Postpunkmonk, in commenting on today’s ICA from Carter USM, has asked which album he should start with.
I’ll throw in my opinion with a repost (with updates) from the old blog, back in December 2011, complete with the comments left behind at the time.
While recently re-reading the excellent Goodnight Jim-Bob : On The Road with Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine (a highly recommended book available from its publishers here), I was struck by the following passage:-
On May the 10th backstage at the Carlisle Sands Centre we received a phone call to tell us that 1992 The Love Album had entered the charts at number 1. That surely should have felt a lot better than it did. I was cock-a-hoop head over heels as happy as a sandboy’s dog with two tails called Larry when 101 Damnations went into the Top 40 and even more so when 30 Something went to Number 8. Straight in at Number 1 should have killed me. But for some reason it was a bit of an anti-climax. Maybe it was because we expected it. All the planning and marketing and not releasing it the same week as Iron Maiden’s new album. I don’t know. We opened a couple of bottles of champagne on stage that night and sprayed them all over the audience like the Schumacher brothers but it should have meant a lot more. And yet that Sunday evening in Carlisle I was almost disappointed.
Maybe the unsaid thing from Jim Bob is that he knew the band’s poorest LP to date had been the one to take them to the pinnacle and it left a bit of a sour taste.
The band had come a very very long way in a short period of time. Late 1989 had seen the release of the critically acclaimed 101 Damnations on Big Cat Records. An LP that wiki describes perfectly as a critical account of life south of the River Thames, full of black humour, cynicism, wordplay and puns – as indeed was so much of Carter USM’s output over the years.
February 1991 saw the release of 30 Something on Rough Trade Records. It was at this time that I got my first ever live experience of the band with an incredible performance in the tiny space at Glasgow Tech Students Union (Jacques the Kipper was with me that night). I caught them live again later in 1991 and again was amazed by the show. They were energetic, lively and hugely entertaining. And in 30 Something, they were promoting what I reckon is one of the best and most overlooked LPs in critics lists – one that has stood the test of time almost 25 years on.
It got them a move to a major label – to Chysalis Records – and 1992 was the year when the UK and much of Europe went bonkers for Jim Bob and Fruitbat, much of it lovingly recalled in the book. There were headlining slots at festivals and just over a year after not selling out a student union, Glasgow was treated to two nights at the Barrowlands – they could just as easily have packed the 12,000 capacity SECC. But the songs on 1992 The Love Album seemed for the most part a bit dull compared to what had appeared on the first two records.
Reputedly costing less than £4000 to record and produce, 30 Something is a masterpiece. From the opening snatched and oh-so accurate dialogue lifted from an episode of Red Dwarf:-
“When You’re younger you can eat what you like, drink what you like and still climb into your 26-inch trousers and zip them closed. But then you reach that age….24, 25…your muscles give up, they wave a little white flag and without any warning at all you’re suddenly a fat bastard” ….
all the way through to the melancholy and sadness of the closing track The Final Comedown, there isn’t a wasted moment across its entire 41 minutes.
There’s great passion, energy and humour in the lyrics even when they are dealing with really dark and serious issues such as alcoholism, racism, bullying, domestic violence and depression. There’s a great warning of the perils of consumerism which include the use of a sample of the voice of Joe Strummer and so many attacks on the state of UK society with the have and have-nots thanks to Thatcherism. For me…..it is the most punk of albums with an electronic twist. And as I say, one that today still hasn’t lost its ability to have me jumping around the room like an idiot (even if nowadays I do it in my head rather than in reality….)
It’s an Immense Record. At and more than 50 something it still speaks to me.
The Robster said… Brilliant piece, JC. There’s not a word I disagree with in there. I too loved Carter and first saw them on that 30 Something tour (Exeter Uni). One of the roughest gigs I’ve ever been too (rougher than UK Subs, Stiff Little Fingers, Therapy?) – covered in bruises I was – but it was worth it. Their subsequent records never quite reached the heights of those first two and 30 Something really is a great lost classic. 12:51 pm, December 15, 2011
Anonymous said… Carter forever! likewise at 45 this music is still talking to me , there were great and they are still amazing Filip 12:52 pm, December 15, 2011
Simon said… Will And Testament is my favourite Carter track, although I do like the whole album, but that one has always stood out for me, one of my favourite songs of that whole era pre-grunge, post Roses. Still one of my favourite bands for lyrical content too, in fact I sometimes think their music wasn’t always good enough for their lyrics, which I can read on their own and still enjoy. 1:47 pm, December 15, 2011
Anonymous said… Love this and 101 Damnations. The Final Comedown is destined for my funeral. ctel 2:45 pm, December 15, 2011
Rigid Digit said… Saw Carter in the fleapit that was The Carribean Club in Basingstoke in 1990. 101 Damnation s was a fine, fine album (“GI Blues” anyone?), but 30 Something was the defining album of my late youth. The key house party mosh track were “Surfin USM” & “Shoppers Paradise”. Still played fairly regularly, usually as a Sunday morning wakener. 1992 was good, but it would’ve taken something extra special to surpass 30 Something. I wasn’t quite 20-Something when it was released, and being 30 Something was a lifetime away. I’m now 40 Something and that album will remain in “My Top Albums Ever” List 7:10 pm, December 15, 2011
Push said… Good piece. I interviewed Jim and Fruitbat loads of times back in the day – including their first ever interview in the national music press (Melody Maker, 1988). You can read that and also another Carter interview (from 1993) on my website if you’re interested. All being well, my name should be a link. Cheers! 8:32 pm, December 15, 2011
Anonymous said… Fruitbat! I have worn my cassette of this and the 1992 album to a stretched out mess. Dark and humorous in a way not many bands can actually pull off. 12:45 am, December 16, 2011
Means a lot when I get praise like that from The Robster…..and Ctel’s comment about The Final Comedown being destined for his funeral brought a wee lump to my throat.
JC : 16 December 2011
And here’s the cover version I would have to include in any Carter ICA. Don’t ask me though to remove any of the 1o that S-WC and Badger came up with.
mp3 : Carter USM – Rent