contribution is from The Robster – the man who, together with Echorich, makes an incredible number of very welcome and worthwhile  contributions to the blog via the comment section.

When I started getting into indie music back in the mid-late 80s, I bought some of those Indie Top 20 compilation albums. One of them included ‘Is This The Life’ by Cardiacs. It stood out as a highlight of that particular record and got me interested enough to buy their album.

I had no idea who they were, that they had been going for a decade, or that ‘Is This The Life’ had already been released twice before – on the cassette-only albums ‘Toy World’ and ‘The Seaside’. All I knew was that I loved their sound, and it was one of the coolest songs I’d heard with a sax in it!

The album intrigued me and it was a fixture on my record deck for months. This was one very strange band, clearly touched by genius but far too odd to ever really gain any support or credibility from the media (as evidenced by the NME banning the very mention of their name).

‘Is This The Life’ was probably the most accessible track on that album; arguably it is one of the most accessible songs in their entire canon. It’s still a really bloody good track to this day, though I did have to wrestle between this one and ‘Dirty Boy’ (from their 1996 masterpiece ‘Sing To God’). ‘Is This The Life’ was the closest they ever came to a hit (it still didn’t make the top 75) and it was the one that introduced me to Tim Smith’s brilliantly bizarre mind.

Sadly, Tim’s illness (he suffered a heart attack and two strokes in 2008) probably means Cardiacs will never work again. At least they have a legacy though. Even if ‘Is This The Life’ had been the only record they ever cut, it would still have been worth it.

mp3 : The Cardiacs – Is This The Life (1981, from the ‘Toy World cassette’)
mp3 : The Cardiacs – Is This The Life (1988. single version)
mp3 : The Cardiacs – Is This The Life (1995. live version from ‘All That Glitters’)

Video available to view right here.

The Robster

JC adds

First time I’ve ever heard this…….and it comes highly recommended.  The single version reminds me in places of The Cure…


  1. I don’t know if it’s still the case, but up until very recently the output of The Cardiacs was very difficult to get hold of. Having just checked on Amazon, it still is, the few records there are extremely expensive.

  2. Wow, what an amazing song! Never came across this band before, how did I miss out? Did they ever get any American exposure? I live in Boston and this is the first I’ve heard of them. Virtually all their music is on iTunes so I’ll give them a try. Thanks for this posting.

  3. I have this on 12″ and used to play it every week at the Alternative night I dj’ed at, always got the best reaction & I agree it does sound like the Cure

  4. Foolishly, I didn’t mention in the post that the single version comes from the album ‘A Little Man And A House And The Whole World Window’. M.Willard, I recommend either that, or their magnum opus ‘Sing To God’ as the place to start. Be warned though, Cardiacs are like Marmite; Mrs Robster cannot stand them and she generally has exceptional taste.

    George – They are in iTunes, and you can get the CDs from their website. Because they were always fervently independent, their stuff is hard to come by but well worth the effort tracking it down.

    (Is it acceptable to reply to one’s own post? I can’t help thinking I’m being unforgivably self-indulgent…)

  5. The Cardiacs showed a certain direction that rock & roll could have taken in the 1980’s but unfortunately didn’t. The fact that they never strayed from their independent ways was one of the gifts they gave listeners. Those guitars are so strong and infectious. There’s always been passion overflowing in their music.

  6. As with many other great alternative bands of the 80s, my introduction to Cardiacs came via Channel 4’s The Tube and the truly bizarre video for ‘Tarred And Feathered’. I got ‘Is This The Life’ via the Indie Top 20 CD88 compilation and, in the mid-90s, was finally fortunate enough to see them live. A truly brilliant band, in every sense of the word. Although explicitly labelled “not a best of” there was a 1995 CD that coincided with the tour called “Cardiacs Sampler” which was a fantastic introduction to Cardiacs and their various offshoots such as Sea Nymphs and of course included the 1988 single version of ‘Is This The Life’. Worth tracking down… Thanks as always for a enlightening and entertaining blog! Best wishes, Khayem

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